In re-signing Harold Landry, Tennessee Titans send a warning to AFC's hotshot QBs | Estes
Harold Landry is known to be a grump with the media, but he was in a noticeably sunny mood as he walked through the Tennessee Titans facility Thursday toward his own press conference.
“No red carpet?” he asked a team rep jokingly as he stepped behind the microphones, far wealthier than the last time he’d done so. Back when his future was still uncertain as a pending free agent.
“I was confident that I wasn't going to leave Nashville,” Landry said Thursday. “Regardless of the (franchise) tag or anything, and not because I knew what was coming or anything like that. It's just I knew how much I loved being here, and I knew that I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure I came back here.”
The Titans felt the same, as evidenced by the $52.5 million guaranteed Landry received to re-up. His five-year deal was reportedly worth $87.5 million.
That’s big money for a 25-year-old that is well on his way toward becoming a big-time NFL pass rusher, but he’s not quite there yet. Given what the Titans were already spending on Bud Dupree and Denico Autry and what they’re going to soon be spending on Jeffery Simmons, frugality wouldn’t have been shocking from a franchise that tends to be stingy with pricey second contracts.
Landry, however, didn’t just get the Brink's truck. It sounds like – after the season ended – he never really believed the Titans wouldn’t send it his way.
Indeed, it was the right thing for the team to do.
There is something to be said for a reward that teammates all know was deserved. Landry earned his money. He worked to improve as a pass rusher. He has played a ton of snaps. He has been durable and tenacious and has embodied the identity that these Titans so badly want to project.
It wasn’t just, however, what Landry's deal said to the Titans.
It was what it said to everyone else. It said that general manager Jon Robinson understands with clear eyes where the Titans are in the AFC’s pecking order – and what it’ll take to leap in front with a limited window for success and a quarterback who just threw three interceptions in a brutal playoff defeat.
Shifting resources up front
A theme to this offseason already has been the Titans building around Ryan Tannehill. Easy to assume that means the offense.
But I’m beginning to think it means the defense.
In this offseason in which overhauling quarterback wasn’t a reasonable option for the Titans, the best shot at short-term success with Tannehill is to do what they are doing: Pay up for a monster pass rush to counter an AFC overflowing in quarterbacking talent.
To that end, the Titans dumped left guard Rodger Saffold’s expensive contract Thursday.
It was purely a business decision. Predictable. Sensible. Value over replacement, meaning that Saffold – as undeniably valuable as he has been for the Titans – had become too costly for an offensive guard who’d be 34 by next season.
Coming as it did on the heels of Landry’s deal, it indicated a shifting financial priority from offensive line to defensive line.
In recent years, the Titans spent as much on their offensive line as any other unit on the team (with the exception of quarterback). That seemed pretty smart, too, when the 2019 Titans reached the AFC title game by mashing defenses that knew Derrick Henry was coming and still couldn’t stop him.
Or when Henry reached 2,000 yards the following season.
Or when the Titans continued to run the ball respectably without Henry this past season.
Fair to conclude that those linemen up front – and Saffold as much or more than any of them – have had plenty to do with a run game so effective for so long.
But the Titans are different now. In 2019 and 2020, they needed their defense to hang on and do just enough to let Henry and Tannehill and the offense win a game. Then in 2021, Henry got hurt, Tannehill's play grew shakier and availability became a worsening problem for an aging offensive line.
The Titans suddenly needed their rapidly improving defense to win games. And it did.
More accurately, a rapidly improving pass rush did.
Where a game turns
If the Titans can win it all with Tannehill, he’d join the ranks of lightly regarded sore-thumb Super Bowl quarterbacks like Jim McMahon, Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, where you look back and wonder how they got a ring.
Here’s how: Each was backed by a tremendous defense.
A lot has been made of the Buccaneers and Rams winning the past two Super Bowls after adding talented quarterbacks. Sure, but neither of those teams would have won the Lombardi Trophy without an outstanding pass rush, too. Remember Patrick Mahomes being harassed by Tampa Bay rushers? And who among the Rams made the play that finally beat Joe Burrow? Answer: Aaron Donald.
The NFL’s salary cap makes it where no team is ever going to check every box. The trick is in finding something your team does better than most, and then pile on and run up the score in that realm.
As Landry said, correctly, “If you’ve got a dominant front four, you’ve got a chance to win any game.”
“I feel, personally," Landry said, "that the game is going to come down to the quarterback and the guys that can affect the quarterback.”
The Titans could do worse than Tannehill. They've proven they can win with Tannehill.
But when it comes to comparing quarterbacks at the top of the AFC, they won’t be able to stack up with the Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, Ravens, Chargers – all of whom have better and younger quarterbacks.
Those hotshot QBs, however, aren’t going to be on the field with Tannehill. They’re going to be facing Landry, Simmons, Dupree and Autry.
“We're real confident that we have the team to go out and win a Super Bowl,” Landry said. “I think our front four can lead the charge.”
I do, too, Harold.
And it appears your GM wholeheartedly agrees.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.