Inside the Titans’ calculated one-year bet on Vic Beasley

Erik Bacharach
Nashville Tennessean

The Titans’ goal is to see Vic Beasley rise to a new level — or at least one he hasn't reached in a few years.

They see the potential for that type of ascension. Tennessee signed Beasley, the edge rusher whom the Falcons drafted eighth overall in 2015, to a one-year, $9.5 million deal in March. It's a chance for the 27-year-old to prove his value before hitting the open market again next offseason.

“Just thought there was an ability, a skill set there that we can hone,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said of Beasley on a conference call earlier this month. “(Titans coach Mike Vrabel) played (a lot of) years at that position. He’s got a wealth of knowledge at that position. I think he can work with Vic along with outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen and hopefully take him to another level.”

Beasley had a league-leading 15.5 sacks in 2016 before seeing his production fall off. He had eight sacks last season, and five each in the previous two.

Could Beasley's dip in production be misleading? The Titans are placing a (low-risk, cost-efficient) bet on it. And ESPN analytics guru Seth Walder — who in a March 28 article included the Titans’ signing of Beasley as one of five that could be steals — thinks they could be on to something.

Aug 15, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Jets offensive tackle Calvin Anderson (76) blocks Atlanta Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley (44) in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“There’s a pretty decent chance that the Falcons’ secondary was the real culprit behind Beasley’s low sack totals over the past couple of seasons,” Walder wrote.

Beasley’s pass rush win rate ranked 15th among qualifying edge rushers last season, which placed him one spot below Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, per Walder. Both players faced a similar amount of double teams.

“To me, this says a one-year, high-upside $9.5 million risk on Beasley is absolutely worth it,” Walder wrote before likening Beasley's situation to that of Shaquil Barrett's a year ago.

Barrett was signed by the Bucs last offseason after spending the beginning of his career in Denver, where he had 14 sacks combined over five seasons. He racked up 19.5 sacks in 2019 alone.

“While the situations aren’t exactly the same — Beasley is a former first-round pick with a 15.5-sack season under his belt and is being paid more — if anyone is most likely to pull off a (Shaquil) Barrett-style breakout on a one-year deal this season, it’s Beasley," Walder wrote.

Beasley, meanwhile, faced questions about his motivation in Atlanta, which Vrabel was asked about on a conference call with reporters earlier this month.

“I’m not going to comment on what was done, or what wasn’t done in Atlanta,” the Titans coach said. “Our job is to have the vision for the player and coach him, and hold him to a standard that’s expected of our players. ... We’re focused on moving forward with Vic, with a skill set that we like, with a player that can run and have some speed, some explosiveness, some versatility.”

If Beasley can tap into all of those qualities, perhaps he can have a season that more closely resembles his 2016 campaign than any of his previous three.

Jason Butt, the Falcons beat writer for The Athletic, thinks Beasley’s success in Nashville boils down to two factors.

“One, does he really love football? And two, developing a consistent counter to do his first move,” he said.

Butt notes Beasley has a honed speed rush, his primary move in getting after the quarterback, but needs to continue to develop counter moves.

As for Beasley’s effort, Butt said it’s not a question on game days.

“You're getting his best effort every Sunday,” Butt said, “but I think it's just the offseason stuff. I mean, the fact that he gets his fifth-year option picked up, the whole city's (upset) at the Falcons, wondering why they're picking up his fifth-year option, $12.8 million, and he doesn't show up to OTAs.”

Beasley wound up training away from the Falcons' team facility during last offseason's organized team activities. At the time, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said “it’s a bummer” that the team wouldn’t have Beasley, according to Mike Bell of the Atlanta-based 92.9 The Game. After all, Quinn had high hopes for continuing to develop Beasley last season.

"I'm very much looking forward to having a hands-on approach with him," Quinn said at the NFL Scouting Combine last February, per the Falcons’ team website. "I told him by the end of the spring he'll either love me or hate me, and I'm good with either of them but we're going to put it in. He knows the work that it's going to take to play really consistent, and I'm looking forward to seeing him do it."

He’s got another chance to do so in Nashville, a clean slate and new setting where he’ll again be looking to prove it.

“The potential is always going to be there as long as he's in the shape that he's in. He’s freakishly athletic,” Butt said. “It really just comes down to him. Does he want to be the guy who the Falcons took eighth overall? Does he want to be that kind of guy or is he content with being somebody who gives it his all on Sunday but doesn't necessarily want to be there in the offseason with the team? Just working out on his own and doing his own thing, and only being with team when it's mandatory to be there. I think those are the things that he'll have to decide for himself when it comes to whether he lives up to potential more. It's more so on Vic, in my opinion, than anything Vrabel or Dan Quinn could do with him. I think the potential is there, the athleticism is there. It's just whether Vic wants it or not.”

Reach Erik Bacharach at ebacharach@tennessean.com and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.