The Tennessee Titans fired general manager Jon Robinson on Tuesday, ending a seven-season run that made the Titans the class of the AFC South but also brought scrutiny about his ability to build a championship-winning roster.
The Titans went 66-43 under Robinson, reaching the AFC Championship during the 2019 season and securing the No. 1 seed in the playoffs in 2021. But despite postseason berths in four of Robinson’s six full seasons, including the past three, a confluence of failed selections at the top the NFL Draft, the untimely trade of star receiver A.J. Brown and some uncharacteristic performances this season put Robinson’s tenure in the cross-hairs.
“Since becoming controlling owner in 2015, my goal has been to raise the standard for what is expected in all facets of our organization,” Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement. “I believe we have made significant progress both on and off the field through investments in leadership, personnel and new ideas. This progress includes the core of our business, the football team itself, which is regularly evaluated both by results (wins and losses) and team construction/roster building. I am proud of what we have accomplished in my eight seasons of ownership, but I believe there is more to be done and higher aspirations to be met.
“I want to thank Jon for his dedicated work to set this organization on an upward trajectory and I wish him and his family the best.”
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On Feb. 8, 2022, Adams Strunk announced a contract extension for Robinson, saying in a statement that he and coach Mike Vrabel would be “leading our football team for years to come.”
Ryan Cowden, the Titans’ executive vice president of player personnel since 2018, will take over for Robinson in the interim. Cowden oversees college and pro scouting and free agency preparation. He has been with the franchise for seven season.
The Titans (7-5) hold a three-game lead over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South but haven’t looked particularly dominant. They have lost three of their past five games, including a 35-10 loss at NFL-leading Philadelphia on Sunday that saw Brown torch his former team for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
The Titans host the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) at Nissan Stadium on Sunday (noon, CBS).
Robinson was named GM in 2016 and hired Mike Vrabel in 2018
A first-time general manager who had worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots, Robinson, 46, was hired as general manager in 2016 and has been executive vice president since 2017. The Union City native turned the Titans around in short order, as the Titans finished 9-7 in his first four seasons after not recording a winning record since 2011.
In 2018, Robinson hired Vrabel, leading to a dominant three-year run that saw the Titans come within one win of a Super Bowl in 2019 and finish with the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed in 2021. Vrabel was named the NFL’s coach of year last season, but the Titans ultimately fell short in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC divisional round, despite sacking quarterback Joe Burrow a playoff record nine times.
The 19-16 playoff loss to the Bengals underscored the gap between the Titans’ hard-nosed, physical defense and an offense that too often relies on the success of star running back Derrick Henry.
The NFL Draft and building the roster
Robinson is responsible for constructing the Titans’ roster, and his hits and misses have been sticking points for scrutiny.
Robinson built credibility by drafting defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, outside linebacker Harold Landry III and offensive tackle Jack Conklin in the first two rounds, along with Henry and Brown. But Conklin and Brown are no longer with the franchise, nor is 2017 first-round picks Corey Davis (wide receiver) and Adoree Jackson (defensive back), 2018 first-round pick Rashaan Evans (linebacker) or 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson, an offensive tackle who played one game for the Titans and is now out of the NFL.
Robinson used his first-round pick in 2021 to draft injury-prone cornerback Caleb Farley, who suffered season-ending injuries in his first two seasons in Tennessee. In 2022, he was used on special teams before his latest injury.
But none of those moves stung as bad as watching Brown dominate his former team last week.
Robinson turned the Brown trade into a slew of draft picks that ultimately brought receiver Treylon Burks and defensive back Roger McCreary to the franchise, among others. But the deal was viewed as a swing-and-miss by draft experts, and looks even worse with the Titans entering Sunday with the 30th-ranked passing offense in the NFL — out of 32 teams.
The Brown trade wasn’t the only big swing Robinson took in player acquisition. He took chances on big-name edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Bud Dupree in free agency. He traded draft capital to acquire future Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones, who played one season. Perhaps most notably, he executed the trade to bring quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the Titans from the Miami Dolphins in 2019.
While the Tannehill acquisition went well for the Titans, Clowney and Jones barely contributed in their short tenures and Dupree has struggled to stay healthy in his two years in a Titans uniform.
Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.