What Ran Carthon's 49ers past tells us about his Tennessee Titans future
The Tennessee Titans reportedly hired their next general manager Tuesday evening, bringing San Francisco 49ers director of pro scouting Ran Carthon to Nashville to run the Titans' front office.
Carthon's hiring signals a new direction for the franchise. Carthon has worked in San Francisco since 2017, serving below general manager John Lynch as they built one of the most impressive rosters in the NFL. San Francisco has reached the playoffs three of the last four seasons, including a Super Bowl berth in 2020, and has become a hotbed for developing leadership talent that's spread across the league.
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It's no surprise the Titans are the next team trying to capture some of the magic Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have fostered out west. The fact that Carthon was the candidate to make the jump from the bay area to Nashville is even less surprising. Carthon is a former NFL running back and the son of a two-time Super Bowl winning fullback who went on to be an offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. The appeal of having a general manager with a playing background who worked for a Hall of Fame player turned general manager in Lynch can't be lost on Titans coach Mike Vrabel, himself a former player who expressed interest in wanting to be collaborative and unified with his GM on personnel decisions.
Speaking to the Associated Press in January 2022, Carthon said the biggest lesson he's learned in San Francisco is how important Lynch's alignment with Shanahan is, a good indicator of what he'll have.
Carthon brings more than a can-do attitude to work alongside Vrabel. In San Francisco, he's managed the pro and advanced scouting departments and helped make decisions about which players to acquire, retain or let go in free agency and through trades.
During Carthon's tenure, the 49ers have been one of the most active and willing trade partners in the NFL. They acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots in 2017, eventually extending him with one of the largest contracts in NFL history. In March and April of 2020, the 49ers acquired offensive tackle Trent Williams and defensive end Dee Ford in exchange for draft picks and received a first-round pick in exchange for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. At this season's trade deadline, they acquired running back Christian McCaffrey; including the playoffs the Niners are 11-0 in games McCaffrey starts.
While the 49ers have been active in the trade market, they've been less involved with splashy free agents, especially in the last three years. They signed a few big-name veterans like cornerback Richard Sherman and center Alex Mack toward the tail end of their careers, but since 2017 have generally shied away from giving long-term deals to second-contract players after such deals didn't work out with offensive lineman Weston Richburg and linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Since Carthon's responsibilities in San Francisco didn't directly relate to college scouting, it's hard to say how much credit he deserves for the 49ers' scouting of All-Pro stars such as George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Talanoa Hufanga in the draft. But working alongside the scouts who found players like Kittle, Warner and Hufanga in the late rounds of the draft bodes well for Carthon knowing what traits to look for in both prospects and the scouts who work for him.
Maybe most crucially in the moment, Carthon's experience working alongside Shanahan gives him a personal connection with the many Shanahan assistants who litter the NFL as head coaches and offensive coordinators. Carthon's first order of business will be filling the Titans' offensive coordinator vacancy, and his access to current and former 49ers assistants could help connect Vrabel and the Titans with some of the league's most innovative minds.
Hiring a general manager from a successful organization doesn't guarantee you'll be able to replicate that success. There isn't even a guarantee that a new GM will build his organization the same way his former boss did. Carthon will come with his own ideas, as well as ideas he gleaned from his time working for the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams, his playing days and his dad's experiences as a player and coach.
But if Carthon's aim is to build the Titans in the 49ers' image, expect an open line of communication between him and Vrabel, a former player's attention to detail, a scout's eye for talent, a willingness to be aggressive in the trade market and give up draft picks for key players, a hesitance to give out big money to free agents and an on-field product that's less a response to what the rest of the league is doing and more a showcase for cutting-edge ideas.
Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.