What Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel said on A.J. Brown trade after GM Jon Robinson's firing

Nick Suss
Nashville Tennessean

Jon Robinson's most noteworthy move as the general manager of the Tennessee Titans might've also been his downfall, but Titans coach Mike Vrabel doesn't think it's productive to second-guess the decision.

The Titans fired Robinson Tuesday, with controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk citing "higher aspirations" that she wants the Titans to meet. The Titans never posted a losing record in any of Robinson's six full seasons and are on the path to winning their third-straight AFC South title. But the team doesn't seem to be on the same trajectory it was in past years, with the offense fizzling to 26th in the NFL in scoring and 29th in yardage and the defense getting shellacked in a 35-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

That loss felt particularly important because the Eagles were Robinson's trade partner in the blockbuster deal that sent Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown off from Nashville. Brown has nine touchdown catches this season, including two against the Titans, and all Titans wide receivers have four combined.

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Vrabel said he wasn't briefed on why the Titans decided to fire Robinson when they did or if it had any relation to the loss to the Eagles. But when asked about his feelings on the Brown trade almost eight months later, he said it's best not to second-guess decisions made in the past.

"We made a decision that we felt like was in the best interest of the football team and the decision we went ahead with at the time," Vrabel said. "A.J.’s in Philadelphia. We’re moving forward."

Questions arose in the hours following Robinson's firing about Adams Strunk's involvement in the Brown trade and whether she was briefed about Robinson's decision to trade away the Titans' top receiver. Vrabel said he hasn't spoken to Adams Strunk about how involved the ownership group was in trade talks, but said to the best of his knowledge Adams Strunk was in the draft room with Robinson and Vrabel when the trade was being discussed.

When Vrabel was asked if he had prior knowledge of the trade talks surrounding Brown, he didn't answer directly. Instead, he said: "I’m pretty sure in my history here I have been aware of almost everything that’s happened on a personnel standpoint."

The Brown trade isn't the only personnel decision Robinson made that's haunting the Titans this season. He used first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 on offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson, who played one game with the Titans and is now out of football, and defensive back Caleb Farley, who was injured in the pre-draft process and has sustained season-ending injuries his first two years in Nashville. High-profile free agent and trade acquisitions like Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree, Jadeveon Clowney, Julio Jones and Robert Woods have ranged from mediocre to horrendous. The Titans built a reputation under Robinson for letting veteran offensive linemen and defensive backs leave in free agency, creating depth issues at those two key positions today.

But for every one of those struggles, Robinson also was the general manager who drafted superstars like running back Derrick Henry, safety Kevin Byard and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and swindled the Miami Dolphins in a trade to acquire quarterback Ryan Tannehill. In one of his first moves as general manager, he traded away the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and used some of the capital he acquired to pick Henry and All-Pro offensive tackle Jack Conklin.

Still, for all the positives and negatives, it's hard to ignore the timing of Robinson's firing in relation to the beatdown Brown and his teammates put on the roster Robinson built. When asked if he still supports the decision Robinson made to trade Brown, Vrabel offered a respectful yes.

"There are decisions," Vrabel said. "We make decisions. You respect them. You make sure that we find ways to prepare the players to win and that we ultimately win and that we do our job and that we’re held in a high standard."

Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at nsuss@gannett.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.