Titans Insider: 2011 in review and 2012 preview
The Titans shuffled the deck in their front office with three promotions that shift the balance of power ever so slightly.
General manager Mike Reinfeldt will be moved into the role of chief operating officer and report directly to owner Bud Adams.
Promoted into the general manager role is long-time personnel man Ruston Webster, who spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks before joining the Titans’ front office as vice president of player personnel in 2010.
Webster will now be the man in charge of the football operations in terms of decisions made on personnel with the draft, free agency and apparently will have final say in the event he and coach Mike Munchak can’t reach a consensus. However, there appear to be no signs that that will be an issue. Munchak and Webster collaborated quite a bit last year around draft time with Reinfeldt, and that result produced one of the most productive rookie classes in franchise history, led by what the Titans hope will be a franchise quarterback in Jake Locker.
The third move in the domino effect was the promotion of Lake Dawson, who had been a serious candidate for the general manager’s job in St. Louis, to Webster’s old role of vice president of player personnel.
Reinfeldt has spent five years in the organization, and now will oversee the franchise’s day-to-day operations both on the football and non-football side of things. He replaces Steve Underwood, who retired in July after 35 years with the organization, including serving as COO since 2006.
Webster was a finalist five years ago when Reinfeldt was hired away from the Seattle Seahawks to be general manager. Webster, too, was in the Seahawks’ front office.
Reinfeldt, who now gets to use his strengths as an administrator, says Webster is more than ready to run the draft room and free agency as the Titans’ general manager.
“All of the things that make a good GM, he’s very capable of doing those things,” Reinfeldt said. “I saw him work in Seattle, and I saw him work here. Honestly, they probably should have hired him instead of me.”
Webster said he is grateful for the promotion and his first shot at being an NFL general manager after more than 25 years working in the league in various capacities. Some of the duties he will be taking on, he has already been performing as Reinfeldt’s right-hand man. Webster had a lot of input into Tennessee’s successful 2011 draft class.
“I really feel like a lot of things that we’re going to do and my job is going to entail, I’ve already been doing,” Webster said. “I told Vin Marino (who negotiates contracts) today he and I have to get together and have a nice, long talk about our salary cap and some things along those lines. Otherwise, we’re going to meet with the coaches. We’re going to start making, not decisions, but start the process of making decisions on our roster and just go forward that way.”
The promotion of Dawson appears in part to be a leverage move, because the St. Louis Rams had shown interest in him as their general manager. The Rams could still pursue him, but with a promotion in Tennessee, it might sway him to stay in Nashville with the Titans.
Jeff Fisher taking the St. Louis Rams head coaching job doesn’t necessarily mean he will be able to raid the Titans organization for a staff. All the Titans’ coaches with ties to Fisher, except for senior assistant Dave McGinnis, are still under contract, and apparently will not be granted permission to interview in St. Louis. Despite a promotion, there is some chance Lake Dawson might still be in the GM mix for the Rams. Also, Fisher might be able to take some non-coaching help with him to St. Louis, such as media relations or perhaps training staff, if allowed to do so. McGinnis accepted a job as the Rams’ assistant head coach.
Titans receiver Kenny Britt plead guilty to a charge of disturbing the peace and paid a $1,500 fine Tuesday, following a June arrest at a New Jersey car wash in which police suspected he was carrying a marijuana cigar.
Britt was the first player from Rutgers to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft, but has had seven run-ins with the law since 2009, including a speeding arrest in Bayonne.
Britt played in just three games this past season after suffering a torn ACL and MCL in late September.
The receiver had 84 catches for over 1,400 yards with 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
The Titans named Keith Millard defensive assistant/pass rush specialist and Steve Brown assistant secondary coach on Monday.
Millard brings eight years of NFL coaching experience and spent last year in Tampa Bay as co-defensive line coach. Brown joins the Titans after spending the last nine years at the University of Kentucky, including four seasons as the school’s defensive coordinator. Both Millard and Brown had eight-year playing careers in the NFL.
It didn’t take coach Mike Munchak long to fill the vacancy at the secondary coach position, as he plucked former Dallas Cowboys coach Brett Maxie for the job. Maxie has been safeties coach for the Cowboys for the past four years, but his contract expired after the season. Maxie played 13 years in the NFL and has coached now for 14 seasons.
The Titans reeled one of their free agents back in, re-signing tight end Craig Stevens to a four-year extension. The deal is worth $14.4 million with a $4 million signing bonus, per TitanInsider.com. Stevens is one of the key cogs in Tennessee’s running game and also had made an occasional contribution as a pass receiver.
