I started putting together a post on how the Titans spent by position in 2012, like the one I did last offseason, when something I'd noticed before struck me.
There were 30 players who played at least 300 snaps on offense or defense for the Titans in 2012. And where did the Titans find those players?
Four of them were first-round picks playing on their rookie contract. That's Jake Locker, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, and Derrick Morgan.
Three of them were second-round picks playing on their rookie contract. That's Sen'Derrick Marks, Akeem Ayers, and Zach Brown.
Five of them were third-round picks playing on their rookie contract. That's Jared Cook, Damian Williams, Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin, and Ryan Mouton.
Three of them were fourth-round picks playing on their rookie contract. That's Colin McCarthy, Coty Sensabaugh, and Alterraun Verner.
Twelve of them were players not on their rookie deal signed to a contract with an average per year of at least $3 million. As I identified in last year's salary cap post, that's roughly the rate for a starter in the NFL. The players in this category were Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Johnson, Craig Stevens, Nate Washington, Leroy Harris, Steve Hutchinson, Michael Roos, David Stewart, Kamerion Wimbley, Will Witherspoon, Jason McCourty, and Michael Griffin.
That leaves the Titans with three players who played at least 300 snaps on offense on defense on whom they did not use a high pick and whom they were not paying a lot of money. One of those three was Deuce Lutui, who was an in-season pickup and only ended up playing any snaps at all because the starter, Leroy Harris, got hurt. One of them was Fernando Velasco. There may have been something like competition for the starting center job, but my belief is Velasco only played a significant role because Eugene Amano, whose contract had an APY of over $3 million (to say the least), got hurt. Take them away, and there was only one player the Titans did not invest premium resources to acquire that they gave a significant role to in 2012, strong safety Jordan Babineaux. And as we've seen from the deals this offseason, Babineaux got an APY of less than $3 million because non-premium strong safeties don't get contracts with an APY of $3 million.
The fundamental constraint of building a team in the NFL is limited resources. You only get so many high draft picks and so much cap space. To build a great team, you have to utilize your resources as efficiently as possible. This can mean making hard choices, paying some players and prioritizing some positions. The flipside of those hard choices is not paying other players and not prioritizing other positions.
What the Titans told us with the team they fielded in 2012 is they don't really believe in making those choices. At every single position on the team (and I could throw in punter and kicker here as well if my criteria didn't exclude them), they fielded either a player making a starting-type wage or a high draft pick. Every. Single. One.
The Tennessee Titans seem to have their own idea of value, and it's that there isn't any such thing. As a fan, I really hope they're right about that, but as an analyst, I'm pretty sure it's almost impossible to field a good team that way. The result in 2012 was not pretty, but we shall see what 2013 brings.