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Munchak, Webster: Free Agency Intertwines with Draft

Posted Feb 22, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS — Titans coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster are evaluating prospects at this weekend’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis, but both said what happens in free agency in the next month will affect decisions in the 2013 NFL Draft in April.

Tennessee agreed to terms on a multi-year contract with veteran safety George Wilson on Friday. The Titans were able to sign the native of Paducah, Ky., after he was released by Buffalo on Feb. 11 in a salary-saving move by the Bills. The signing allows the Titans to get a head start on the plan to improve the defense.

Other signings, however, including with Titans players who are scheduled to become free agents next month are still on the to-do list.

Munchak and Webster both said during their media session Thursday that re-signing Jared Cook is a top priority for the Titans. Munchak also mentioned pending free agents Sen’Derrick Marks and Rob Bironas as players that Tennessee would like to continue conversations with to retain them as Titans.

“I mean those are three guys we’ve been talking to,” Munchak said. “Like I said, we can’t control when they’re ready to talk to us. Most players, when they get this close to free agency want to test the market.”

Munchak was part of two work stoppages as a player that made the free agency system available to future players, so he said he understands when they have a desire to see what options they have.

“It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be here,” Munchak said. “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. Cook is someone, as we all know, we feel very strongly about. We feel a big part of us having success next year is having him in the offense and using him in different ways, like I talked about before with the changes we made on the offensive side of the ball. We feel he’ll have an opportunity to catch more balls and be more efficient with the plays he’s in there.”

Webster said “we’ll just have to see” how the deal with Cook gets done, referring to the option of applying the franchise tag to keep Cook on the roster for an additional season. The Titans applied the franchise tag to Michael Griffin last year to allow more time to negotiate a long-term deal with the safety.

“We’ve always wanted Jared,” Webster said. “That hasn’t changed, and I don’t see that changing. We’re on the same page with the coaching staff. I would think he’ll be with us next year. He’s a big part of our offense.”

It’s likely to be an incredibly dynamic nine weeks between the combine and the draft as all 32 teams make decisions on who they retain, how they do it, and the solutions they come up with to fill absences.

Munchak said the Titans are keeping tabs on who’s likely to become available on the market.

“The hard part is you do a lot of homework and then some of these guys sign with their teams in the last 48 hours or get franchised, which will happen before that,” Munchak said. “I think there are people that we’re going to find we’re interested in that can help us and it’s a matter of who’s available. The hard part is you can want them real bad, but five other teams want them also so we’ll see what happens.”

FULLBACK STILL PART OF OFFENSE: Munchak said he anticipates the offense under first-year coordinator Dowell Loggains to continue to use a fullback.

“I think we’ll have a fullback on the team, yes, but I think last year, Quinn (Johnson) may have played 12 snaps (a game), but I think there’s a place for it with the fullback or tight end playing that position,” Munchak said.

According to participation stats, Johnson averaged 15.6 offensive plays a game, but his use showed considerable variation. Johnson had two plays in Week 2 when Tennessee fell behind early at San Diego, and a season-high 25 plays against Indianapolis in Week 8. He had at least 19 offensive plays in three of the final five games after Loggains replaced Chris Palmer as offensive coordinator.

Munchak said he feels the fullback position adds a needed physical aspect for the offense to go against the defense, and “there’s certain plays (Chris Johnson) likes where you need a fullback.”

ADDING TO RUN GAME: Munchak and Webster said the team will look at ways to complement Chris Johnson by identifying someone who has strengths in specific situations like running the football with the lead late in a game, in short-yardage scenarios and offer a change of pace.

“Chris has been special,” Munchak said. “He hasn’t missed a game. He hasn’t missed a snap, other than in his first playoff game. That’s the only time he’s come out of a game for injury. He hasn’t missed a practice. Our thinking there is two-fold, kind of like when he first came in the league, not to over-use him. Don’t cut down his touches, (but use) catches out of the backfield, more screens. There are other ways to use him to get him in space, along with the run game.”

NO CAP CASUALTIES: Webster said he does not expect the Titans to cut anyone based on salary cap needs but did not rule out the possibility for other changes.

“We’re not in that kind of situation, fortunately,” Webster said. “Now, if we find somebody that’s maybe better than a guy we have, then there could be cuts.”

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