On the Titans not churning the roster

After trimming the roster to 53 players in early September, the Tennessee Titans made the following changes to said roster:

  • Donnie Avery was added to the roster;
  • Quinn Johnson was cut;
  • Kevin Malast was added to the roster;
  • Robert Johnson was added to the roster; and
  • Quinn Johnson was acquired off waivers.

And how were those roster spots created? Respectively,

  • Kenny Britt was placed on injured reserve;
  • Ahamard Hall’s four-game suspension ended;
  • Barrett Ruud was placed on injured reserve;
  • Anthony Smith was placed on injured reserve; and
  • Javon Ringer was placed on injured reserve.

Officially, the Titans made a couple more transactions than those ten, but they went 67 days from cutting Quinn Johnson after Hall returned to placing Ruud on IR without making a single roster move.

On the flip side of the coin stands the New England Patriots. Take a look at their list of transactions from the just-concluded season. The longest they went in the regular season without a roster move? Five days. Not 67, five. F-I-V-E. The Patriots this year were the most prolific practitioners of the roster move, but check out the New Orleans Saints’ moves as well. Not quite as many, but there was generally at least one roster change a week.

What’s going on? Both Bill Belichick and Sean Payton learned their trade under Bill Parcells. Parcells was many things as a coach, but one of the things he believed is that the difference between the last active player on gameday and the first healthy inactive, or the difference between the last player on the active roster and the top player on the practice squad, or the last player on the practice squad and the best street free agent, is not very large. That means you should be constantly churning who the last active player is, because gameplanning against the opponent won’t require the same niche skill every week. That means you should be constantly churning who the last gameday player is, because players may show you things they didn’t when just on the practice squad. That means you should be constantly churning the practice squad to find a hidden gem, the next Arian Foster or Sterling Moore, a defensive back cut by the Raiders in the preseason who ended up making probably the biggest defensive play of the season for the Patriots, breaking up Lee Evans’ would-be game-winning touchdown in the AFC Championship Game.

The Titans would never have found Sterling Moore because they apparently manifestly do not believe in churning the roster. The 46-man gameday roster barely changed except in response to the Official Injury Report. The 53-man roster only changed when players were injured. The only time the practice squad changed all year was when Robert Johnson was signed off it and Terrence Wheatley was signed to fill the empty spot. Either the Titans really like and know that there’s a difference between their 47th or so and 48th player and between their 53th and 54th player and between their 61st and 62nd player, or they’re missing opportunities.

I’m not saying that the Titans absolutely need to start churning their roster every week like the Patriots and Saints do. Most teams find a reasonable balance between developing their own players’ skills and finding players who have different skills. But keep an eye on players like Herb Donaldson, Ryan Durand, Pannel Egboh, Cameron Graham, James Kirkendoll, Michael Preston, and Troy Kropog when training camp comes, and remember they spent all last year with the Titans. It’s unreasonable to expect every one of those guys, or even the majority of them, to find a spot on the 53-man roster, but just ask yourself, was that the best possible thing the Titans could have done with that spot, or might the Titans have found another player who might have filled a niche role that’s not filled?

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