Mike Munchak and Ruston Webster could not wait for free agency. So they didn’t.
The Tennessee Titans coach and general manager have indicated throughout the offseason that they intend to be more aggressive in free agency than in recent years. Following a 6-10 season and their fourth straight year without a playoff berth they have plenty of areas on the roster that could use an influx of talent.
Rather than wait for the hundreds of contracts to expire at 3 p.m. CDT Tuesday and start to add players at that point, though, they moved quickly and signed veteran safety George Wilson, who was available early because his previous team, the Buffalo Bills, waived him.
The addition made sense because it was clear that the Titans needed to be better at safety than they were last season.
It also provided hope because in the time the franchise has been in Middle Tennessee, free agency has been a proven method to get better at that spot. Lance Schulters and Chris Hope came in and made an immediate impact in the secondary. Jordan Babineaux was a quality addition in 2011 before he became part of the problem last fall.
Tennessee also has had some success with defensive ends and offensive linemen, two other areas that could be addressed in the coming weeks.
Free agency always offers teams plenty of opportunities to get better but no
The Titans have missed on their share of free agents too. Players such as cornerback DeRon Jenkins, fullback Greg Comella and, more recently, defensive tackle Shaun Smith fell far short of having the desired impact.
With another free agent signing period at hand, here’s a look at the best free agents of the Titans era as a means to gauge what they might be able to do to improve this time:
• Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, (2005): Considered damaged goods after years of knee injuries with Arizona, he injected much needed energy into the defense and set a standard for work ethic and intensity during his five years. He is the only player of the Titans era with 12 or more sacks in more than one season.
• Kevin Mawae, C (2006): Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the offense ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in rushing each of the four years he was the starting center. And maybe it’s coincidence that those are the only four years since 1999 that the offense rushed for more than 2,100 yards. Then again, maybe those numbers had something to do with a player who was experienced enough to make the right calls and still athletic enough to make blocks on linebackers and safeties.
• Randall Godfrey, LB (2000): He immediately transformed a middle-of-road defense into a dominant one with a season that, if not for Ray Lewis’ breakthrough in Baltimore, would have warranted Defensive Player of the Year consideration. He led the team in tackles for two years before injury issues and an unceremonious end brought about by salary cap issues.
• Lance Schulters, S (2002): He promptly restored an attitude to the secondary two years removed from the days of Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson. He led the team with six interceptions in 2002, and the defense averaged 19 picks in the three years he was on the team. In 2004, the first season without him, it had nine.
• Chris Hope, S (2006): His 85 games (72 starts) played over six years are the most by any free agent during the franchise’s time in Tennessee. He made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2008 and was a voice of reason and experience for a unit that included cornerback Cortland Finnegan and fellow safety Michael Griffin in their formative years.
• Fred Miller, T (2000): Nothing is more important to an offensive line than consistency, and in the five years after he signed following his Super Bowl XXXIV triumph with St. Louis, he started every game at right tackle. He did not play with the mean streak most prefer at that spot, but he played — every single game and often every single offensive snap.
• Jason Babin, DE (2010): He had plenty of opportunity to rush the passer — opponents attempted a franchise-record 625 throws — and made the most of it. Like Vanden Bosch, he resurrected his career under position coach Jim Washburn and had a team-high 12.5 sacks. Unlike Vanden Bosch, he immediately priced himself right out of town rather than create a more lasting legacy.
• Neil O’Donnell, QB (1999): The backup quarterback is the most popular guy on many teams, but he earned the devotion of coaches, teammates and fans when he went 4-1 in place of the injured Steve McNair early in 1999, a critical stretch that helped fuel the Super Bowl run. He remained an important player through 2002 and finished with a much-deserved curtain call in the 2003 finale against Tampa Bay.
• Nate Washington, WR (2009): He is a rarity in that he actually has been better with his second team (Tennessee) than he was his first (Pittsburgh). He never caught more than 40 passes in four seasons with the Steelers but has had at least 42, including a career-high 74 in 2011, in four seasons with the Titans.
• Kerry Collins, QB (2006): He played his best for the Titans in 2008, the only time they opened a season with 10 consecutive victories, but his greatest contribution might have been as a safety net whenever things went south with Vince Young. Often he was thrust into nearly impossible situations, but he remained calm and poised even when the offense was in turmoil.
• Chris Carr, CB/return specialist (2008): Like Babin, he stayed for only one season, but during that season he did exactly what the team wanted and needed. He was the primary return specialist, and his 28.1-yard average on kickoff returns was the franchise’s highest in more than 40 years. He also played a backup cornerback and had an interception.
• Lorenzo Neal, FB (1999): It’s tough not to wonder what might have happened had he stayed more than two years. After all, he played another eight years for three teams after the Titans. In the two seasons he was here Eddie George set career-highs for yards and touchdowns with 1,509 and 14, respectively, in 2000 and tied his career-best yards-per-carry average (4.1 in 1999).