Titans earn passing marks for conservative offseason
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The roster swinging door hasn’t spun as fast as last year, when the Titans spent more than $100 million on free agency. Instead, it’s been a steady flow of comings and goings that has raised a few eyebrows, as the franchise enters a new era of ownership — Tommy Owens taking over the late Bud Adams — and coaching with Ken Whisenhunt. After 10 days of NFL free agency, the Titans seem more than willing to spend money on needs and save when prudent.
Consequently, there have been some surprise moves made by general manager Ruston Webster.
The status of six-year running back Chris Johnson, whoÃs being shopped for a trade, remains a lingering issue for the club. He’ll probably be eventually cut, if he doesn’t agree to restructure a contract that pays $8 million this year and $10 million in 2015. Here’s a look at the Titans’ roster changes since start of free agency, broken into three categories, with a comment from Whisenhunt, Webster or the player.
RB/WR/Returner Dexter McCluster
The lowdown: During his first press conference with the Titans, McCluster was asked which position room he’d be assigned. He didnÃt know. After spending four seasons with the Chiefs, McCluster has shown tools to be a running back or slot receiver, plus making the Pro Bowl last year as punt returner.
Comment: "(McCluster) is going to start off in the running back room. We are comfortable with him having to play in the slot if we need him to. … We don’t really know for sure exactly how we’re going to use him. We’re excited about finding that out." — Whisenhunt Grade: B+
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard
The lowdown: In six years with Denver, he became one of the better middle linebackers in the league — ranking in the Broncos’ top-two tacklers over the last three years. He seems a perfect fit for one of two middle linebacker slots, as the Titans move to a 3-4 basic alignment.
Comment: "What we are looking for at that position is somebody who has some leadership, somebody that comes in and has some knowledge of the position. Those characteristics were very evident in (Woodyard)." — Whisenhunt Grade: A-
Offensive tackle Michael Oher
The lowdown: The Ravens’ first-round draft pick of 2009 never fully blossomed into a star But Oher has been more than solid at right tackle, a position he’ll be asked to play in Tennessee as the career of eight-year starter David Stewart closes.
Comment: "Even if you asked Michael, he didn’t have his best year last year. But if you look at what he has done over his course of time in the NFL, he has had 80 starts. … You can tell he has a desire to play better football than he did last year." — Whisenhunt Grade: B
Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst
The lowdown: The former third-round draft pick (San Diego) spent the first four seasons and last two with the Chargers — without throwing a single regular-season pass. He had the chance to become the Seahawks’ starter in 2010, but couldn’t seize the opportunity. After spending last year with in San Diego with whisenhunt (the team’s offensive coordinator), Whitehurst will play a large role this spring in offense installation alongside starter Jake Locker.
Comment: "I had a very good feel for Charlie. But when you think about this spring and installing our offense and all the things that are going with that, Charlie is well-versed in that." Ã± Whisenhunt Grade: C
Defensive lineman Al Woods
The lowdown: He played every game last year for the Steelers and adds versatility and quality depth. The fourth-round draft pick in 2010 (Saints) bounced to the Bucs before showing his worth in Pittsburgh (28 outings over the last two seasons).
Comment: "Al is a player with great size, strength and toughness. He also has the ability to play all three spots on the defensive line, which adds to his value." — Webster Grade: C
Safety Bernard Pollard
The lowdown: After helping the Ravens win the Super Bowl, Pollard came to the Titans talking a big game, then backed it up by evolving into a team leader and leading the club in tackles. After playing with four teams in eight seasons, he found some security with a two-year deal.
Comment: "We were pleased with the job Bernard did for us in his first season with us last year. Getting this deal done … helps our overall plan for this offseason." — Webster Grade: A-
Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua
The lowdown: The large and mobile Pitoitua had a career year last season and showed he can be a run-stuffer as well as pass rusher. He’ll be a nice fit on either outside line slots on the 3-4.
Comment: "Ropati came in last year and filled an important role for us. … His size and length are qualities that benefit our defense, and we are happy to have him back." — Webster Grade: B
Returner Leon Washington
The lowdown: The veteran return specialist was added late last season and showed he still had it. With his return and McCluster added to the roster, it’s apparent that McCluster’s importance goes beyond the return game.
Comment: "Leon came in last year and was the consummate professional. He stabilized our return game, and we are excited to sign him back to our roster." — Webster Grade: B
Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson
The lowdown: A seven-year veteran, Johnson was solid in the interior rotation last season, playing all 16 games and posting 35 tackles with a career-high 3 1/2 sacks. He’ll again provide quality depth along the defensive front. Grade: B-
Returner/receiver Marc Mariani
The lowdown: The seventh-round draft pick out of Idaho burst onto the scene in 2010 and was named Pro Bowl returner. But season-ending injuries in 2012 (leg) and last year (shoulder) to the popular over-achiever put MarianiÃs status in jeopardy. With Washington and McCluster signed, plus quality depth at receiver, MarianiÃs return was a surprise.
Comment: "I’ve been focusing on getting in shape and in condition and stronger and faster; no training room for me. It’s not always such a good thing when you have hours on hours with the trainers and know everything about them." — Mariani Grade: C-
Running back Jackie Battle
The lowdown: Battle has the dual role of being the Titans’ third running back and a standout in special teams. Behind Johnson and Shonn Greene, he gained 142 yards on 36 carries with a touchdown last season.
Comment: "I’ve always been a core special teams guy in my career, and I’ve been able to step in when a team needed me to play running back. I just want to continue to do what I can to help a team win." Ã± Battle told The Tennessean Grade: C
Kicker Rob Bironas
The lowdown: The Titans surprisingly released Bironas, 36, the fourth-most accurate kicker (85.7 percent) in NFL history. He was 20 points shy of becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and had made 11 game-winning field goals. He was due $2.875 million this season. The Titans are now in the market for a kicker.
Comment: "To the Titans organization, thank you for giving me a chance back in 2005 to prove that I was worthy of the job of an NFL kicker. And thank you for giving me nine great seasons and a ‘start’ to an amazing football career." — Bironas Grade: C
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
The lowdown: The former Bills starter replaced Matt Hasselbeck as backup for Jake Locker, who played only seven games last season with two separate injuries. That left Fitzpatrick with nine starts (3-6 record). Whisenhunt preferred the familiarity with Whitehurst over Fitzpatrick, who signed a two-year deal with the Texans. Grade: B-
Titans free agents not re-signed include receivers Kenny Britt and Damian Williams, quarterback Rusty Smith, offensive tackle Mike Otto, and interior offensive linemen Chris Spencer and Rob Turner.