The Titans expect that wide receiver Kenny Britt will be ready for the start of the season, as he has proved to be a relatively quick healer in trying to come back from a torn ACL suffered in the third week of the season. Britt was on his way to an outstanding season with 17 catches for 289 yards and three touchdowns in just three games before getting hurt.
Running back Chris Johnson had the worst season of his NFL career, but his wallet did not suffer for it. Because Johnson reached the 1,000-yard plateau in the last game of the season at Houston, he managed to keep a $300,000 bonus that was in the $53 million contract extension he signed when he ended his holdout in early September.
Safety Michael Griffin said he is just “going with the flow” in regards to his impending free agency. “It’s a business. You see guys come and go. One day your time may come, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
QUOTE TO NOTE
“I feel like I’ve put some bricks in the building. I’ve paved the way for a lot of these guys.” — Safety Chris Hope, on being a free agent and possibly not returning to the Titans.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The hiring of Brett Maxie as secondary coach and Steve Brown as an assistant for the secondary are considered the most important of the offseason hires in part because there could be a complete revamping of the defensive backfield with four safeties as free agents, as well as cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
Look for the Titans possibly to add a veteran safety or cornerback to be anointed as the leader of the secondary room, especially if Finnegan is not franchised or does not come back. Also, Tennessee will address the position in the draft as it looks to change the culture in the defensive backfield.
Jake Locker, Rusty Smith.
Sam Brown. Hasselbeck was a solid pro as advertised, and he mentored Locker, the quarterback of the future. The job will be open in camp to see if Locker can claim it. Smith is a decent third guy but has little experience.
RB Chris Johnson, FB Ahmard Hall.
Jamie Harper, FB Quinn Johnson.
Javon Ringer. Chris Johnson didn’t have the year he needed to after his holdout and extension. Hall is a free agent, and he might be moved out after Quinn Johnson was claimed off waivers. Ringer is a decent backup, and Harper has potential.
Nate Washington, Damian Williams.
Lavelle Hawkins, Donnie Avery, Marc Mariani.
Kenny Britt. Washington had a career year with 74 receptions and 1,023 yards. Britt, a dynamic playmaker, wrecked his knee. The Titans got more from Williams and Hawkins than they probably expected after Britt got hurt. Mariani is the return man, while Avery is filler.
LT Michael Roos, LG Leroy Harris, C Eugene Amano, RG Jake Scott, RT David Stewart.
C/G Fernando Velasco, C Kevin Matthews, T Mike Otto, T Byron Stingily. Roos and Stewart are as solid a tandem as there is in the NFL, but the interior three struggled. Scott is a free agent, but the Titans are more likely to re-sign backup Velasco, who has upside.
DLE Derrick Morgan, DLT Sen’Derrick Marks, RDT Jurrell Casey, DRE Jason Jones.
DE William Hayes, DE Dave Ball, DT Karl Klug, DT Shaun Smith, DT Zach Clayton, DT Malcolm Sheppard. This group needs an edge rusher, something Morgan should be, but he has been slowed by injuries. Casey and Klug were two solid rookie defensive tackles, and Clayton and Sheppard may have potential. Jones, Ball and Hayes are all free agents, with Jones having the most potential but Ball perhaps the most productive. Smith was so-so as a free agent, while Marks made the occasional play.
SLB Akeem Ayers, MLB Colin McCarthy, WLB Will Witherspoon.
OLB Gerald McRath, OLB Patrick Bailey, MLB Tim Shaw, MLB Kevin Malast. Injured reserve — MLB Barrett Ruud. McCarthy became an impact player once Ruud was hurt. The Titans hope Ayers improves in year two, while Witherspoon eventually could be a target to be replaced in the draft. Bailey, Shaw and McRath are special teamers, while Malast was a late-season addition with little impact.
LCB Jason McCourty, RCB Cortland Finnegan, SS Jordan Babineaux, FS Michael Griffin.
CB Alterraun Verner, CB Chris Hawkins, S Chris Hope, S Robert Johnson, CB Tommie Campbell. Injured reserve — S Anthony Smith. Finnegan, Griffin, Babineaux, Hope and Smith are all free agents, and many of them may not return. Verner and McCourty are solid, but the Titans will have to add to them, because it’s uncertain if Hawkins, Johnson and Campbell are ready for bigger roles than special teams.
K Rob Bironas, P Brett Kern, KR/PR Marc Mariani, LS Ken Amato. Though he doesn’t get the recognition, Bironas may be the best kicker in the NFL. He went 6-for-7 from beyond 50 yards (only miss was from 66), while Kern is a solid punter. Mariani wasn’t as good as he was in his rookie year, but he was still decent. Amato is a free agent, and Kevin Matthews could replace him.