Titans make low-key splash in free agency, sign McCluster
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans jumped into the free agency pool last year like the big neighborhood kid showing off his best cannonball.
This time around, though, it will be more like a quick dip and nowhere near the $100 million spent on free agency — in hopes of bolstering the roster of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008.
On the first day of free agency, the Titans signed former Chiefs wide receiver and return specialist Dexter McCluster, who landed a three-year deal reportedly worth $12 million ($4.5M in guarantees).
"Very excited to join the Tennessee Titans," McCluster said, via Twitter.
McCluster, a 2010 second-round draft pick out of Ole Miss, spent the past four seasons with the Chiefs. In 2013, he made the Pro Bowl as a returner after averaging 11.8 yards on punt returns with two touchdowns, including one score of 89 yards. He also caught 53 passes, with 172 for his pro career.
Tennessee also re-signed kick returner and running back Leon Washington to a one-year deal. The two-time Pro Bowler joined the Titans last season in November and averaged 13.0 yards on punt returns and 30.1 yards on 16 kickoff returns.
"Leon came in last year and was the consummate professional," said Titans general manager Ruston Webster "He stabilized our return game, and we are excited to sign him back to our roster."
As expected, cornerback Alterraun Verner became a free agent and signed with Tampa Bay. He reportedly got a four-year deal for $26 million ($14M guaranteed). One of the most coveted cover corners in free agency, Verner made his first Pro Bowl in 2013 after sharing the AFC lead for interceptions (five).
The Titans had already prevented strong safety Bernard Pollard, defensive end Ropati Pitoitua and running back/special teams standout Jackie Battle from becoming free agents, in the days leading up to free agency that began Tuesday afternoon. Each player inked new deals before testing the market.
Of the 15 Titans scheduled to become free agents, Pollard was considered the highest priority, as Tennessee’s defense transitions from a 3-4 base alignment under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt.
After helping the Ravens win the Super Bowl in 2012, Pollard signed a one-year pact with the Titans, worth $2 million. The vocal leader then led the club with a career-high 142 tackles, while collecting three interceptions.
"We know where we’re going to be for the next couple of years," said Pollard, whose new deal is $6.3 million for two years. "The city of Nashville and state of Tennessee have welcomed myself and my family. We feel at home here."
In eight seasons, Pollard has been with four teams. Before joining Tennessee, the safety played for the Ravens (2011-12), Texans (2009-10) and Chiefs (2006-08), who drafted him in 2006 (Round 2 out of Purdue).
Formerly with the Chiefs, Pitoitua signed a one-year deal last year with the Titans and set career highs in tackles (91), sacks (4.0) and starts (13). He was tops on the defensive line and third on the team in tackles. The new contract calls for three years and totals $9.6 million, including a $2.175 million signing bonus and $975,000 base salary for 2014.
"Ropati came in last year and filled an important role for us," Webster said of the 6-foot-8, 298-pound Pitoitua. "He has been productive, and with the new coaching staff, we see him filling that same role for us moving forward. His size and length are qualities that benefit our defense, and we are happy to have him back."
The Titans are reportedly trying to trade veteran running back Chris Johnson, who is due to make $8 million this season and $10 million in 2015. Johnson, who has earned 1,400 total yards in all six NFL seasons (2008-13) steadfastly maintains he will not renegotiate his contract.
"I think you just work through the process and go through all the pieces of the puzzle," Webster had previously said of dealing with Johnson, who has gained 7,965 yards in six seasons, including a career-high 2,006 yards in 2008.
" … We are not going to push it," Webster said. "If we did make a decision, it would be whenever we felt comfortable."
The Titans started their free agency dealings by retaining Battle, an eight-year veteran. As the third running back last season, he rushed for 142 yards on 36 carries. Battle also played 275 snaps on special teams.
The Titans are also attempting to re-sign defensive tackle Antonio Johnson (35 tackles in 16 games last season). He is reportedly being courted by the Rams, Raiders and Redskins, among other teams.
Other Titans becoming free agents include: wide receivers Kenny Britt and Damian Williams, returner/wide receiver Marc Mariani, quarterback Rusty Smith, offensive tackle Mike Otto, center/guard Chris Spencer, center/guard Rob Turner and center Kevin Matthews.