In the parity-laden NFL, teams often talk about a window of opportunity and keeping that window open to win a championship or two during a certain period of time while a core group of players is still intact.
Certain franchises have excelled at keeping that window of opportunity open for as long as possible. The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, just to name three, have kept their respective windows open now for a decade or more.
A good part of that, of course, can be tied to stellar quarterback play and surrounding that quarterback with as many pieces as possible to make good things happen on the football field.
As former Titans GM Floyd Reese was fond of saying, "When you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance."
Which brings us to the Tennessee Titans, who after Sunday’s inexcusable and inexplicable loss in Jacksonville are yet again on the outside looking into that window.
Once this season is over, the Titans will have only three winning seasons in the past nine years to show for their efforts.
When we talk about windows for the Titans, let’s be honest for a moment. This team’s window of opportunity closed in 2004 and hasn’t reopened since.
Yes, there was the fool’s gold season of 2008, but that team really had just two major things going for it. It had Chris Johnson, then a rookie sensation, at running back, and had Albert Haynesworth, playing for a contract, dominating on defense.
That year, the Titans caught lightning in a bottle by using a veteran Band-Aid at quarterback in Kerry Collins because they had wasted the third pick in the draft two years prior on Vince Young.
By the next year, Collins had been replaced by Young; Haynesworth left and got his money and no longer had anything to prove, and the Titans were once again mired in mediocrity.
And last year was a similar situation. The optimism of a 9-7 season in 2011 came in part because the Titans once again found a short-time answer at quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, and quite honestly, the lockout temporarily leveled the playing field around the NFL and the Titans benefited from that.
Now, back to reality. The Titans think they have finally found the guy who can open the next window of opportunity in Jake Locker. Time will tell on that one. Locker is still green and has accuracy issues at times, but does show the type of moxie and competitiveness that the top-level quarterbacks all have.
As for the pieces around him, I honestly can’t tell from week to week exactly what the Titans have. And let me clarify that with this illustration.
The great teams, on offense in particular, have enough weapons around that if someone takes away one thing, they counter and beat you with another.
For example, in this year’s opener, the Titans seemed to key a lot of their efforts on slowing down Patriots receiver Wes Welker. They did. So what did Tom Brady do? He simply shredded the Titans using Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
With the New York Giants, if you plan to shut down Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, that’s about the time that Ahmad Bradshaw goes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
(Photo:The Titans banked on Jake Locker. Now their braintrust has to hope he develops and that they can find some pieces to help him.)
And that’s what I don’t see out of the Titans.
Johnson had shown enough of his old flash in recent weeks that the Jaguars were no doubt keying on him. Save for one 31-yard run, Jacksonville kept him in check, and made Locker and the Titans receivers beat them. They couldn’t.
And there are some who question whether when something is taken away, if the proper adjustments in the play-calls are even being made. And those are just the offensive issues.
On defense, the Titans are a train wreck. In fairness, they have played better the past two games, but this group is devoid both of identity and difference makers.
There is literally no one on the defensive unit that keeps opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks up late at night, worried about how to stop them.
Perhaps there are a few pieces that can be salvaged from this and built around. Young linebackers Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy and Zach Brown show promise, and Jurrell Casey looks like a keeper at defensive tackle.
But all those players would probably fare much better with just one dynamic pass rusher added to the mix.
The secondary, where three players got extensions in the off-season, is in dire need of a ballhawk and someone who can be a sure tackler. It’s not a stretch to say that the Titans should consider their first couple of picks trying to shore up things along the back line.
And that brings us to the front office. Over the years, the Titans have been bargain shoppers in free agency, and the results have been largely underwhelming. The K-mart shopping approach of waiting until the first wave of players have signed and the market has been set, hasn’t worked out.
I’m not advocating a Daniel Snyder-type spending binge, but with a 4-7 team sitting $13.3 million under the salary cap right now, the Titans need a more aggressive approach to free agency. Some of that $13.3 million might have netted another decent pass rusher or a safety who can tackle consistently.
What happened Sunday in Jacksonville just made obvious what we should have already known. The Titans' window of opportunity is not yet open, and hasn’t been for quite sometime.