Will Witherspoon has a new team and a new conference to play in, in signing a three-year, $11 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. But the linebacker also has quite a bit of familiarity as he begins the next chapter of his NFL career in Nashville.
Witherspoon’s father, Cordell, was born in nearby Franklin, and even though his father, a retired military officer now lives in Missouri, the linebacker still has plenty of uncles and cousins in the Nashville area, as he comes aboard as the latest free agent pickup of the Tennessee Titans.
So, that was a factor for Witherspoon, who was released last week by the Philadelphia Eagles, who elected not to pay him a $5 million salary for the coming season. The Titans began their pursuit of him shortly thereafter, bringing him to town on Monday night, meeting with him on Tuesday and eventually agreeing to a new deal that evening.
It will be Witherspoon's first venture into the AFC after having spent his entire eight-year career with NFC teams in Carolina, St. Louis and Philadelphia.
“My release in Philly was kind of a surprise to everyone. That just kind of came about, but the opportunity to come here arrived, and I said I definitely have to take a look at this,” Witherspoon said. “I have family in the area, and my dad is from Franklin. And knowing the organization and knowing Coach [Jeff] Fisher and [linebackers] coach [Dave] McGinnis and kind of getting a better idea of what’s going on, all that kind of came into play. I’m going to do my best to make sure everybody knows what I’ve brought to the table here.”
What the Titans hope Witherspoon, 29, brings to the table is a steadying presence at a position that became shaky at the end of the 2009 season, thanks to injuries and potential free-agent defections.
The Titans lost linebacker Keith Bulluck to a torn ACL late in the year, and he is also an unrestricted free agent who might not return to the team. Also, David Thornton, who is friends with Witherspoon, battled hip and shoulder problems throughout last season.
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is a restricted free agent, but he is expected to be with the Titans this season after being given a first-round tender offer.
Witherspoon, who split last season between the Rams and the Eagles, said his goal is not to prove former teams wrong about him, but simply to impress his teammates with his work ethic.
“I always come out week in and week out. I’m not worried about showing the other teams,” Witherspoon said. “The first thing I’ve got to worry about is show the guys in this locker room. I’ve got to show them who I am, what I’m about and what I bring to the table.”
And while Witherspoon is still younger than both Thornton and Bulluck, he said his age is not a concern, as he will turn 30 before the start of the 2010 season.
“In eight years, the best thing about it my only issue ever is that I had one minor scoping. In eight years, I’ve only missed four games,” Witherspoon said. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of good years left in me. If you had asked me eight years ago how long I thought I would play, I wouldn’t know. But if you ask me the same question today, I feel like I’ve got plenty more left in the tank. I don’t think people should be worried about me. If I get the choice, there’s a good possibility I’d like to finish my career here.”