The Tennessee Titans recently extended the contract for tight end Delanie Walker, signing him to a 2 year $17 million deal. The contract carries an $8 million signing bonus, along with $12.6 million guaranteed. Let’s break this down in a few ways.
The contract is for a 2 year extension, which would run through the year 2020, and help keep the star tight end on the team as Marcus Mariota enters his prime. Let’s start of with a blind comparison:
Delanie Walker: 58.6 (Y/G), .51 TD per game, 67% catch percentage, 11.6 (Y/R), and 46 games total
Player A: 60.7 (Y/G), .28 TD per game, 59% catch percentage, 13.6 (Y/R), and 39 games total
Player B: 58.0 (Y/G), .32 TD per game, 69% catch percentage, 11.0 (Y/R), and 43 games total
Who are these guys? Player A is Greg Olsen, and Player B is Zach Ertz.
Let’s look at Football Outsiders, with their DYAR (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Average) for the last three years with these players.
Delanie Walker: (273 – Past 3 years total)
Greg Olsen: (222 – Past 3 years total)
Zach Ertz: (285 – Past 3 years total)
The caveat being that Walker is coming off his worst year (as is Olsen), while Ertz blew them out of the water last year.
I picked these players because they are also similar in salary. The 2 year $17 million contract breaks down to $8.5 million per year, which is the current salary average per year for both Olsen and Ertz. If you are looking at similar players, they are pretty good matches in terms of talent. Although, Walker is the oldest of this tight end triumvirate, there can be an argument about the Titans having the worst offensive system up until now.
Let’s also look at share of team’s air yards as NextGenStats show how valuable Walker is to the team. Last year, Walker had 23.91% of the air yards for the Titans, which was second among Tight Ends behind Travis Kelce. That means, he had a bigger percentage of passing yards than Rob Gronkowski did with the Patriots, Larry Fitzgerald with the Cardinals, or Jarvis Landry with the Dolphins. It doesn’t mean he had better stats, but the team relied on him for a greater percentage of their passing yards.
The main reason of hope for Titans’ fans revolves around the offense graduating to the 21st century, and involving more run-pass options (RPOs), which would freeze linebackers long enough to allow tight ends to thrive.
The first matter of attention is actually the limitation to RPOs in the NFL. Run Pass Option by definition forces the QB to decide after the snap to hand the ball off to the running back, or keep the ball to throw a pass. You will see this over and over again in college football, especially with running quarterbacks. However, college allows linemen to block 3 yards down the field on pass plays, while the NFL only allows one yard down the field, before it becomes a penalty. This provides a conundrum to NFL linemen because blocking for a running play involves much more aggressive push down field, whereas blocking for passing plays involves creating a cocoon for the quarterback.
I’ll show an example from the Titans playoff game against the Patriots:
The first one here is a run from Derrick Henry, and I want you to just look at the linemen. They push aggressively down the field, trying to create holes for the running back, and it’s a matter of pushing your opponent as far down the field as possible.
This is a pass play from the same drive, and notice how they all fall back to protect Mariota, instead of pushing down the field. They aren’t driving the defenders backwards because they would be an ineligible receiver down the field, if they go 1 yard past the line of scrimmage.
The 1 yard rule is the biggest issue for run pass option because the timing of the decision is a major issue. In college, linemen are taught to protect as if it’s a running play, and be aggressive blocking down the field. They can go 3 yards down the field, before realizing it’s a pass play. The 3 yard safety net allows for the QB to read the defense, then decide to hand it off, or see a quick hit route without risking a penalty. In the NFL, you can’t effectively block a running play by only moving one yard down the field, therefore it’s an issue. If you block too far down the field, and the QB decides to hold onto the ball it’s a penalty.
So what is the NFL solution?
Zone blocking, with horizontal elements.
