Grading the Titans’ 2012 free agent signings

Before we start our round of positional analyses, I wanted to repeat a little exercise from last offseason, assessing each of the Titans' veteran free agent signings.

After an unexpectedly strong 9-7 showing in 2011, the Titans enjoyed the benefit of some stability. As coordinators Chris Palmer and Jerry Gray looked more fully implement their preferred schemes in a full offseason, the Titans looked to free agency to add a couple key pieces to help in that transition. As the Titans approached free agency, they still had a number of holes on their depth chart that seemed like they needed to be filled. The Titans would make a couple moves with their own players even after I wrote that post, but it's useful as a starting point.

It would be a little bit too simplistic to say the Titans' biggest need heading into free agency was simply replacing the starters that were departing. Especially once Michael Griffin got hit with the franchise tag, Cortland Finnegan's departure, most likely to St. Louis, neared the absolutely inevitable. Jason Jones wanted no part of Jerry Gray's plans to play him at defensive end and was going somewhere he could play defensive tackle and only defensive tackle. Jake Scott, who impressed few observers in 2011, would not be back.

It was possible the Titans would sign a veteran cornerback of some sort, but I wasn't expecting one. It seemed probable the Titans would try to sign a starting-caliber guard, though I thought the pickings were slim. I found a deeper pool of potential candidates at defensive end. Beyond those two needs, the Titans could have added key players at virtually any position on the roster. What did they actually find in free agency in 2012?

 

Methodological note: I'm including only veteran free agents signed after the start of the new League Year. Players signed to futures contracts (who did not finish 2011 on a team's roster) are not included, nor are players who finished the 2011 regular season with the Titans and were re-signed. Players are listed in order by the date they were (first) signed by the Titans.

Player: LG Steve Hutchinson
Analysis: Given the Titans' stated preference to get younger on the offensive line and the likely preference for somebody who'd played right guard in the past ten years, I described listed him on my guards free agency preview as one of the "Not Really Attractive Options." Naturally, the Titans signed him to a 3-year, $16.75 million contract, including $6.5 million in signing bonus and 2012 salary. A far cry from the All-Pro he was c. 2004 and 2005, he was somewhere around average starter-caliber before an injury against the Texans sent him to injured reserve for the third consecutive season.
Grade: C-minus for what he was, D-minus to the Titans for signing an old, oft-injured player to a big dollar contract and not having a better backup plan

Player: DE Kamerion Wimbley
Analysis: I didn't end up including him in my defensive ends free agency preview, as he was (a) a linebacker and (b) still under contract with the Raiders. Oakland's new front office was looking to negotiate from a too-high 2012 salary, and he was released when they couldn't come to terms on a deal. The Titans pounced with a 6-year, $44 million deal, including $11.5 million in guaranteed 2012 base salary and signing bonus ($2 million of his $4 million 2013 base salary is also guaranteed). Signed to be a wide-rushing defensive end, Jerry Gray talked about him as a player who was supposed to draw, and sometimes, defeat double teams. Somehow, some way, Jerry Gray was talking turkey. A one-dimensional pass rusher who's overly reliant on his shoulder dip move (admittedly a very good move), he finished the season with 6.0 sacks but probably didn't have the overall impact the Titans expected him to have. In looking at what the Titans could do in the 2013 off-season, we're still looking at pass-rushing defensive end. His roster spot is safe for 2013, of course, and not that it shouldn't be.
Grade: C-minus

Player: DE Leger Douzable
Analysis: A tweener between defensive end and defensive tackle, the Titans signed him to one of those veteran deals for the minimum-plus with a cap credit, he may have been a candidate to fill the role Jason Jones played in 2011. He injured his shoulder in the preseason and spent 2012 on injured reserve. Not under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: LB Zac Diles
Analysis: Another player who likely fit the veteran salary benefit, he looked like might have been an at-times useful backup for Colin McCarthy's too-frequent injuries. Instead, he was lost for the season with an injury against the Bills after playing 68 defensive snaps. Not under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete/C

Player: G Kyle DeVan
Analysis: Somebody who'd played actual right guard in the NFL! Naturally, he ended up not playing any right guard for the Titans in the regular season. Cut at the end of training camp, the Titans re-signed him October 31 and cut him twice more until re-signing him for good on November 27. Ended up playing 124 total snaps, I believe all of them at center, where I'm not sure he'd ever played before. Somewhere around replacement-level performance, which is about what you'd expect from a guy signed off the street at midseason. Not under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete/C

