MOBILE, Ala. – The Titans were in it to win it during the 2020 season, until they weren't.
The jarring playoff loss to the Ravens earlier this month changed everything. Today, two teams remain in the hunt for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, while every other team has turned the focus to 2021, including the Titans.
"Unless you win the whole thing, whenever that last game ends and you don't win it, it is kind of like a car crash," Titans General Manager Jon Robinson said of playoff losses. "It just stops."
Now, it's go-time once again, as Robinson and his scouting staff are preparing for what's next.
The first big offseason event is taking place here this week at the Senior Bowl, where roughly 130 players are showcasing their talent before NFL personnel. It's an especially important gathering this year, considering the NFL Combine has been canceled, and in-person visits with players and teams, including private workouts and facility visits, are prohibited this offseason during the pre-draft process because of COVID-19.
Robinson knows what's at stake, and he knows what he's looking for in the upcoming NFL Draft, even if he'll be looking through plexiglass during interviews.
"This may be our only face-to-face, one-on-one interview time with some of these players," Robinson said. "Being able to sit down for 15-20 minutes with a prospect and try and get to know them as people, see if they're going to be able to fit in our building, determining if they are going to be about what we're about, that's important. Not to say you can't get some of your questions answered on a virtual call, but there is something about the personal interaction that is beneficial. … And it's a good opportunity to see them (on the field). The class at the Senior Bowl is a pretty good one, too."
The Titans are represented by eight members of the organization here in Mobile, which is roughly half the number from a year ago. The NFL put the cap at 10 per team for this year's Senior Bowl. In past years, the Titans had as many as 20 officials attend Senior Bowl practices and interviews.
With other pre-draft events canceled, it will be the only time before April's draft that Robinson and other NFL personnel will get to watch players compete against each other in drills and game situations. Per NFL.com, 37 of the top 100 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft played in last year's Senior Bowl, and 93 of the participants were picked.
Robinson is prepared. He's already watched tape of over 95 percent of the players here this week, and he said the team's scouting staff began draft meetings virtually back in December, when they talked through all the draft-eligible prospects, and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of players. That process will continue after this week's practices at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama, leading up to the April 29-May 1 NFL Draft.
When asked about the needs of his team for this year's draft, Robinson said plenty depends on free agency, which begins on March 17, and what happens with the team's own players.
"We have several guys that are up contractually," Robinson said. "And we'll have to see what the salary cap number comes in at -- it should be a week, 10 days before we know that. And then once you have that dollar number you can make decisions on how you are going to allocate your resources.
"We have several guys up that have been really good players for us – Jonnu (Smith), Corey (Davis), Jayon (Brown). … DaQuan (Jones) has been a good player for us. So, we have some decisions to make and at the end of the day we have to do what is best for the team and I told all the players that when I met with them at the end of the year.
"Like I told Jack Conklin the year before," Robinson continued, recalling his conversation with the team's former first-round pick, who ended up signing with the Browns. "I told Jack: 'We are going to try, man, but at the end of the day you've afforded yourself a chance to hit free agency and if another team offers you something you can't refuse, that is going to be a decision you and your family have to make and I wish you nothing but the best. We'll have to see how some things transpire this year with some of these."
A year after winning the AFC South while winning 11 games for the first time since 2008, the Titans are scheduled to pick 22nd overall in the first round. The Titans are currently scheduled to make seven picks in the 2021 draft, but the team could also receive a compensatory pick between now and then as well.
Robinson is eyeing players throughout the draft, based on need and talent.
He acknowledged edge rushers are on his radar.
"It's an important position," Robinson said, "one that we'll try to continue to bolster and find guys that can help the team."
But there's a lot on Robinson's radar, which right now is scanning Mobile.
"There's positions in this draft that I think are really strong," Robinson said. "It's a unique year at corner – I think there's some really long corners who can help and can play at the NFL level. I think the tackle position is a deep one. I think there's some really good receivers in this draft.
"… Every draft is critical, to get return on those investments and historically we have been pretty good at that. Last year, we would have liked to have had a better return on that one. We'll just keep turning over rocks and finding guys, and the Senior Bowl will be a good opportunity to see these guys live."