NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Shaun Phillips put fresh ink on a multi-year contract with the Titans Thursday evening, becoming the sixth player from a different team in 2013 to join Tennessee since 2014 free agency began March 11.
After the annual initial flurry of clubs meeting with players and reaching deals to change the landscape of teams, the pace has slowed, offering clubs a chance to survey remaining players available to find the right fit for the right amount. Phillips had one of the top ratings among free agents in rankings by NFL.com’s Around the League staff, who noted his propensity to sack quarterbacks.
Teams are reaching the point of the calendar where they can host up to 30 draft-eligible prospects for interviews. They also can host prospects with local ties to each club (same hometown market or played for a college in the club’s market) that do not count against the allotment of 30. The free agency signings, however, are likely to continue up to May’s NFL Draft and beyond the three-day process of selecting rookies. The Titans have six picks May 8-10 and will have the option of signing prospects that are not drafted.
Here’s a recap of free agency activity so far:
Free agents from other teams that have signed with Tennessee: running back/wide receiver/return specialist Dexter McCluster (multi-year contract), defensive lineman Al Woods (multi-year contract), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (multi-year contract), linebacker Wesley Woodyard (multi-year contract), right tackle Michael Oher (multi-year contract) and Phillips at outside linebacker
McCluster adds an explosive and versatile weapon for the offense that new coach Ken Whisenhunt and new offensive coordinator Jason Michael plan to install. He also has the ability to help sustain drives. Whisenhunt said he envisions McCluster working mostly from the running back spot, but he can also play slot receiver. He has 662 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards in four pro seasons with Kansas City. McCluster earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013 after returning two punts for touchdowns of 94 and 89 yards.
Woods adds size, power and versatility to the defensive line that is expected to be part of the hybrid defense (elements of 3-4 and 4-3 fronts) that Ray Horton is planning to install. He spent the past two-plus seasons with Pittsburgh and has played in 39 games in four pro seasons.
Whitehurst has spent most of his career as a backup to San Diego QB Philip Rivers, and is expected to be in the same role behind Jake Locker. Whitehurst has six pro seasons with the Chargers and two with the Seahawks. He worked closely last season with Whisenhunt, who was San Diego’s offensive coordinator in 2013.
Woodyard, who was voted a captain all six seasons with Denver, is expected to bring leadership, experience and versatility to a Titans position group that is relatively young (Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy, Zach Brown and Zaviar Gooden have been drafted in the fourth round or higher since 2011). Woodyard started 40 of the 87 games he played and has totaled 396 career tackles, eight sacks, five interceptions, six forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in helping the Broncos win the past three AFC West titles and make it to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Oher, a first-round pick by Baltimore in 2009, brings the experience of starting all 80 regular-season season games he’s played with the Ravens and helping them win Super Bowl XLVII. Oher has started 43 of those at right tackle and 37 at left tackle. He is expected to play right tackle for the Titans, opposite left tackle Michael Roos.
Phillips, a fourth-round pick by San Diego in 2004, played nine seasons at outside linebacker for the Chargers that included 69.5 sacks, a league-best seven forced fumbles in 2009 and selection to the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season. He joined Denver in 2013 as a defensive end in a 4-3 system, led them with 10 sacks during the regular season and helped the Broncos make it to Super Bowl XLVIII. He said he’s excited to return to the linebacker position in Horton’s hybrid system.
Free agents that re-signed with Tennessee: running back Jackie Battle (one-year contract on Feb. 28), safety Bernard Pollard (multi-year contract on March 3), defensive lineman Ropati Pitoitua (multi-year contract on March 7), running back/return specialist Leon Washington (one-year contract on March 11), defensive tackle Antonio Johnson (multi-year contract on March 19) and wide receiver/return specialist Marc Mariani (one-year contract on March 19)
The re-signings illustrate how pleased the Titans were with the production from: Pollard, who led the team with 142 tackles in 16 starts; Pitoitua, who had career highs of 91 tackles and four sacks in 13 starts; and Johnson, who had 35 tackles and a career-best three sacks in starting six of the 16 games he played.
They also show the Titans were impressed by the contributions on special teams that Battle and Washington made in their first year in Tennessee, and the job that Mariani did before suffering injuries that cost him the past two seasons. Battle adds power and Washington adds versatility to the backfield mix, and Mariani was receiving looks in the slot in 2012 and 2013 training camps. It will be interesting to observe their roles in the Whisenhunt/Michael offensive system during Tennessee’s offseason program that begins April 7.
Free agent that has signed elsewhere: cornerback Alterraun Verner (multi-year contract with Tampa Bay)
Players who have been released: wide receiver Kevin Walter (failed physical), tackle David Stewart (failed physical), quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (has signed with Houston) and kicker Rob Bironas Free agents who were with the Titans in 2013 that have not signed elsewhere or re-signed:
QB Rusty Smith
, WR Damian Williams
, WR Kenny Britt
, C/G Rob Turner
, G/C Chris Spencer
, C/G Kevin Matthews
, T Mike Otto