Tennessee Titans: final offseason move that needs to be made

The Tennessee Titans have been in talks with defensive lineman Jurell Casey regarding a contract extension, but nothing is imminent.

Unsolicited word of advice: Get it done – now.

According to http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/tennessee-titans/, Casey signed a four-year, $2.73 million contract. His guaranteed salary per year  is $617,436. His average salary per year is $683,109. Casey is expected to become a free agent in 2015.

Casey is coming off the best season of his career (10.5 sacks, 90 tackles) but was snubbed in Pro Bowl voting. He has 244 tackles and 16 sacks over his first three seasons.

Casey is one of the best things the Titans have going for them. He is an every-down defensive lineman who plays hard, plays hurt and plays well – very well.

After playing defensive tackle in a 4-3, Casey is expected to play outside more often in 2014 as the Titans switch to a hybrid defense with more 3-4 looks. In hopes of getting quicker, he lost 15 pounds since last season and now weighs about 290.

News that the Titans were switching to a 3-4 defensive alignment was received with a sense of foreboding by Casey.

Some have concerns about how Casey will play in a revamped defensive scheme as the Titans transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. I don’t. Some guys are football players and will perform well regardless of the alignment or system. Casey is one of those players.

As an interior defensive lineman, Casey knows what the classic 3-4 means to those in his position: engaging blockers, eating up space and generally tying up the interference so linebackers can make plays.

Casey feared he would be relegated to grunt-work football, forfeiting his ability to penetrate into the backfield and create havoc.

His concerns were well-founded. At 6-foot-1 and 305 pounds, Casey worried he might be cast in the role played so well for so long by Casey Hampton in Pittsburgh.

For 12 seasons, Hampton policed the interior of the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. He never had more than 27 tackles or 2 ½ sacks in a season (Casey had 49 tackles and 10 ½ sacks for the Titans last year), but Hampton occupied so many blockers that his teammates made big plays repeatedly.

But a crash course in new Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 system has eased those fears. Horton runs a hybrid scheme that creates one-on-one matchups that play to Casey’s strengths. Fears that he would be little more than a magnet for blockers were allayed.

To clarify: The term “one-gap football” refers to a defensive player’s immediate responsibility when the ball is snapped. He takes on the blocker in front of him and is in charge of defending that gap before pursuing the ball.

And it’s about time the Titans competed on defense. This unit needed a fresh start. Things had grown stale. Bringing in Gregg Williams last year to provide new ideas to Jerry Gray’s defense was a plus but the basic system still left much to be desired.

While Horton’s system is rooted in the scheme he learned while coaching the secondary for the Steelers in 2004-10, he has added his own touches in stops as defensive coordinator in Arizona and Cleveland over the past three seasons. Those who thought the Titans were too vanilla or not aggressive enough under the previous regime will like Horton’s approach.

During its most successful years, this franchise has been smart about identifying its top players and keeping them under contract. Casey is one of several Titans in contract years. Among the others are Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers, Michael Roos, Nate Washington, Jake Locker and Brett Kern.

Of that group, Casey is the one I’d lock up first.