Vincent Fuller faced ‘decision time’ this off-season. The Tennessee Titans nickelback was headed into unrestricted free agency for the first time in his four-year NFL career in February, and was faced with two options.
Should he explore the open market in search of the starting job he had coveted since entering the league in 2005, or should he stay with the Titans in jack-of-all-trades role as a nickelback, backup safety and valuable special teams player?
As Fuller was about to enter free agency, there were plenty of reports and speculation that Fuller’s old defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, now the head coach of the Detroit Lions, would make a run at him. It made plenty of sense in that Fuller would have given Schwartz a veteran knowledgeable of his defensive scheme, and would have given Fuller a shot to be a regular.
But one day into the free agent period, Fuller decided that the right thing to do was to stay right where he was — accepting the Titans’ three-year, $7.5 million offer to remain in his current role in Tennessee.
As far as Fuller is concerned, he knows he made the right decision.
“You always give thought [to testing the market], any time you’re approaching free agency. That was the discussion I had with my family and my agents,” Fuller said. “When it got down to it, the situation presented itself with all the opportunities, to stay in the organization you’re familiar with, to play on a good team, and a team that has a chance at winning, and to be compensated nicely and just be comfortable. It all turned and pointed to that direction.”
The Titans seem glad the Fuller decided to stay on board, especially since the rest of their secondary depth departed in free agency.
“He’s basically been our starting nickel for a number of years now, and our starting nickel is basically our third corner,” Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher said of Fuller. “He’s playing 45 to 50 percent of your defensive snaps. He knows the other defensive positions, and he’s a good special teams player. It just made sense to bring him back.”
Fuller was the priority among Titans free agent defensive backs, and stayed with the Titans, while both Eric King (Detroit) and Chris Carr (Baltimore) wound up leaving, even though the Titans had interest in retaining them. Their departures made retaining Fuller an even more important move, according to Fisher.
“We had hoped to get everybody back, Chris and Eric, but it didn’t work out, and Vinny was just a guy we couldn’t afford to let go,” Fisher said.
As for his role, Fuller realizes that while he might not have the title of being a starter per se, he is somewhat similar to a relief pitcher in baseball. He is in the game many times in the crucial situations.
“I just view it as a guy that comes in [during] important situations. I don’t necessarily categorize it as a starter or a substitute,” Fuller said. “It’s just the guy that comes on the field in crucial situations and crucial downs and gives the defense a better match-up and a better opportunity to succeed.”
Success is something Fuller says he won’t take for granted, even in the wake of signing the new deal.
“Definitely, you have to do your job to remain on this team,” he said. “I signed a three-year contract, but everybody knows that you take your season year by year, based on your production. So you always feel pressure to perform.”
And while Fuller says the pressure is there, he maintains his focus is more on team goals and individual ones.
“I definitely want to have a more productive season numbers-wise myself, but more so just for this team to get further than where we made it this past season,” Fuller said.