NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A little more than a year ago, Ruston Webster was promoted to general manager of the Tennessee Titans.
Doing the promoting was previous general manager Mike Reinfeldt, who had just been bumped upstairs by team owner Bud Adams to oversee both the business and football sides of the operations with the lengthy title of senior executive vice president and chief operating officer.
But Reinfeldt is now gone, fired by Adams from a position that lasted only 13 months. That leaves Webster, for the first time in his 28-year NFL career serving in various personnel positions, as the man finally in charge of football operations.
“I have been working to do this my entire career,” Webster said while preparing for he NFL combine that starts next weekend in Indianapolis and impending free-agency period that begins March 12. “I feel prepared for it.”
Before being promoted and then unceremoniously excused, Reinfeldt spent the previous five years as Titans GM. Webster was his right-hand man as vice president of player personnel after following him to Tennessee from the Seattle Seahawks’ front office.
“Obviously, I was very involved with it when (Reinfeldt) was here,” Webster said, “So, it’s not too much of a change for me. I am just looking forward to doing the things to help us get out of this little rut we are in and back on top.”
That rut includes coming off a disappointing 6-10 record in head coach Mike Munchak’s second season. It followed a promising 9-7 stance that nearly netted a playoff berth. But after multiple staff changes by Munchak, including hiring NFL-reinstated Gregg Williams as defensive assistant, there is pressure from Adams to see competitive consistency this coming season, at the least.
But the one-year approach Webster espouses isn’t one of necessity to be successful this coming season to save jobs. Instead, it’s how he views the modern NFL for every team.
“In every NFL season, the way the league is now, you really have to approach it that way,” Webster said of the win-now mentality. “If you stay the same, then bad things are probably going to happen. There are very few teams in this league that are good enough to stay the same.
“You have to continue to bring players who can help you win this coming year and also develop young guys so you can win in years to come. That’s a very tough balancing act. But that’s what you have to do. It has become a year-to-year league.”
Identifiable needs for the Titans include interior offensive line, defensive line in general and particularly pass rusher, and strong safety.
Up front offensively, the Titans are solid at tackles with Michael Roos on the left and David Stewart on the right. But the interior, albeit beset by injuries, was inconsistent at best and showed little reason for optimism.
There is a chance former first-round draft pick yet oft-injured defensive end Derrick Morgan can parlay how well he closed the season, but the Titans need to make sure. Moving veteran Michael Griffin back to his natural free safety position permanently, there is little hope a strong safety candidate comes from the current roster, making that a key position of need.
“We have to solidify our offensive line,” said Webster, whose team has the No. 10 overall draft pick in the draft. “And that is going to be a focus for us. Just like hiring Gregg Williams, in order for us to try get better defensively, we also have to continue to add players and talent there.
“That’s really it. We are going to focus on those spots and see where it goes from there.”
The Titans are busy dealing with their own impending free agents. There are 17 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents and one exclusive rights free agent. Notable among that group are tight end Jared Cook, upon whom the team could place the franchise tag to keep; kicker Rob Bironas, guard Leroy Harris, linebacker Will Witherspoon and return specialist Darius Reynaud.
The Titans recently offered a contract to free agent Chris Canty, the former New York Giants defensive tackle. Also visiting was former Buffalo Bills strong safety George Wilson. If the new salary cap remains around last year’s total, then the Titans are projected to be around $19 million under the cap with its current roster.
Webster, Munchak and their staffs now head to the combine. It’s the meat market of NFL prospects that will be prodded and probed for any and all strengths and blemishes. Two weeks ago, the new configuration of Titans personnel had their first outing at The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
In between, the coaching staff and personnel support have been pouring over potential draft picks and reading the tea leaves of free agency.
“We took it position by position and talked about every player that was written up by our scouts this year,” Webster said of the process of evaluating incoming talent. “That is a lot of football players. That’s the same way with free agency. The difference in the list of free agents is that it changes March 12.”
Areas of little to no concern along with tackle are quarterback, where third-year Jake Locker will be the starter and Matt Hasselbeck should return as backup; running back, where Chris Johnson is secure as lead, but a strong No. 2 is needed; wide receiver, especially with No. 1 target Kenny Britt answering continual questions concerning durability and off-the-field issues; and linebacker and cornerback, where the Titans have mined the draft for young yet talented players.
While just who will become a new Titan either as draft pick and/or free agent is still to be determined, Webster knows what kind of player he wants.
“I want a mentality in the building and on the field of guys that are dedicated to winning, that are team players,” he said. “And on the field, I want to be a physical football team that can run the ball and is going to play good defense. I want to play smart.”