The Titans’ top 2012 financial commitments

Apropos of yesterday’s post where I wondered about the logic of the Titans’ decision to make a financial commitment to Craig Stevens, I thought it would be worth taking a look at which players the Titans have made the decision to spend money on in 2012.

To try to encompass both accounting and total outlays, I put together a list of the Titans’ top ten cap numbers for this year, plus their top ten cash outlays for this year. This isn’t a perfect methodology, as a player like Stevens will be on the list this year but off it next year. Jake Locker is like Stevens next year, a player who would’ve been on last year’s version of this list and may be on next year’s version, but isn’t on this one. I think this methodology suffices for my general purposes, though.

If you look at the top ten by cash spending and top ten by cap allocation, unsurprisingly there’s a lot of overlap between the two lists. There are, however, three players on each list who aren’t on the other. That gives me a total of 13 players, roughly one-quarter of a regular-season roster.

Breaking the players into position group, here’s what we find:

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck
Estimated Ranks: 2nd in Cap, t-5th in Cash
Analysis: Um, yeah. The starting quarterback, or a quarterback signed with the expectation of starting at least some of the time, would be on a list like this one for virtually every team in the league.

Running Back: Chris Johnson
Estimated Ranks: 1st in Cap, 3rd in Cash
Analysis: The man wanted to be paid like a premium player, and the man is now being paid like a premium player. I’m not sure the Titans quite got a premium level of player last year, but I don’t want to get into that whole can of worms in this post.

Wide Receiver: Nate Washington
Estimated Ranks: t-7th in Cap, 12th in Cash
Analysis: It seems like a long time ago Nate signed a six-year, $27 million deal, and I remember wondering at the time if he’d see any of the final three years of his deal. Heading into year four, he’s more or less ensconced as one of the Titans’ starting wide receivers and a player who’ll likely be thrown the ball a lot. I’m still not convinced he’ll be around to earn $4.8 million in 2014, though.

Wide Receiver: Kendall Wright
Estimated Ranks: 18th in Cap, 9th in Cash
Analysis: Yes, I know he hasn’t signed yet. I have a pretty good guess of what his contract will look like other than the fourth year split, so I’m including him based on his projected deal. Teams tell you what they are and what they think by what they do. While the cost of a high first-round pick isn’t what it used to be, teams tend not to invest premium resources in positions they don’t consider important.

Tight End: Craig Stevens
Estimated Ranks: 16th in Cap, t-7th in Cash
Analysis: I won’t rehash yesterday’s post, but suffice to say I’m not sure how the Titans’ decision to pay Stevens fit with the rest of what you see here.

Offensive Line: Eugene Amano
Estimated Ranks: 5th in Cap, 10th in Cash
Analysis: I like Eugene Amano a lot more than most Titans fans. I was happy when the Titans re-signed him, and happy when they moved him to center. I thought the biggest problems on the offensive line played to his immediate left and, especially in 2011, to his immediate right. That said, he’s making an awful lot of money. Charitably, the Titans had to pay a lot because in a thin free agent crop there would have been a lot of available dollars without many decent players to spend it on. On the other hand, that’s how you get decisions like franchising Bo Scaife. If only the Titans were still any good at developing offensive linemen

Offensive Line: Steve Hutchinson
Estimated Ranks: 11th in Cap, 5th in Cash
Analysis: Squaring “We’re going to get younger and cheaper on the offensive line this season” with signing a 35-year-old offensive lineman to a three year, $16.75 million dollar contract will be left as an exercise to the reader. Suffice to say the Titans continue to believe in paying for offensive linemen.

Offensive Line: Michael Roos
Estimated Ranks: 3rd in Cap, t-5th in Cash
Analysis: After a bounce-back year in 2011, we get to an offensive lineman who’s probably really worth something pretty close to what the Titans are paying him. We can debate the extent to which left tackle is still a super-premium or even premium position, but a good left tackle is a nice thing to have.

Offensive Line: David Stewart
Estimated Ranks: 4th in Cap, t-7th in Cash
Analysis: I’ve gone back and forth on just how good Stewart is. Clearly a good right tackle, but I’m not sure about the decision he’s worth a premium contract. The numbers running right have rarely matched his mauler reputation. Still, there’s no denying the Titans are willing to pay offensive linemen premium dollars.

Defensive End: Kamerion Wimbley
Estimated Ranks: t-7th in Cap, t-1st in Cash
Analysis: Premium pass rushers make a lot of money. I’m far from convinced Wimbley is a premium rusher, but he’s still the best one the Titans have by a decent margin, and they needed to open the checkbook to get him. Like quarterback, you’d expect to see a top pass-rusher on this list, unless he’s a player on a rookie deal.

Linebacker: Will Witherspoon
Estimated Ranks: 6th in Cap, 11th in Cash
Analysis: Beyond his obvious potential as a cap casualty after falling out of favor last season, Witherspoon’s salary and the use of a second-round pick on Zach Brown both speak to the perceived importance placed by two successive, different defensive coordinators of having a very good weakside linebacker. That space player, who’s an asset in sub packages, is the linebacker who matters.

Safety: Michael Griffin
Estimated Ranks: t-7th in Cap, t-1st in Cash
Analysis: Having a dominant free safety in the deep middle of the defensive is something Jerry Gray places a premium on. I just hope Griffin is that player. 

Kicker: Rob Bironas
Estimated Ranks: 10th in Cap, 13th in Cash
Analysis: It’s possible that Leroy Harris actually takes Bironas’s spot on this list, but I only know for sure his salary, not his total cap figure. Either way, though, Bironas is in the final year of the four-year extension he signed back in 2009, and I believe this was the only season he’d be on this list. He hasn’t been a great kickoff man the past couple seasons, but he’s been the extremely rare field goal kicker who’s been very, very consistent and hasn’t had the sort of inaccurate season you’d expect from just about every kicker.

Conclusions
That’s nine offensive players, three defensive players, and one special teams player, and if I knew more, it might be ten offensive players and three defensive players. Essentially, the Titans by their financial commitments are telling us they believe the same thing I believe, that they don’t have enough premium defensive players, and they just let one of the closest things they had to one walk in the offseason because they didn’t sufficiently value them.

On the other side of the ball, though, the checkbook and allocation strategy had them adding a couple more expensive offensive players to positions where they already had resources invested (note Kenny Britt’s not on this list, but probably would have been in 2010). I’d feel better about these moves if they were truly building on strengths instead of adding reinforcements to positions that weren’t really good enough, but we shall see how the situation plays out.

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