Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and all that jazz to everyone.
In the modern NFL, the end of a season inevitably means the end of many players' tenure with a particular team. As fans, we may have cheered them, cursed them, or been altogether non-plussed by their play, hardly noticing their individualized existence at times, or maybe even all of the above (see Chris Johnson). Sunday's game against the Houston Texans gives us maybe one last chance to appreciate (or castigate) them for what they brought to the two-tone blue. This post is desgined to honor, or at least highlight, a few of those players.
Programming note: As I've done with this post before, I'll limit myself to starters and key contributors (as semi-arbitrarilly selected by me), with a preference for players who in my view have meant something to the team and been contributors for more than one season. This is not intended as a free agency preview, which is something I'll be covering in detail in the offseason. I will cover both players in the final year of their contracts and players who in my view should be cap cuts and may actually have a chance of being cap cuts.
Rob Bironas, kicker: Under contract for 2014, but a second consecutive average at best season, combined with an above-average salary and age, could see him kicking elsewhere in 2014. Missed kicks in the postseason notwithstanding, Bironas was annually for half a decade one of the best kickers in the league, above-average on both field goals and kickoffs.
Kenny Britt, wide receiver: What might have been, but for an ACL injury and maybe a personality change or some better judgment in key situations. A potential top WR1 likely leaves the team a healthy inactive the last couple weeks, sure to find his next NFL employer in some other state.
Chris Johnson, running back: Under contract through 2016. I would have cut him after 2011, not that I thought that thought ever really crossed the Titans' minds (though of course it may have; I have no sources and am not a mind-reader). Even though his salary drops from $10 million to $8 million, at some point the Titans will realize they're not getting a good running back for that money, let alone the sort of game-changing playmaker that premium salary implies. Right? Right? Right?
Bernard Pollard, strong safety: Of all the offseason moves, this was the one that most somehow made perfect sense and was highly out of character. After denuding the locker room of leadership, and maybe personality too, in 2012 in what seemed like an effort to build a locker room of high-character guys who wouldn't make waves, the Titans brought in a player who reportedly led a mini-mutiny on a team with strong player leadership and would go on to win the Super Bowl. Pollard also brought that high football character and needed jolt of attitude in addition to the leadership. A strong cultural fit with Gregg Williams, Pollard added something to the Titans. A free agent after this season, we'll need to see who's in charge of the defense for this season if they decide his positives outweigh his coverage lapses and always-on persona that's led him to four cities in eight seasons.
Rusty Smith, quarterback: An inspiration to us all as long as he's been in a Titans uniform, his lone start (a) gave some people a needed reminder that sixth-round rookies are generally not good options and (b) pretty much sounded the death knell of a 2010 season that began so promisingly.
Craig Stevens, tight end: Under contract through 2015, but is even the best blocking tight end in the league worth the $3.4 million salary he's due next season? By their usage, the Titans have told us what they think of his strengths as a player. To my logic, what they think tells me Stevens' price is too rich for his performance.
David Stewart, right tackle: Big Country was draft find in the fourth round, stepping into his lineup early in his second season, and providing mostly pretty good play until his broken leg against the Texans last year. Like so many other veterans in recent years, he'll likely go out on a low note, missing another game in an injury-plagued season. Under contract through 2014, so he might be back for next year.
Alterraun Verner, cornerback: Good timing, having his best NFL season by a good margin in his fourth season when his rookie deal comes up. "How much would you pay Alterraun Verner?" is currently my favorite NFL question to ask pretty much anybody, because even the people who like him the most hesitate an awful lot before paying him $8 million a year. With Jason McCourty already under contract at that kind of pricetag, here's guessing Verner gets his payday elsewhere.
Nate Washington, wide receiver: Under contract for 2014 at $4.8 million, with Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright in the fold, Washington is clearly not the future of the Titans at receiver. The question is, when does the future get here? Will the Titans value what Washington has done on the field and off this season enough to keep him around? Possible, but far from certain.
Damian Williams, wide recever: A bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, I expect to see him as somebody's third or fourth receiver in 2014. That could even be in Tennessee, though he could wait and see if free agency brings greener pastures.
Kamerion Wimbley, defensive end: Under contract through 2017, but he's a goner. It's tough to convince teams to pay you $6 million a year when you're playing 21 snaps a game. But for the guaranteed money and cap hit, he probably gets cut last offseason.
Honorable mention to everybody I left out.