NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans wasted no time Tuesday jumping into the free-agency fray that had 524 NFL players entering the open market.
Less than an hour after the 3 p.m. local start to the free-agency period, the team immediately addressed two positions of need by signing former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre and former San Francisco 49ers tight end Delanie Walker.
According to reports, Levitre and the Titans agreed on a six-year contract worth $46.8 million. The 27-year-old Levitre, considered by many the top free-agent prospect at guard after spending four years with the Bills, had apparently been a prime target by the Titans after the interior part of their offensive line was ineffective last season.
After the Titans announced they would not place the franchise tag on tight end Jared Cook, and he turned down a multi-year contract offer last weekend, it became apparent the team would be in the market for another lead tight end.
On Tuesday, Cook agreed to a five-year deal with the St. Louis Rams. He will be coached there by Rams skipper Jeff Fisher, the former Titans head coach who originally drafted him.
“The hard part is you do a lot of homework and then some of these guys sign with their teams in the last 48 hours or get franchised, which will happen before that,” Munchak said prior to the start of free agency concerning dealing with potential signees, either from the Titans’ roster or otherwise.
“I think there are people that we’re going to find we’re interested in that can help us,” Munchak added, “and it’s a matter of who’s available. The hard part is you can want them real bad, but five other teams want them also, so we’ll see what happens.”
At 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, Levitre is a former second-round and 51st overall draft pick by the Bills in 2009 out of Oregon State. He did not miss a start in 64 games for the Bills, who used their franchise tag for roster protection on free-agent safety Jairus Byrd instead of Levitre.
Walker, 28, reportedly signed a four-year deal worth $17.5 million with $8.6 million guaranteed. Last season as backup tight end for San Francisco behind all-pro Vernon Davis, the former sixth-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2006 out of Central Missouri had 21 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns. He had three catches for 48 yards in the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss to Baltimore.
The Titans decided not to place the franchise tag on Cook, a former third-round draft pick by the team in 2009, after he intimated he wanted to be labeled a wide receiver instead of tight end. With the franchise tag denoting the player will receive the average salary of the top five players at the position, the difference meant Cook, if franchised, would make around $6 million as a tight end and $10.5 million as a receiver. The Titans decided to head another direction instead of going to arbitration and risking paying Cook the premium salary of a wide receiver.
Even with the signing of Levitre, the guard position may still be a priority for the Titans as they head into the draft in late April. They have the No. 10 pick in the first round and seven draft picks overall. The top guard prospects in the draft include Alabama’s Chance Warmack, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and Kentucky’s Larry Warford.
On Monday, veteran guard Steve Hutchinson announced he would retire. After spending 12 standout seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, the seven-time Pro-Bowler and All-Pro signed a free agency deal with the Titans before last season. He played in 12 games for the Titans before being sidelined with a knee injury.
“Hutch has been a great player,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said of Hutchinson, “and I am happy for him that he can walk away from the game under his own terms.”
Another key Titan other than Cook who headed into free agency was defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, the second-round draft pick in 2009 out of Auburn. But the Titans have already scheduled a visit from Detroit Lions free agent defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, a run stuffer who started his first season with the Lions in 2009 before falling behind standouts Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the depth chart. He was drafted by the Lions in the fourth round in 2009 out of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
In other Titans transactions …
• Before he entered free agency, the Titans signed standout kicker Rob Bironas last Thursday to a two-year contract worth $6.675 million, including a signing bonus of $1.5 million. The contract makes him the fourth-highest paid kicker in the NFL.
Bironas, 35, has spent all eight NFL seasons with the Titans. Last season, he made 25 of 31 field goal attempts, his lowest percentage since 2006. But among kickers with 100 field goals, he ranks third in league history at 85.6 percent successful.
• The Titans made their first splash in free agency several weeks ago by signing veteran strong safety George Wilson, who had been released by the Bills. The Titans signed Wilson to a two-year, $4 million deal. From 2005-12 with Buffalo, he had 362 tackles, 12 interceptions, 22 passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
• On Tuesday, the Titans waived safety Jordan Babineaux and guard Mitch Petrus. Babineaux, a nine-year NFL veteran, played the past two seasons with the Titans. In 2011, he led the team in tackles (117) and had 92 tackles in 16 games, including 12 starts, this past season.
• On Monday, veteran offensive lineman Fernando Velasco was tendered and signed a restricted free agency offer from the Titans. He started all 16 games last season, including 13 at guard and three at center. He originally signed with Tennessee in 2008 as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia.
• The Titans chose not to offer tenders to restricted free agent offensive linemen Kevin Matthews and Kyle DeVan. Matthews, the son of Titans offensive line coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, spent three seasons with the team as a reserve before being forced to start last season because of injuries. DeVan signed as a free agent last off-season to provide depth.