ORLANDO – The Titans signed Malcolm Butler earlier this month in free agency, landing the former Patriots cornerback with a blockbuster deal.
The next morning, Titans general manager Jon Robinson looked out his office window at Saint Thomas Sports Park and saw Butler running sprints at 8 a.m.
“It told me that was a guy who was committed to winning,” Robinson said on Monday morning from the NFL owners meetings. “Just because he had just signed a big contract, (it showed) he was committed to our football team, he was committed to his teammates, and that every day he was going to earn everything that he gets.”
So how will Butler fit in with the Titans?
And what about Dion Lewis, the former Patriots running back who also signed with the Titans earlier this month? The Titans also signed former Buccaneers lineman Kevin Pamphile last week, and the team has hosted other players in free agency.
Robinson discussed the team’s moves in free agency this morning at the Ritz-Calrton before heading into an early session with league officials. He did not provide an update on former Dolphins defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who visited with the team last week. Here at the owners meetings on Sunday, the Jets announced they rescinded their offer to Suh, who has also visited the Saints and Rams.
The Titans have also hosted quarterback Blaine Gabbert and linebackers Will Compton and Keenan Robinson in free agency. Like Suh, those three players remain unsigned.
In a wide-ranging interview, Robinson discussed some of the team’s moves, and what might still be ahead.
“Whoever trots out there first is who goes out there first,” Robinson said when asked about the cornerbacks. “But I think that so much of the game is played in sub-offense and sub-defense, where you have to have to have good corners and good DBs to go out there and cover. And I feel like adding Malcolm, coupled with what Logan and Adoree’ did last year, and having LeShaun Sims, who has played a lot of meaningful football for us, we can go out there and hopefully match up pretty good. And Tye Smith played great at the end of the year.”
Butler started 47 of 48 for the Patriots over the past three seasons. He’s recorded eight interceptions in his NFL career. He played 98 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season in 2017, when he recorded 60 tackles and two interceptions.
“(Malcolm) has a proven track record in this league,” Robinson said. “He is a good football player. He has had a lot of production going back to his college days. He’s a guy who has overcome a lot, and finally got an opportunity and made the most of it. And just in my dealings with him I thought he would be a good fit for us.”
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis racked up 141 all-purpose yards against the Titans in last year’s playoffs -- 62 rushing yards on 15 carries, and he also caught nine passes for 79 yards.
In the last eight games of the 2017 season, Lewis led the NFL in rushing yards (625), with an average of 5.12 yards per carry. Compared to all backs with 150 or more rushing attempts, his per-carry average of 4.98 yards led the NFL in 2017.
“He is a guy who has really good quickness,” Robinson said of Lewis. “He is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He is really good in the passing game, out of the backfield. He runs hard. He might be small in stature, but he is big in effort and big in grit in trying to pound it up in there and make yards. And he is another guy who has had some adversity in his life with injuries throughout his career. He’s been told he was too little his entire life to play football.”
So what’s the one-two punch with Lewis and returning back Derrick Henry look like?
“One is obviously bigger than the other one,” Robinson said with a smile. “No, but I think they complement each other well. I think they are both fast players. I think they both have good quickness. I think stylistically they are different runners. Derrick can get it downhill, press the hole, hit the hole, and really turn it over and outrun people. He can stick it up there and run over people.
“Dion can make people miss. He can kind of get lost in the wash up in there and squirt out, and be good out of the backfield. … How the pace of the game is going, how the style of the game, how the defense is playing us (will determine when which player is on the field).
“We think we have two really different backs, but two really good backs – two starting level backs.”
In Pamphile, the Titans added a player who will provide competition on the Titans offensive line.
Pamphile, 27, spent the last four seasons in Tampa Bay, where he played guard and tackle. He brings versatility to the Titans – he’s capable of playing every position on the offensive line.
Robinson served as director of player personnel with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Pamphile was drafted in 2014. Robinson joined the Titans in January 2016.
“He has played left guard the majority of his career – he played tackle coming out of college,” Robinson said. “He’ll kind of work all along the line and see where he fits best. He’ll come in and compete with all those guys.
“I think any time we sign any of those guys you want them to come in with that mindset -- to compete to start. Don’t be accepting of your role. Go out there and work hard, and if you’re the best guy for the job, then you’ll get it.”
Robinson said the Titans are still interested in other players in free agency.
The Titans lost inside linebacker Avery Williamson (to the Jets) in free agency, and released safety Da’Norris Searcy (signed with Panthers). The team also parted ways with defensive linemen Karl Klug and Sylvester Williams, along with running back DeMarco Murray, quarterback Matt Cassel and receiver Eric Weems. The Titans opted not to tender defensive back Curtis Riley, who has since signed with the Giants.
“There’s still some role players out there that are available,” Robinson said. “Guys who maybe have started a couple of games here and there. Guys who have played maybe in some role.
“Some guys are still out there, a couple of d-linemen out there we could maybe talk to.”
Robinson put out a statement earlier this month thanking Murray and Klug after they were released. Asked specifically about Klug on Monday morning, Robinson praised him for his effort and commitment.
Klug joined the Titans in 2011, and was popular with his teammates and fans.
“Any time you let a player go, those are tough ones,” Robinson said. “I really respect Karl and what he has done in his time here. I’d say he has overcome a lot of adversity, just from being a smaller statured defensive linemen, if you will, and playing in there in the trenches. He played bigger than maybe his body should allow him because of his effort and his motor and his mindset.
“He has a lot to be proud of. He had a heck of a career for us with the Titans.”
What happens next, well, remains to be seen.
“At some point you are not going to be able to keep all of them. It is financially impossible,” Robinson said of the team re-signing some of its own players. “But the more guys you can try and keep, guys that know the culture, guys that can build the culture. … I think that is a sign of commitment from us as an organization to the players, and it’s also a way of keeping guys that have earned that right to stay in that locker room and keep working.
“We’re just trying to continue to build the football team. We’ll see what happens from here.”