Change was eminent heading into the offseason for the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans (6-11) lost 18 of their past 24 games stretching back to the 2022 season and failed to make the playoffs in either year. That was enough to convince controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk to start making bold moves.

“I have high expectations,” Adams Strunk said. “I’ll never apologize for that. These fans deserve a great team and they deserve a championship brought to this city. That’s what we’re going to work towards. I’m prepared to make the hard decisions to hopefully get us there sooner.”

A big decision came two days after the season ended when the Titans fired coach Mike Vrabel after six seasons.

The Titans now find themselves at a critical juncture going into Year 2 under general manager Ran Carthon.

Coaching search

Vrabel helped lift the standard for the franchise and had a record of 54-45, with winning seasons in his first four. Prior to his arrival in 2018, the franchise had been to the playoffs once (2017) since 2009, and he was able to lead them there three times.

Adams Strunk named Carthon as the one who will spearhead their search for the sixth coach in team history. Carthon immediately went to work by submitting requests to interview 10 candidates.

That list includes offensive coordinators Thomas Brown (Panthers), Brian Callahan (Bengals), Ben Johnson (Lions), Brian Johnson (Eagles), Mike Kafka (Giants) and Bobby Slowik (Texans); defensive coordinators Aaron Glenn (Lions), Mike Macdonald (Ravens) and Dan Quinn (Cowboys) and Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce.

Carthon wrapped up interviews with Callahan and Kafka on Friday. Pierce and Macdonald interviewed with the team Saturday. Brown is expected to interview later this week.

The Titans would like to follow the collaborative formula the San Francisco 49ers have used with general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan over the past seven years, six of which included Carthon in roles as the director of pro personnel and director of player personnel. That desire was one reason Carthon was hired by the Titans from the 49ers.

Slowik is the only candidate requested by the Titans so far who has ties to the 49ers. He spent six seasons in San Francisco in various roles, including defensive quality control coach, offensive assistant, offensive pass game specialist and offensive passing game coordinator.

Although he and Carthon spent time together with the 49ers, that won’t necessarily give Slowik an inside track to landing the Titans job.

“I know there are a couple candidates out there that will be available that I have relationships with,” Carthon said last Tuesday. “I want to be able to run an unbiased process. And so, that’s going to require more people to be in the room and a part of the process.”

Slowik and the Texans head into the divisional round of the playoffs this weekend. Slowik has played an instrumental part in a turnaround of the franchise under first-year coach DeMeco Ryans, whom he worked with in San Francisco before the two assumed their roles in Houston last offseason. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud set multiple rookie passing records with Slowik calling the plays. Perhaps Slowik could help young Titans quarterback Will Levis soar to new heights in his second season.

Most of the requested interviews have been with candidates from an offensive background. That doesn’t disqualify Glenn, Pierce or Quinn, though.

Adams Strunk pointed to “needing to improve across the board” when asked if the next coach needs to come from an offensive background. A big part of her vision for the Titans is to be a more innovative organization.

“It’s important to find someone that brings in a lot of diverse ideas and fresh perspectives,” Adams Strunk said. “That’s the most important thing in a new head coach.”

That new coach will have to collaborate with Carthon as well as assistant general managers Anthony Robinson and Chad Brinker, who are charged with the evolution of the analytics department.

New-look Titans

A number of key players who helped the Titans make a run to the AFC Championship Game in 2019 and accounted for AFC South titles in 2020 and 2021 are likely to be gone.

The team’s downward spiral seemed to coincide with the trading of Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2022 draft. The heartbeat of the offense came in the form of Brown, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry.

Despite a 7-3 start in 2022, the wheels came off with seven straight losses to end the season, including one in Week 18 to the Jacksonville Jaguars with a division title and playoff berth on the line.

Things got worse in 2023 as Tennessee failed to win consecutive games, and they went 1-5 in the division and 1-8 away from Nissan Stadium.

Tannehill was the Week 1 starter, but he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 6 against the Ravens. Levis held on to the starting job after that until the end of the season when Tannehill started in Weeks 16 and 18 while Levis dealt with an injury of his own. It was probably Tannehill’s last games with the Titans.

Tannehill hinted at his likely departure when he was asked about possibly going off script to help receiver DeAndre Hopkins activate incentives in his contract by posting at least 75 receptions, 1,050 yards and eight touchdowns for the season.

“I told him, ‘Hey I’m gonna get you this ball. I don’t care what they call,'” Tannehill said. “They said he ended up getting it. So, thankful that I didn’t have to go rogue there, call a pass play at the end. I’ve got nothing to lose here. I’m out anyways, so what are they going to do?”

According to Roster Management System, the Titans have approximately $70.1 million in cap space now. They’ll be active in free agency, but with 23 projected free agents, there will be a lot of tough decisions on re-signings.

Outside linebacker Denico Autry is the top defensive player on the list. Autry posted a career high 11.5 sacks last season. He joined Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Harold Landry III as the only Titans’ pass-rushers to record nine or more sacks in multiple seasons.

At 33 years old, Autry wants to be back with the Titans. “It’s a good fit for me,” Autry said in December. “I like it here.”

Inside linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is another key defensive player who could become a free agent. Al-Shaair set a team record with 163 tackles in his lone season with team. Other key defenders include cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Sean Murphy-Bunting.

The Titans will likely have at least two new starters on the offensive line with center Aaron Brewer possibly becoming a free agent. Left tackle Andre Dillard is a likely cap casualty after allowing 12 sacks (second-most on the team) in 297 pass-blocking snaps.

Receivers Chris Moore and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine are two other free agents who logged starts on offense. Henry, a four-time Pro Bowler, is the most significant player who could be gone.

Will Derrick Henry be back?

Henry finished the season with 12 rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth among running backs) — giving him 90 on his career, which ties him with Hall of Fame running backs Eric Dickerson and Curtis Martin for 13th all-time — and 1,167 rushing yards (second) on 280 carries (first).

Henry’s 9,502 rushing yards since being drafted by Tennessee out of Alabama in 2016 trails only Eddie George (10,009 yards) for the most in franchise history.

In the season finale against the Jaguars, Henry rushed for 153 yards, including a season-long 69-yarder when he reached 21.6 miles per hour.

“It felt like the old days again,” Henry said after the game. “Definitely a great way to go out.”

Having turned 30 on Jan. 4, Henry knows his opportunity to contribute to a Super Bowl-winning team is nearing an end.

“I’m not getting younger. I want a ring,” Henry said. “I’m in Year 8 now, so the Super Bowl is definitely my next goal. So, wherever that comes and whoever can help get close to that, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Like most tenured players, Henry said he values an opportunity to spend his career with one franchise. Henry mentioned bringing a Super Bowl to Nashville as one of his career goals. However, Tennessee is in a rebuilding phase that may not be primed to win it all in the time Henry has left.

Rookie Tyjae Spears emerged as a fine complementary back to Henry after finishing sixth among all rookies with 1,108 all-purpose yards. If Henry and the Titans decide to part ways, Tennessee could focus on drafting a back or using third-year rusher Hassan Haskins in a committee with Spears.

Henry’s departure would conclude one of the best careers for any player to wear a Titans uniform. If it’s the end for both him and Tannehill as Titans, the duo will finish with a regular-season record of 33-20 in games in which Tannehill started and Henry played.

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