The Tennessee Titans are at a point that is more pivotal than it might appear.
Last offseason, much of general manager Jon Robinson's most notable work didn't pan out. First-round pick Isaiah Wilson's various off-field troubles limited him to just three snaps as a rookie; edge rusher Vic Beasley refused to report to camp before finally acquiescing, then never showed he truly wanted to be in Tennessee; and Jadeveon Clowney's underwhelming season ended early due to injury.
These outcomes left the Titans with a hole on the edge of their defensive front, and without the player they'd identified as their long-term replacement for Jack Conklin. Now, Robinson enters another offseason in which he cannot afford to see the same results.
"There were some players that came on the team in free agency that bought in and were about what we're about, and there were some that didn't work for a myriad of reasons," the Titans GM told reporters Tuesday.
Robinson could attempt to remedy the edge-rushing need by pursuing veteran J.J. Watt, a player with whom the Titans are rather familiar from his career spent playing in the AFC South as a Houston Texan. Robinson told reporters Tuesday he has reached out to Watt's representations and "it's early in the stages" when it comes to the DE deciding on where he'll play, but he did include a nice little anecdote for good measure.
"He probably doesn't remember, but I actually worked him out when I was with the Patriots," Robinson said of Watt. "He pushed me around on the field pretty good for about two hours."
The Titans would like to have Watt pushing around opposing tackles while wearing their shades of blue in 2021, but they also need to clear the necessary cap space to be able to take on a player of Watt's caliber, based on conservative cap projections for 2021. They also need to figure out who is going to man their right tackle position down the road.
Wilson was supposed to be that guy, but the entirety of his rookie campaign took place within three kneel-downs at the end of a Titans win. Robinson said he hasn't spoken directly with Wilson since Tennessee placed the lineman on the reserve/non-football injury list in 2020, ending the most disappointing season possible for a first-rounder.
"We did a lot of work a year ago leading up to selecting him -- the evaluation process, talking to different sources, visiting with him countless numbers of times," Robinson said. "For whatever reason, the player that, this fall, was here in Nashville wasn't the guy that we spent time with last year.
"I think he's gonna have to make a determination if he wants to do everything necessary to play pro football. That's going to be on him. I know what the expectation level is here. It's no different than any other player on the football team. We have a certain standard that we want players to prepare and perform at professionally, and as people, and (there is) a lot of work to be done there."
When pressed on the matter, Robinson admitted he's not certain Wilson has a future in Nashville, responding, "We'll see."
"We've got to continue to find guys that love ball," Robinson said. "Guys that actually want to play the game of pro football."
Tennessee's swings and misses left the Titans thin in areas they expected to be deep, and though they remained relatively healthy as a team for much of 2020, they couldn't find a way to beat Baltimore for the second time in as many postseasons. Perhaps a healthy Clowney or an engaged Beasley might have helped slow Lamar Jackson. Maybe Wilson could have opened a hole for a signature Derrick Henry rumble for a game-changing score in the second half.
Instead, the Titans went home early. If they come up empty in another offseason, they might start missing the postseason entirely.