Boclair: Caveat emptor

Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 11:55pm

Not all free agents are created equal. Just look at the Tennessee Titans.

General manager Ruston Webster and his staff dove into the available talent pool and early on came away with guard Steve Hutchinson and defensive end Kamerion Wimbley.

Most observers viewed those moves in a positive light. Why not? Both have been productive players in the league. Both addressed obvious needs on the team. Six months before the first game of the season, it looked as if the Titans got better.

Consider how those two ended up in that talent pool in the first place, though.

Neither Hutchinson nor Wimbley was a free agent in the traditional sense. That is to say they had not played out their contracts and reached a point that, for whatever reason, their former teams felt they no longer could pay what they were worth.

No, Hutchinson and Wimbley were available because they were waived. In other words, their former teams felt they were not worth what they were being paid.

It’s an important distinction.

These are not big ones that got away, losses to be lamented for years to come. These guys were thrown back with the belief that bigger and better options were available.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the Titans opened the spending season in this fashion. Then again, maybe it is not.

When he was introduced as the team’s new general manager a little more than two months ago, Webster promised frugality.

“Will we ever be a team that goes crazy in free agency? No, we won’t,” he said at that time. “We’ll be smart about what we do, and then we’ll hopefully draft wisely.  In my mind, that’s the best way to do it.”

It sounded as if he was saying that the Titans were the consumer equivalent to Stein Mart shoppers as opposed to those who frequent Neiman Marcus. They were willing to wait in order to pay a little less for basically the same thing, and they did not feel the need to be any sort of trendsetters (read: market setters).

Instead, Webster’s initial efforts as the primary decision maker on personnel matters raise the question of whether he’s engaged in a football version of Hardcore Pawn or American Pickers. Either he’s looking to capitalize on someone else’s mismanaged budget, or he’s simply going through another’s trash in hopes that he will find a hidden gem or two.

Quite honestly, it’s difficult to tell at this point which is the case.

Hutchinson and Wimbley both have had their shining moments. The former is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro but has not added to either list since 2009. Wimbley set a franchise record with Cleveland for sacks by a rookie with 11, but has averaged a little more than six per season since.

Either they’re in decline and beyond repair, or they just need a little polish and a fresh perspective to show their true worth.

The Titans, of course, believe it’s the second of those options.

It’s not just these two, either. Who could forget that Tennessee unsuccessfully tried to get another player under the same set of circumstances?

Quarterback Peyton Manning was available only because the Indianapolis Colts decided they could not afford to pay him what his contract required.

There was no doubt that the Titans wanted him and were willing to break the bank in their effort to get him. They took a chance and came away with nothing.

In adding Hutchinson and Wimbley, they’ve taken a different sort of chance. They hope that they found value where others saw loss.

After all, there’s a reason those players were available in the first place.