Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Free Agency Notes

Thus far, the Titans have not been very active in free agency, signing only four players: Seth Wand, LeVar Woods, Rien Long, and Kerry Collins. Yes, all of those players were Titans until they reached free agent status last Friday. Yes, that's the #4 offensive tackle, a depth/special teams linebacker, a backup defensive tackle who was injured in training camp, and a quarterback who was terrible last year and shouldn't get more than face time this year. The Titans had three "marquee" free agents of their own: Drew Bennett, Travis Henry (technically not a free agent but rather a cut to avoid paying a bonus), and Bobby Wade. Bennett signed with the Rams, where he should thrive as a #2 behind Torry Holt and help Isaac Bruce fade into retirement. Henry signed with the Broncos for $12M in "guaranteed" money, an odd choice for a team whose ethos seems to resolve around running back fungibility. And, per PFT, Wade has signed a deal with the Vikings. Yea, sound the tocsin.

Such alarm is not entirely unwarranted, of course. Bennett and Wade were two of the Titans' better receivers last year, and it was encouraging to see Wade resurrect his career off the trash pile and develop some chemistry with Vince Young. Yes, Brandon Jones is the Titans' only receiver currently healthy who played well last year. Yes, Givens tore his ACL last year and may not be ready for the start of the 2007 season, and almost certainly won't be 100% if he is. But here's the thing: Wade was a mediocre receiver who was only effective in the slot, and would be miscast split out wide. The Titans found an effective way to use him, but, frankly, he never should have been out there and seeing him was, notwithstanding his effective play, a disappointment. Or maybe I should just point out comments on the first Indianapolis game. And Bennett, well, he was only particularly good when (i) there was a clear #1 receiver and (ii) Volek was bombing it to him. Even then, though, he could be stopped, as Denver showed in the Christmas Day 2004 fiasco. As noted above, I think St. Louis is an excellent fit for his skills, and he'll be a better receiver for them than he ever would have been for the Titans.

As for Travis Henry, I'm not too sad to see him go for a couple reasons: (i) I think a lot of his success last year was due to the offensive line, which returns intact, (ii) he's been a participant in the NFL's substance abuse program, sitting out 4 games in 2005, and his next strike will cost him a year, (iii) he's 28 years old, and is about the age where running backs begin to decline, and a 3+ year deal would likely see him well into the decline (read "fall off cliff"?) stage of his career, (iv) he's never been particularly good, and (v) LenDale White is enough of the same kind of runner that a LenDale committed to training rather than eating could effectively replace him. With Chris Brown also a free agent, the Titans will need to acquire at least one more running back, and perhaps two depending on their appreciation for Quinton Ganther and who they acquire.

Two names that have interested me, and are supposedly available, are Willis McGahee of the Bills and Darrell Jackson of the Seahawks. Yes, it would be odd to acquire another running back from the Bills via a trade. Yes, Jackson is known for being frequently injured and having cases of the dropsies. My feeling, though, is that they're better players than the alternatives (hello, Mr. Stallworth), and if they really could be had for the right price then they should be.

I didn't really say much about what I expected out of the Titans in free agency. My one prediction was Packer TE David Martin, who signed with the Dolphins. Score none for me. On the TE situation in general, I was mildly surprised the Titans gave Ben Hartsock a qualifying offer. I thought he was mostly unimpressive after being picked up from the Colts on waivers. Bo Scaife will never be that great, and Ben Troupe didn't provide the level of productions I (and others) expected of him in 2006. SOMEBODY will be getting the ball on offense for the Titans in 2006, and it will be interesting to see who it is.

UFR this week or weekend, I promise. I'm also working on a couple other projects, one of which I hope ends up as a Football Outsiders guest column. Details when I make them available.

UPDATE (3/6, 2251 CT): TE Daniel Graham has reportedly signed a 5 year contract with the Broncos that included $15M guaranteed and $30M total. Many Titans fans seemed to want Graham as a free agent. At that price, for a guy who's been a blocking TE and now wants to be a pass-catcher? No thanks.

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