Nate Washington took the road less traveled to reach the NFL. Jovan Haye traveled right back to the same city where he played college football.
But on Monday, both players became the newest members of the Tennessee Titans.
Washington, an undrafted free agent from Tiffin College in Ohio, joins the Titans with a six-year deal that ESPN reported was worth $27 million with $9 million in guarantees. He had spent the previous four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and averaged more than 16 yards per catch in that time.
“I think the enrollment there is maybe 2,400 — maybe,” he said of his alma mater that recognized him after the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
Haye, who starred at Vanderbilt, comes back to Nashville after spending the past three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He received a reported four-year deal worth $16 million.
Both players should contribute right away and will help the Titans fill holes caused by free agent defections of their own.
Washington, 25, will not only replace Brandon Jones, who signed with San Francisco over the weekend, but will go to the top of the depth chart alongside Justin Gage. Fellow 2008 starter Justin McCareins is also a free agent and might not return. Washington likes the thought of potentially being a top receiver in the offense.
“I’m ready for that opportunity and I’m ready for that responsibility to step in and be a No. 1-type receiver,” Washington said.
He also brings an element of speed at the receiver position that has been missing for the past few seasons.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher likes what Washington can bring.
“We were concerned about him as an opponent, and we’re glad now to have him running down the field and catching passes for us,” Fisher said.
Washington, who caught 40 passes as the Steelers third receiver, was an understudy for a pair of Pittsburgh Super Bowl MVPs in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Washington said he learned patience from being behind them on the depth chart.
“I think the main thing I learned is patience. At Pittsburgh, their offense is pretty much a carbon copy of the offense here,” Washington said. “When you have opportunities you have to seize them. Playing behind those two, they’re gonna get the majority of the offense, but at the same time, you’re gonna have your opportunity. … I understood that and it made me humble, and it made me understand the types of things that go on when you play team ball. Hopefully, I can bring that here.”
As for Haye, who had six sacks for the Buccaneers in 2007, he is hopeful that he can overcome the nagging knee and groin problems that plagued him in 2008.
“He had six sacks in ’07, and last year battled through a lot of injuries, and I’m sure when we get him back to 100 percent, he’ll be very effective for us,” Fisher said.
Haye, of course, now becomes part of a defensive tackle rotation that is without two-time All-Pro Albert Haynesworth, who defected to the Washington Redskins for a record-setting seven-year, $100 million deal that took place in the earliest hours of free agency last Friday.
Haye said he isn’t trying to fill Haynesworth’s spot, but hopes to be part of a group that includes Tony Brown, Jason Jones and Kevin Vickerson that can pick up the slack.
“Albert was a great player, and he did great things here in Tennessee,” Haye said. “I’m not coming here to try and fill his shoes. I’m just going to be me. Whatever I have to offer, I’m going to give. I don’t see it as replacing Albert. You can never replace Albert. He’s a big massive guy and a great football player.
“I’m just looking to make my own name, and hopefully, one day somebody else can say the same [about me].”
Fisher seems convinced the Titans will not struggle on the interior of the defensive line with what remains added to Haye, who has been on the team’s radar for some time.
“We’re good at the tackle position,” Fisher said. “We’re gonna rotate and we’re not gonna drop off. You don’t replace Albert, but we had interest in [Jovan] last year when we still had Albert, and if we had re-signed Albert, we still would have had interest in him.”
TAMPERING INVESTIGATION: Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said he did not rule out the possibility that the team would explore tampering charges over the Washington Redskins’ signing of Haynesworth to a $100 million deal just five hours into the free agency period.
“We were interested in signing Albert. We tried to sign him, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. That’s always something we can address with the league, but at this point in time, we’re more focused on the two gentlemen we have here today,” Reinfeldt said.
There were reports of a deal in place between the Redskins and Haynesworth in the days leading up to the opening of free agency, but Haynesworth’s agent Chad Speck refuted those reports.
Fisher mostly dodged the subject when asked.
“They clearly worked a deal that was good for Albert and it must have been good for Washington. That’s all I’m going to say,” Fisher said.