NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans find themselves in unfamiliar territory as the new league year approaches. After three consecutive playoff appearances and two consecutive AFC South titles, the Titans are looking to bounce back from their first losing season in five years under coach Mike Vrabel.
New general manager Ran Carthon inherited a roster that is in need of a talent influx. But last month, according to Roster Management System, the Titans were $23.1 million over the $224.8 million salary cap. Tennessee made moves to get under the cap by releasing left tackle Taylor Lewan, wide receiver Robert Woods, inside linebacker Zach Cunningham and kicker Randy Bullock last month.
That saved approximately $37.7 million against their cap.
The Titans also released center Ben Jones on Friday and are expected to release outside linebacker Bud Dupree, which will save them another $13 million for when the new league year starts Wednesday. The team figures to enter free agency with around $27 million in cap space if no more moves are made.
Here are the three most significant needs as free agency draws near:
The surprise release of Jones means Tennessee is now tasked with replacing the quarterback of their offensive line. Jones joins Lewan as past stalwarts up front who became cap casualties.
The Titans could have two starters returning from last season. Second-year lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere started 16 out of 17 games at right tackle, and Aaron Brewer started 17 at left guard -- but he is a restricted free agent.
If the Titans place a tender on Brewer, he becomes an internal option to replace Jones by moving from left guard to center. Free agent Corey Levin played solid reps at center in the season finale and would be a low-cost option if they bring him back.
Expect the Titans to take a long look at offensive tackle after the initial wave of free agency. Chatter at the scouting combine last week suggested that Tennessee won't be big spenders in free agency.
But if they do make a splash on the left side, there are some big-ticket options such as former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith.
The receiving group definitely has room for improvement. Releasing Woods left the Titans without a proven veteran receiver. Heading into his second year, Treylon Burks is the most productive player at the position returning and currently is the team's top wideout.
"The biggest thing is making sure that he's available and on the field as much as possible," offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said of Burks at the combine. "When he was on the field, he was pretty productive. He's shown all of the traits that we love. Now it's just a matter of him being consistent and doing it day in and day out."
Fourth-year wideout Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is a restricted free agent that will probably be retained. But, the Titans desperately need to add a more proven veteran pass-catcher to play opposite Burks.
Third-year wideout Racey McMath has vertical speed, but Tennessee could benefit by adding a more consistent vertical threat.
"We have to be a faster football team," Vrabel said in January. "Rarely are we the fastest team out there."
The wide receiver free-agent market isn't deep. If the Titans want to add speed, Chiefs receiver Mecole Hardman is an inexpensive option -- depending on the status of his pelvic injury that kept him from playing in the Super Bowl. Other options include Parris Campbell from the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions wideout DJ Chark.
Outside linebacker/defensive end
The pending release of Dupree creates a need for a quality starter opposite Harold Landry III, who is returning from an ACL injury last September that caused him to miss the entire season. Rashad Weaver is entering his third season and will compete for more reps this year.
The Titans also have veteran outside linebacker/defensive end Denico Autry in the mix. Autry finished with eight sacks in 12 games last season.
The possible losses of free agents DeMarcus Walker and Mario Edwards creates an even bigger void. Walker played 403 defensive snaps and finished with seven sacks. Edwards posted three sacks and 11 quarterback hits in 429 defensive snaps last season.
Vrabel's defense uses a mixture of odd and even fronts that require edge defenders to be capable of rushing from a standing-up position or three-point stance. Finding effective players with that versatility will be tough in this year's group of free agents.
Re-signing Walker would be a step in the right direction.