The Tennessee Titans passed.
That makes it unlikely Jake Locker or any of the team’s other quarterbacks will have tight end Jared Cook to throw to this fall.
The Titans opted not to use their franchise tag on Cook — or any other prospective free agent — before the Monday afternoon deadline. That meant Cook and 16 others remain on track to become unrestricted free agents when the NFL’s next contract year begins, 3 p.m. (CDT) March 12.
Also in that group is defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, which creates the possibility that the team potentially can lose two of its top three 2009 draft picks.
Free agents may begin to negotiate with teams on Saturday but cannot sign until Tuesday.
“Most players, when they get this close to free agency, want to test the market,” coach Mike Munchak said at the NFL scouting combine. “A lot of times guys want to wait it out and see. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be here. It doesn’t mean we don’t want them. It just means they want to see if there is something better than what we have here.”
Marks was a second-round choice (62nd overall) and Cook came in the third round (89th overall) after the Titans gave up a 2010 second-round pick to get him.
The last time the franchise lost two such players at the first possible opportunity for free agency was 2003. That year wide receiver Kevin Dyson (first round, 1998) and defensive tackle John Thornton (second round, 1999) left upon expiration of their rookie deals.
Then, however, part of the issue was the ability to retain players.
Four years after their appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Titans had little room under the salary cap to operate. The situation reached a critical point the following year when a group of veterans, including wide receiver Derrick Mason and cornerback Samari Rolle, were waived because of cap considerations.
Tennessee has room to operate this offseason but has gotten no indication that it eventually could negotiate a long-term deal with Cook as it did last year with Michael Griffin, who signed a five-year deal three months after he was retained with the franchise tag.
Reports also indicated that Cook and his agent planned to dispute the $6.066 million salary he would earn as a "franchised" tight end and argue instead that he deserved wide receiver money given the way he was used in the offense.
Regardless of his actual position, coaches and other team personnel in recent weeks talked about Cook as a franchise-type player. They said they considered him an integral part of their offensive plans for 2013 and beyond. Tight ends coach John Zernhelt was fired and replace by George Henshaw, the Titans tight end coach during Frank Wycheck’s best seasons, to help maximize his performance.
“We hired George Henshaw because of Jared Cook and the production that George has had in the past with tight ends,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
There were reports, however, prior to the NFL trade deadline last October that Cook’s agent had requested a trade. The player downplayed — but did not dismiss — those reports and indicated he had doubts about the Titans’ ability to compete for a Super Bowl.
“It’s about winning,” he said at that time. “We’re not here to lose. We’re here to win as many games as we can and make it to the playoffs and make it the best season we can. Winning is huge. … If we were losing we’d be nobody. If we were winning we’d be everything. So winning is huge.”
The franchise has missed out on the playoffs each of the last four seasons, the longest drought since it relocated from Houston.
Now it looks as if Cook will be free to find a team he thinks does have a chance to win.