Michael Griffin sat in his locker at the Tennessee Titans training facility. He faced outward, with his feet propped on the stool in front of him, just as he had so many other times throughout the course of five NFL seasons, training camps and offseason workouts.
On this day, the one that followed the final contest of the 2011 season, the view was somehow different.
Where many might have looked upon unlimited possibilities, Griffin saw uncertainty. At a time in his career when many players might have their eyes trained firmly on the prize that is free-agent riches, he found it impossible not to focus on the responsibilities of fatherhood.
“It comes down to what’s best for me, for my family and for my situation,” Griffin said as he pondered the future. “I have my daughter [Mya], she lives with me, but my son [Michael] lives in Texas. Being in Tennessee, I’m fortunate that everything works out that I get to see him every home game and every so often.
He added, “I have to look at what’s best for my family. That will play a big part in my situation.”
In football terms, his situation hardly is unique.
The veteran safety is one of 15 Titans scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent when the current contract year ends and the new free agency period begins on March 13. A first-round draft pick in 2007 (19th overall), he played out the contract he signed that year having never missed a game and having started the vast majority of them.
Somewhere among the NFL’s 32 teams is one (probably more) that could use a player of his pedigree and experience. Griffin, though, is not willing to go just anywhere.
“You go any farther north, or if it’s the West Coast or whatever it may be … [my son is] getting older and about to start school,” he said. “You want to win a Super Bowl. You play this game to win. But I have to look at what’s best for my family, and that will be a big [factor] as to what my decision is.”
Not long ago, it was rare that the Titans did not retain their first-round draft picks with a second contract.
Beginning in 1993, when the team was the Houston Oilers, a steady stream of first-rounders (Brad Hopkins, Henry Ford, Steve McNair and Eddie George) all enjoyed extended stays with the franchise. Keith Bulluck and Albert Haynesworth also stuck around a while, and last year running back Chris Johnson got a new deal after he had barely completed half of his first one.
Jevon Kearse, the 1999 Defensive Rookie of the Year, left as soon as he got the chance in 2003, but that had more to do with the fact that the Titans couldn’t afford to keep him at that time. More recently, Adam Jones (2005) and Vince Young (2006) were cut loose prior to the end of their contracts due to matters outside their play.
Griffin, though, was well aware that, in his case, the Titans simply might not see him as a part of their future.
“Really, they’re going to make decisions based on what’s best for the team, whether it’s me here or me not here,” he said. “All I can say is, ‘Thank you.’ It’s been a great five years here. They gave me an opportunity, and that’s all I could ask for.”
As a free agent he won’t simply ask for the most money or a guaranteed spot in the starting lineup. Instead, he will seek the best possible opportunity to continue his career and to maintain his role as a father.
“You don’t want to change, and you don’t want to move and go through the whole process of transitioning to another team,” he said. “But if it happens … it may come down to my decision.
“You have to make the best decision for yourself and your family.”