Current DEs Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford could all be lost in free agency. Couple that with the Titans' stated desire to change the type of defensive end they want, and it becomes a position of need. The only draft pick who might help is Karl Klug, a defensive tackle who may be moved outside to be a 5-technique DE.
There are three top defensive ends who could look great in two-tone blue. We'll look at them, after the jump.
Ray Edwards, Minnesota Vikings, age 26
He's the top 4-3 DE who may be on the market. A little over a year ago, I wrote that I'd like to get Edwards, who has played both LDE and RDE for the Vikes. He's a strong run-stopper and has registered 16½ sacks in the last two seasons. Edwards is not a happy camper in Minnesota. The Vikings put a first-round tender on him (one year, $2.8 M) but also signed his backup to a three-year, $14.1 M deal, including a $6.5 M signing bonus. "There's no way I will play for less than what my backup got," said Edwards. “There's no way I would play here.” If Edwards remains restricted, I don't see the Titans pursuing him with first-round compensation required. If he'll be unrestricted, that's another matter.
Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers, age 25
A one-year starter, Johnson replaced Julius Peppers and had 11½ sacks last year. At 275 pounds, he has the build the Titans are looking for in a DE and is fairly sturdy against the run. A four-year veteran, Johnson was supposedly tendered at a first-round and third-round level, which is too rich a price to pay. However, he may become unrestricted, depending on a new CBA. It’s probably wishful thinking that the Titans might pursue him, even more so than on Edwards. I am curious why the Panthers placed the franchise tag on their center, Ryan Kalil, rather than on Johnson. Could it mean they don't value him that highly?
Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants, age 28
A strong pass rusher, he had 4 sacks in three games last year, before suffering a herniated disc in his neck, which ended his season. He'd obviously have to be checked out medically, but he has been cleared to play again. Kiwanuka is a five-year veteran who received an original-round (second) RFA tender from the G-men.
Should the Titans try to obtain one of these top-tier defensive ends? Is there another DE you'd like to see in two-tone blue?
Update, Jul 28 - Babin to the Iggles, Johnson remains with Carolina, Kiwanuka remains with Giants. Edwards still available.
I agree that any of these three guys would be a nice addition to the Titans, but I suspect that the Titans will try to re-sign Babin, and if that fails they will opt for a less expensive free agent DE. The one guy that intrigues me a bit is Vernon Gholston, who could probably be had for the league minimum. He was mis-cast as an outside linebacker for the Jets. He just isn't built for that position and doesn't have the mindset to play it. But he was a very productive college player, and like Babin, if he can get into the right system that plays to his strengths, maybe, just maybe, the Titans could turn him into a productive player. I would probably have more confidence in this if Washburn was still here, but who knows maybe Rocker can work the same sort of magic with a reclamation project like Gholston, who would come at a very reasonable price.