Hope everyone got a good last look at the 2009 Tennessee Titans on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, because as the calendar turned on a new year, it also turned on the future team roster.
In regards to what may happen with many players, as many as 17, or roughly a third of the 53-man roster, will be eligible for free agency in one form or another.
So the 2010 version of the Titans may look significantly different from the one that walked off the field Sunday in Seattle.
Of course, a lot hinges on what happens with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association. Currently, 2010 looms as an uncapped year regarding player salaries, and it precedes an anticipated work stoppage in 2011 — unless a new deal is approved.
And if no new deal is reached by March, six of the 17 Titans who are free agents will only be restricted free agents. If by chance a new collective bargaining agreement is forged, all 17 players would enter the free-agent market as unrestricted free agents.
“For me, it’s not unsettling. My individual situation will work itself out,” said Titans center Kevin Mawae, who doubles as the president of the NFLPA. “As it pertains to the collective bargaining agreement, there’s nothing I can do about that, other than to be 'in the know' from the union standpoint. But as far as how it affects my contract, I’ve got no control over it.”
Free agency really is a double-edged sword for professional athletes. Some players will enter the market and find lucrative deals awaiting them. Others face a less certain future, thanks to age, injuries or just bad luck.
Just ask Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck, who is scheduled to hit the market for the first time in his 10-year career, but had that dream wrecked by a knee injury three weeks ago. Now, his future and open market value are certainly less clear than they were just a month ago.
And what of Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has emerged as a locker room leader since coming here as a free agent in 2005? At 31, he, too, is at a crossroads with the Titans regarding his future.
“I’ve thought about it, but I’m not making a bigger deal out of it than it is hopefully,” he said. “The ideal situation is that I finish my career here and play here for a few more years. But that’s not the way this business always works.”
Ah, yes, the business end of the game. It’s the part that fans sometimes don’t see or don’t want to see. It can be an ugly by-product of pro football's glory and fame.
Titans fans have found that out over the years, watching fan favorites like Eddie George, Steve McNair, Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle and a host of others shown the door in unceremonious fashion.
“There comes a time in his career when a player has to make a decision and teams have to make a decision, and I guess we’re there,” Vanden Bosch said of his situation. “I’ll deal with those decisions and continue to deal with this decision in due time.”
But due time is looming for those 17 Titans players in the coming weeks — and what the future holds for them is anyone's guess.
Among the unrestricted free agents:
Eugene Amano: He's the starting left guard, but the Titans have Leroy Harris waiting in the wings to replace either him or Mawae. The choice probably comes to an either/or between Amano and Mawae.
Keith Bulluck: The veteran linebacker has had no contact from the Titans about an extension. The franchise tag was possible before he tore his ACL. The best thing here would be for the10-year vet and the Titans to work out a one-year, incentive-laden deal.
Alge Crumpler: Tight end has been a valuable locker room presence and good blocker. “I’m definitely going to continue to play, without question,” he said. The question becomes how much the Titans value him over Craig Stevens and Jared Cook, youngsters who are waiting in the wings.
Nick Harper: At 35, injuries and age have taken a toll this year. A stand-up guy and solid pro, but probably won’t be back.
Craig Hentrich: He nearly retired last year. A calf injury landed him on injured reserve, and he probably hangs it up.
Rod Hood: Nice mid-season pickup, who would be a good stopgap starter opposite Cortland Finnegan, barring a big off-season jump from Ryan Mouton or Jason McCourty.
Kevin Kaesviharn: Another mid-season addition, who served as a backup safety and special-teamer, but has a role the Titans generally use on younger players.
Jevon Kearse: His October benching was a tell-tale sign that Kearse probably won’t be back as a Titan, although he says he wants to play next season.
Kevin Mawae: Valued locker room leader, but at 38, will the Titans sign him to an extension instead of the younger Amano? One way or another Harris is a starter in 2010.
Donnie Nickey: Special teams captain has been here since 2003, making him one of the longest tenured Titans.
Kyle Vanden Bosch: Veteran defensive end’s numbers aren’t what they were a couple of years ago, but his attitude and work ethic might entice the Titans to keep him around.
For the restricted free agents (if there is no new CBA in place):
Dave Ball: A one-time street free agent has become a decent piece in the defensive line rotation, as he can play both end and tackle.
Tony Brown: Another former street free agent who has blossomed into the Titans best defensive tackle. Should be a priority this off-season.
Bo Scaife: Tight end was franchised last off-season and if he is restricted, will almost certainly be a Titan again in 2010.
Stephen Tulloch: With Bulluck coming off injuries and free agency looming, plus David Thornton’s season shortened by injury, Tulloch is the mainstay of the linebacker corps. Keeping him is a must.
Kevin Vickerson: Defensive tackle didn’t make the big splash the Titans had hoped for. Still, he could be brought back at a bargain rate.
LenDale White: Running back is the forgotten man with Chris Johnson’s heroics, and will look elsewhere for a bigger role, regardless of his free agent status.