If the Tennessee Titans were a stock, I'd be buying.
That was already the case because of their solid 2016 season, strong young core of players and the additions they had made this offseason, but the recent signing of veteran wide receiver Eric Decker only served to solidify my thinking in that regard. Lack of experience among their receivers was one of if not the only major concern for a team poised to build on last year's 9-7 campaign, and inking Decker goes a long way toward alleviating that potential problem area.
The Titans had already added talent to the outside to go along with emerging star quarterback Marcus Mariota when they drafted Corey Davis in the first round and Taywan Taylor in the third round. Tennessee also has returning receivers like Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe, but the team didn't really have an established veteran who had produced at a high level, and in big games, for a long time. Now all those young players will have a role model to look up to and see the way Decker carries himself in meetings and practice. Stuff like that matters and it is a major reason why teams always try to have one veteran, high-character guy like that in every positional meeting room.
Plus, Decker is a versatile player that can play both outside and in the slot, is a terrific blocker in the run game for the Titans' dynamic duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and gives Mariota another reliable target that really knows how to work the middle of the field. Between that signing, the draft and reinforcements the Titans have added in the secondary -- like free agents Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien, as well as first-round pick Adoree Jackson -- there is no glaring weakness for a Tennessee team that may keep the professional sports momentum going in Nashville after the Predators' march to the Stanley Cup Final took the city by storm.
That said, while the Titans may be the non-playoff team from 2016 I feel best about punching a postseason ticket in 2017, they aren't the only club whose stock I would seriously consider purchasing if we are talking about the next five years. Here are a few others who have caught my eye.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the Titans are the "trendy" upstart team this offseason, the Bucs certainly aren't far behind. Adding DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard to a team that already included Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Cam Brate and a supposedly rejuvenated Doug Martin could be downright scary for opponents. Their challenge will be tougher in the NFC South than the Titans in the AFC South, however.
Philadelphia Eagles. There are a lot of similarities between the Eagles and the teams mentioned above. They have a young franchise quarterback, new skill position weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount, plus one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. The question for 2017 is whether they can overcome arguably the worst cornerback group in the league to make the playoffs for the first time in three years?
Dallas Cowboys. There's a lot to like about the Cowboys when you just look at the sensational rookie seasons from both Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott. Those two should be able to continue to build upon what they did a year ago, in part because of the best offensive line in football. The problem, if we are talking about buying stock in teams, is that the Cowboys were 13-3 last year. What are the chances, especially with all the defections on the defensive side of the football, that they are going to be able to even match that record from last year, let alone exceed it?
Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are in a similar position to the Cowboys, only they didn't have the number of players leave in free agency that Dallas did, so you have to feel a little better about them improving. Even if they do, however, will it show up in their won-loss record? That remains to be seen in what is arguably the toughest division in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers. They're not going to be "good" per se, but after winning only two games in 2016, will it be that hard for them to improve? And if we're buying stock in these teams, would a four-win season mean we've doubled the stock price? If so, I am all in on Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch getting this turned around in short order. The Niners' draft was stellar, the signing of free agent Elvis Dumervil indicated they want to turn around the culture and start winning as soon as possible, and Shanahan's track record with quarterbacks-- from Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels in Houston to Robert Griffin III in Washington, Brian Hoyer in Cleveland and, most recently, Matt Ryan in Atlanta -- is awfully tough to beat. No matter who is behind center, the odds are Shanahan will get some production out of the position.
Cleveland Browns. See what I wrote about the Niners above. With one win in 2016, it shouldn't be too hard for this stock price to be on the rise ... plus the team continues to acquire a solid level of young talent to build around. Even three to five wins in 2017 would give us a nice return on our investment with the Browns.
So, the good news for fans of those teams is that I am buying stock in all of them for 2017, and feel good about those organizations over the next five years.
The bad news is that last year at this time, my top stock pick was Jacksonville.