Player: C Jon Cooper
Analysis: Signed in June, he retired at the start of training camp to take a coaching position at the University of Oklahoma.
Grade: A++++++ (or Incomplete)

Player: S Aaron Francisco
Analysis: A late addition prior to training camp, he got to compete for the backup strong safety job with Al Afalava. He lost.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: TE Joey Haynos
Analysis: With Brandon Barden in the tub at training camp, the Titans needed another body at tight end. They found one. Didn't make the team, nor was he expected to.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: WR Marcus Harris
Analysis: Training camp roster fodder.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: C Chris Morris
Analysis: Remember all the excitement when the Titans signed all-SEC center William Vlachos out of Alabama? Man, that was awesome. What was even more awesome was when we got to training camp and the Titans went out and signed Morris because they apparently didn't trust Vlachos to snap the ball to the third- and fourth-string quarterback. More training camp roster fodder.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: S Tracy Wilson
Analysis: Another body at safety. Signed during training camp. Cut at the end of the preseason, then signed to the practice squad. Signed to the active roster October 26, waived October 30. Re-signed to the practice squad on November 1, then added to the active roster November 3 and spent the rest of the season there. Played 4 snaps on defense, all against Miami, but had a more active role on special teams. A young player, at least, and under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete/C

Player: OL Michael Jasper
Analysis: The Titans wanted more bodies on the offensive line during training camp, part one. Did not make the team, nor did he have a shot to do so.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: OL Jonathan Palmer
Analysis: The Titans wanted more bodies on the offensive line during training camp, part two. Did not make the team, nor did he have a shot to do so.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: G Deuce Lutui
Analysis: Signed off the street after Week 1, as the Titans were light on backup interior offensive lineman. Spent time in training camp with Seattle and Arizona. That Arizona didn't think he was good enough to play offensive line for them is about all you needed to know if you spent any time watching the Cardinals play this year. Ended up playing 501 snaps at right guard because, well, he'd played right guard before, at somewhere around replacement level. Not under contract for 2013
Grade: C for what he was, D to the Titans for pretending he was anything else

Player: LB Xavier Adibi
Analysis: When Zac Diles went to injured reserve, the Titans needed another linebacker. Like Diles, played for linebackers coach Frank Bush with the Texans. Played 0 snaps on defense, but did see action on special teams. I don't break down special teams play at all. Not under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: DE Jarius Wynn
Analysis: Played 124 snaps, almost all of them at DE, over the final eight games as the Titans' third DE4 of the season. Did not make much of an impression on me one way or the other. Not under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete/C

Player: OL Daniel Baldridge
Analysis: With David Stewart going to injured reserve, the Titans needed another offensive lineman, so they signed Baldridge off the Jaguars practice squad after the Vikings signed Troy Kropog to their active roster to keep him. Active for 1 game, did not play on offense. Under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: OL Mitch Petrus
Analysis: With Steve Hutchinson going to injured reserve, the Titans needed another offensive lineman, so they claimed Petrus off waivers from the Patriots. Started and played 37 snaps in Week 16 against the Packers until getting benched after blowing a blitz pickup that caused a sack. Under contract for 2013.
Grade: Incomplete/C. Replacement-level players gonna replacement-level play.

Conclusion-Type Things
The Titans certainly were much more active in veteran free agency, in terms of the sheer number of players they signed, than they had been in 2011. As the plethora of "Incomplete" grades attests to, though, so many of the players they signed were unremarkable roster fodder. Of their offseason veteran additions, only Hutchinson and Wimbley made it past the cutdown to 53, and I think both players are rightly regarded as disappointments in light of the expectations and dollar amounts they had heaped upon them.

The Titans really needed a player to have the big positive impact Matt Hasselbeck had in 2011 and really could have used an unexpected surprise like Jordan Babineaux was last year. Perhaps, if he'd stayed healthy, Leger Douzable would have been that player, but we'll never know. Instead, they had two disappointing signings. But, hey, at least neither player will cost them a compensatory pick this year!

The big unanswerable question of 2012 free agency is what would have happened had Bud Adams not directed the team to aggressively pursue Peyton Manning. Could they have signed Mario Williams and one of the key centers on the free agent market? Was there another player at a different position they could have pursued? We can't, won't know, but barring unexpected and dramatic late-career improvement from Hutchinson and/or Wimbley, the Titans need to hit a home run with the comp pick they get for losing Finnegan for me to think much of their job in the 2012 free agent market.

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