The Tennessee Titans made a big splash on the opening day of free agency, signing guard Andy Levitre, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, and tight end Delanie Walker, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, to multi-year contracts. They also re-signed fullback Quinn Johnson.
In my analysis of the free agent guard class, I identified Levitre as "the clear best option." Apparently the Titans concurred with my assessment and moved aggressively to lock him down. The price to get him was pretty steep, a reported $46.8 million over six years, including a $10.5 million signing bonus and total payout of $19.5 million over the first two seasons. If you believe in paying a lot for a guard and weren't a power-blocking team, Levitre had a lot going for him. He's done an excellent job in pass protection, is just 26, turning 27 in May, and has started every game his first four seasons in the league. He was the best available player at a position of extreme need. I noted in my guards preview that he would almost certainly get more money than I would pay him, and he did.
Walker was one of the players I profiled in my look at the free agent tight end class. I didn't put together the same sort of hierarchy there, as which player the Titans would target depended a lot on what role they wanted the player the acquired to fill. Walker is not a traditional in-line tight end; he's listed at 6'0", too short for that position. Instead, he's a joker with experience playing almost everywhere, as a fullback, an H-back, lined up in the slot, and flexed out wide. The 49ers thought enough of his athleticism they even had him try returning kickoffs.
He's an excellent blocker with good speed, but his hands a pretty terrible. On 39 targets last year, he had 21 catches and 7 drops after 3 drops on 36 targets the year before and 5 drops on 46 targets in 2010. The result of that is despite his physical gifts he's been an inefficient receiving option. By Football Outsiders numbers last year, he ranked between Jared Cook and Craig Stevens in per-play productivity, while primary tight end Vernon Davis put up much better numbers. In his #2 TE role, Walker played about 57% of the snaps last year for San Francisco.
Putting that in perspective, Stevens led Titans tight ends by playing 55% of the snaps (58% in the games he was active). As you do for virtually all players the first day of free agency, the Titans paid a premium to get Johnson, giving him a reported $17.5 million over four years, including $8.6 million guaranteed. That's an awful lot of money in my book for a tight end who's never had 29 catches in a season and turns 29 in August, roughly the age the decline phase of a tight end's career begins. Having paid the premium to get Walker's versatility, it's now incumbent on offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to take advantage of it.
In a late move that will not earn nearly as many plaudits as the Levitre and Walker signings, the Titans also re-signed fullback Quinn Johnson. Terms have not yet been disclosed. In the fullback positional analysis, I wrote I expected Collin Mooney to be the Titans' starting fullback in 2013 "unless the Titans choose to retain QJ for some reason I simply cannot fathom." I don't think he's a very good lead blocker as a fullback and don't see him as having plus value in other roles, either. Terms have not yet been disclosed, including whether it's a one- or multi-year deal; I'd expect a short deal for close to the league minimum, and anything significantly different than that will make me very angry. Between the Walker acquisition and the retention of QJ, I expect the Titans are done with significant action at tight end and fullback.
The Titans are also reported to be close to a contract with defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, formerly of the Lions, and he's coming in to Nashville for a visit. While Detroit generally runs an attacking front, Hill is a plus-size run-stuffer. I haven't paid much attention to him, but I'd expect him to early downs as a replacement for Sen'Derrick Marks at nose tackle if the Titans do indeed sign him. Tennessee is also reported to be one of several teams in pursuit of Danny Amendola, though he's also reportedly cut his list to two teams, one of which may or may not be the Titans. I indicated in my wide receiver positional analysis that if the Titans do add a significant wide receiver Nate Washington could be on the chopping block, and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com and Paul Kuharsky both indicated the Titans have tried shopping Washington. The Titans are also bringing in linebacker Moises Fokou, who has experience as a 4-3 outside backer for Philadelphia and a 3-4 inside backer in Indianapolis last year, for a visit. He could be useful depth.