For the first time since 2006, the Tennessee Titans may have a new starting offensive tackle. No guarantee, as David Stewart is still under contract for 2014, but it seems likely. I was not too concerned in last preseason, writing I expected him to be at least an average right tackle even coming off the broken leg that ended his 2012 season. As it happened, his participation in training camp was about as regularly as he was to participate in practices all season long. Those persistent absences slowed the building of a cohesive offensive line, as the Titans were breaking in three new starters between those two bookend tackles. A shoulder injury cost him two games at midseason and then the last two contests, so he finished playing 799 snaps (74%).
When Stewart was in the lineup, I think he performed at roughly a league average starting right tackle level. Of course, given the current relatively parlous state of offensive line play around the league, that's not necessarily something to write home about. For the first time since 2009, the Titans' success running right actually matched his reputation as a mauler. Given that I didn't think Stewart's level of play matched what he had done in years past, I attribute that as much or more to improvement in the players around him as I did to his play. Pass blocking was inconsistent at times-even at his best, speed rushers gave him problems, and you saw more of that than normal this past season. Considering how injury-plagued he has been, I don't think he sees his scheduled $6.4 million base salary.
Fortunately, the Titans need to replace only one tackle, not two, as left tackle Michael Roos was pretty much his normal steady self. Good news for me, as I can use my Michael Roos auto-text: generally smooth and efficient pass blocker who compensates for short arms with excellent preparation and technique, is not and has never been and never will be a mauler in the run game. Gives up more pass pressure than he did in his prime, but not that much more and is still an upper-level pass-blocking left tackle. Due $6.625 million in 2014, the Titans would be hard-pressed to find a player as good as he remains for that price on the free agent market, especially as durable as he's been (1074 snaps, 100%, only missed game in career due to appendectomy).
Repeating something from the preseason piece: It's been out there for a long while that both Roos and Stewart had voidable years in 2014. I asked Someone Who Would Know what the void conditions were, since there was no obvious explanation for them, and he indicated there were none, that both were normal contract years albeit with both signing bonuses fully prorated since it's the sixth year of the deal for each.
If Stewart does not in fact return, the first place to look for his replacement would seem to be the current roster. And, well, swing tackle Mike Otto is also a free agent. Hardly younger than Roos and Stewart (he turns 31 in July, while Stewart turns 32 in August and Roos 32 in October), he played 154 snaps (14%), the majority of them when he started the two games Otto missed at midseason. His struggles in pass protection in the first half against the Rams (not against Robert Quinn) helped inspire the team to go run-heavy in the second half and reminded you why he might be a career backup swing tackle in the first place. I do not expect him back with a new coaching staff and offensive line coach.
Byron Stingily, who did play the last two games for Stewart, is the replacement on the roster if one exists. The 140 snaps (13%) those two games were all he played in on offense, as he was inactive 11 times. Turning 26 in September, new line coach Bob Bostad might see something he likes. More likely, though, I expect him to be inherit Otto's role as a backup swing tackle for the final year of his rookie year.
The Titans also signed Jeff Adams, who spent 2013 on the practice squad, to a futures contract. Listen to his appearance on Paul Kuharsky's Periodic Podcast, and you'll know just as much about him as I do.
Michael Roos returns for another year of chalk. David Stewart is probably gone, which means the Titans will be looking for a new right tackle. I don't think Stingily is that player. That player could come from the draft, either the first or the second round. As we get closer to May, I'll have a look at some candidates if that still seems like a possibility then. I think it's more likely the Titans will look for that player in free agency. Again, I'll have a look at some candidates as we get closer to that process. They'll also be looking for a backup tackle, which may be Adams or may be somebody else entirely new to the roster. That's what happens when you get different coaches who may like different things.