VOL. 132 | NO. 10 | Friday, January 13, 2017
Robinson’s Success Warrants Any Title He Wants
By David Climer
In the immediate aftermath of the Tennessee Titans’ turnaround season, Jon Robinson’s title was expanded to executive vice president and general manager.
Wide receiver Rishard Matthews is one of several signed by Jon Robinson who have helped the Titans post its first winning record since 2011.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Considering what Robinson has accomplished in less than 12 months on the job, I’d give him any title he wants. If he prefers “football czar,” so be it.
Robinson’s savvy personnel moves and sense of purpose have given this organization a fighting chance at becoming a consistent playoff participant in the coming years.
While Mike Mularkey certainly deserves credit for coaching the Titans to a 9-7 season after a combined five victories in the previous two years, it is Robinson who set the table by reshaping the roster. It helped greatly that he and Mularkey were on the same page when it came to a tough, relentless, physical approach to the game.
Amy Adams Strunk, the team’s controlling owner and the person who made the call to hire Robinson as general manager last January, says the promotion is “acknowledgement of his work” and “puts him on equal footing with others in the league who direct football operations.”
To Robinson, it’s all about teamwork. He prefers to focus attention elsewhere.
“We all have worked together to create a family and hopefully a culture of long-term success,” he says.
Robinson is under contract through the 2019 draft. If the Titans continue their recent trajectory, look for his contract to be extended.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. Robinson made a strong first impression with Titans fans with his comments at the press conference when he was hired.
As a native of Union City, Robinson grew up as a Titans fan. He got emotional talking about the franchise at that initial press conference.
That kind of emotion had been sorely lacking in the Titans front office. It was nice to see someone who felt so strongly about bringing success to this franchise. For Robinson, it clearly is personal.
As a Bill Belichick disciple, Robinson understands the value of sweating the small stuff. Along with Mularkey, he proposed renovation of the locker room and redecorating the hallways at the Titans facility, and Strunk followed through.
But his real input, of course, is in the revamping of the roster. Robinson is a no-nonsense guy. One thing I’ve noticed about him is he can’t abide wasted talent. An example: He traded Dorial Green-Beckham, a second-round draft pick in 2015, for offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.
While the Titans certainly could have used Green-Beckham, especially in the red zone, Robinson and Titans coaches had grown weary of his failure to learn and perform the nuances of the position. Kelly provided much-needed depth in the offensive line and played a key role.
It was just one of several telling roster moves orchestrated by Robinson. Looking back, here is my Top 5 ranking of his personnel decisions:
DeMarco Murray: After a disappointing season in Philadelphia in 2015, Murray was considered trade bait. But how’s this for a deal: Robinson got Murray for a song, swapping draft positions with the Eagles in the fourth round. Murray was the perfect fit for Mularkey’s offense. He ran for 1,224 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He also caught 50 passes.
Jack Conklin: By securing a bevy of draft picks in his trade of the No. 1 spot to the Rams, Robinson was able to trade out of the 15th slot in the first round up to No. 8 in a deal with Cleveland. There, Robinson picked Conklin and immediately installed him at right tackle. All Conklin did in his rookie NFL season was make All-Pro.
Rishard Matthews: When Robinson signed Matthews to a three-year, $15 million contract in free agency, it created barely a blip on the NFL radar. Then Matthews caught 65 passes for a team-high 945 yards and nine touchdowns. He had nine receptions against Houston in the season finale. Although he doesn’t qualify as a true No. 1 wide receiver, Matthews gives the Titans a proven target in the passing game.
Derrick Henry: With Murray in place, the Titans appeared to have a go-to running back on site. That’s why it was a surprise when Robinson picked Henry, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama, with a second-round pick. But Henry proved to be a nice complement to Murray. And with his surprisingly good hands in the passing game, Henry should make a big impact on the Titans for years to come.
Ben Jones: Although he gets the most attention for his pre-game ritual of walking the field barefoot (even in the single-digit chill at Kansas City in December), Jones often is overlooked once the game starts. But that’s a mistake. As a free-agent acquisition from Houston, Jones brought consistency and toughness to the center position.
Notice anything here? Yes, those five key offseason moves were all on offense.
Part of that is due to the stated goal of Strunk to protect quarterback Marcus Mariota. What better way to keep Mariota out of harm’s way than to fortify the offensive line and give support at running back and wide receiver?
Beyond that, Robinson says he believes in building (or rebuilding, in this case) from the inside out. He wants to be dominant up front on both sides of the ball.
Moving forward, he likely will focus on the perimeter – wide receiver and defensive back. While the Titans adhere to Mularkey’s so-called “exotic smashmouth approach,” this is very much a passing league. You must keep pace.
Offensively, it is all but certain the Titans will part ways with former first-round pick Kendall Wright. In five seasons, Wright had his moments but his overall production never matched what was expected of the No. 20 overall pick in 2012.
This offense desperately needs a receiver that can stretch the field with his speed and force opposing defenses to double-team him at times.
The franchise hasn’t had a true homerun threat in the passing game since it moved to Tennessee in 1997. Kenny Britt was the closest thing, but his inconsistency and lackadaisical route running kept him from being a dominant receiver.
On defense, Robinson must figure out what to do about Jason McCourty, a solid cornerback whose price tag is too high.
If he is unwilling to take a pay cut, he likely will not be around. Even if he takes a cut, McCourty might be better served with a move to safety, a switch his twin brother Devin made in New England.
Elsewhere on defense, the Titans need playmakers. While outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan combined for 19.5 sacks this season, you can never have too many pass rushers.
With that in mind, look for defense to be the focus of the upcoming draft and free agency. It needs to get faster.
It helps that the Titans currently have the fifth and 18th picks in the first round of the draft, as well as a pile of cap money to use in free agency.
And it really helps that Jon Robinson is the one that will be making those calls.
Reach David Climer at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DavidClimer.