This is a RPO from an Eagles game last year, but I want you to just look at the concepts here. The first thing to notice is the zone blocking, as you can see the linemen moving horizontally, which buys extra time for the RPO to be pulled off. The second aspect to notice is the quick pass option to Alshon Jeffery, as Carson Wentz looks towards the receiver. Essentially, this is a broken play, that turns into a TD because the officials don’t call the penalty. Pre-snap, the Broncos bring seven men into the box, with three defensive backs showing man coverage, and a single high safety. Alshon Jeffery is matched up with the defender to the right side of the formation, which indicates to Wentz that the defender should drop back quickly to protect the deep route. Wentz is expecting a quick hit to Jeffery, and then relying on the large receiver to overpower the defender in the open field. However, the defender stays with the receiver on the quick hit, which forces Wentz to improvise. Jeffery senses the change of plans, and runs down the field for a TD, but we don’t really care about that aspect for this exercise. We’re looking at the linemen first, who stayed within the zone until the run part of the option was decided. The quick pass is intended to get rid of the ball before the center gets past the 1 yard zone. However, the improvisation here causes a delay so the center should have been called for a penalty, but it goes unnoticed. It’s the same idea that many lineman hold on plays because it’s rarely called unless blatant penalties occur. However, you understand the concept here, hand it off or hit the quick pass to the receiver if you feel the defender would back off. If we assume, like Wentz, that the defender on Jeffery will back off, then we have a physical receiver matched one on one in space.
However, this article is about Delanie Walker, so why am I going on about RPO? That’s because I want you to notice Brent Celek (TE – 87) on this play, who is to the left side of the formation in the slot. Notice the defender on Celek because he’s caught flatfooted, due to the fact that he can’t decide between attacking up-field to get to the runner or stay with Celek down the field. On this play, Celek is clearly just blocking, especially to get around the ineligible receiver down field penalty. The tight end is the biggest X factor on this play as far as the defense is concerned, because he’s the X factor for an RPO. The tight end is eligible; therefore, he can block down the field without fear of penalty being 1 yard past the line. If Celek isn’t blocking, then he catches the defender flatfooted, so if he cuts inside for a quick slant, it’s nearly impossible to defend.
Remember the first two examples provided? On the running play, the lineman pushed downfield, which meant the defenders were fighting to get upfield around the blockers. If it’s an RPO, the defenders know to push upfield against linemen. However, the tight end in an enigma because they can both block and catch, which causes major issues because they can’t be fully aggressive in running upfield or running with them in coverage.
This is where Walker becomes exponentially important to the team because he has a huge impact on both running and passing plays, meaning the Titans can run more variations of the RPO while having a unique weapon that can block as well as catch at a high rate. Corey Davis may get the hype as the No. 1 receiver, but I firmly believe Walker will be the most important chess piece for this offense moving forward, even if it doesn’t show up on the stat sheets.
According to Jeff Ratcliffe, these are the teams that ran the most RPOs last season in order, Chiefs, Eagles, Packers, Bengals, Jets, and Panthers.
Chiefs: I believe we all know that Travis Kelce is a great tight end that can block and catch.
Eagles: Zach Ertz, we’ve mentioned him here plenty of times, so he fits.
Packers: The Packers made a play for Martellus Bennett, which didn’t work out, but what did they do, this offseason? Sign Jimmy Graham. While Graham isn’t a great blocker, he can line up in the slot like the Eagles example earlier in the article, and still cause issues.
Bengals: They have the Tyler duo, although Tyler Eifert seems to be extremely injury prone. However, Tyler Kroft is a good weapon, and they can mix and match.
Jets: An interesting study because they moved on from their primary tight end last year, but invested a mid-round pick on Chris Herndon, have Jordan Leggett and Clive Walford on the roster. This is a rebuilding team so could be the exception to the trend, but they did not prioritize the tight end spot like the rest of the teams on this list.
Panthers: Greg Olsen, once again as I mentioned earlier in the article.
The Titans last year, ran an archaic offense, which did not adjust whatsoever to the strengths of the team. The team rarely took advantage of the mismatches provided by Walker, and this extension shows a clear departure from that line of thinking. Delanie Walker getting priority is extremely important to the RPO hopes of the team.
Another aspect to consider is the veteran presence, because the team is fairly young in the receiver department. Rishard Matthews is the oldest of the regular rotation at WR, being 28 years old, so it’s important to have an older veteran for Mariota to rely upon in important situations.
Delanie Walker’s contract may seem risky at such an age, but he’s an extremely import part of the offense moving forward, because he expands the playbook.
Primarily, I work as a real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve lived in Nashville for almost a decade now, and my love for the city only grows deeper, like a 440 pothole. I follow the Titans closely, so I enjoy writing about the team and breaking down film. However, my main job consists of being a real estate agent, therefore if you need any kind of help with the sale/purchase of a home, I’d be happy to help you through the process. If you just want to talk about real estate, feel free to email me as well. I write a real estate blog as well, which I’ll leave a link to at the bottom of this section (as well as a few other places on the website) so please check it out.
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