Grading the Titans’ 2013 free agent signings

Rather than hack out a bunch of brief blurbs on a bunch of front seven players in whom the Titans may or may not have any specific interest and when they could still surprise us and run something other than what I think they were going on the run or claim I have any inside information when I'm just a guy sitting in his spare bedroom/office 500 miles away from St. Thomas Sports Park, I thought it would a better option for a post to assess what the Titans did in free agency last year.

When I did this exercise last offseason, the Titans were coming off a free agency period featuring much more hullabaloo, about it all of it related to Peyton Manning, than activity, what with only two players signed in the offseason who made the team out of training camp. As we headed into free agency last year, it was clear that in what looked like a must-win season the Titans would be much more active in free agency. Even beyond their nominal holes, the 2012 Titans were a 6-10 squad that could use upgrades or changes at virtually every position.

As it happened, the Titans did indeed open up the checkbooks. I spotlighted the available tight ends and guards, and they added a player at each position. They did not come close to stopping there, either. The 53-man roster the Titans took to Pittsburgh Week 1 had a total of 13 players the Titans signed as veteran free agents in the offseason. It would be a simple answer to say all those signings did not work out, since the Titans went 7-9 and missed the playoffs and Mike Munchak got fired. Just how accurate is that simple answer? 

Methodological note: I am including only veteran free agents who signed with the Titans after the conclusion of the 2012 season. Players signed to futures contracts (those who did not finish 2012 on an NFL team's roster) are not included, nor are players who spent 2012 with the Titans and were re-signed. Players are listed in order by the date they (first) signed with the Titans. Grading is on a true A-through-F scale, with C the baseline grade.

Player: SS George Wilson
Analysis: The first of the free agent signings, before the new League Year began, as the Bills released him in early February. The Titans signed him because they needed him, but they did not pay him so much they had to start him if they found a better option in free agency later. They did, so they did not. He was still a very useful player as a third safety and ended up starting a couple games.
Grade: C-plus (remember baseline C, so that's an above-average grade)

Player: LG Andy Levitre
Analysis: The player I identified in my guards preview as the clear best option available. The Titans broke the bank to sign him and got roughly the player I expected. Roughly, but not quite-an offseason knee injury slowed his integration into the line in the early part of the season, while a hip injury during the season hurt him late in the year. I was higher on him than I think most Titans observers were, but was that worth nearly $8 million a season?
Grade: C-minus

Player: TE Delanie Walker
Analysis: Another player I identified as a potential Titans target, he was much more of the blocker the Titans were looking for than the departed Jared Cook. He also had a big receiving breakout season, with at least moderate efficiency. He wasn't quite the receiving threat the 16 yards per catch average in San Francisco indicated he might be, but even at $4.4 million per year this is a deal I think the Titans were happy with.
Grade: B, but ask me again in a year or two what this contract looks like. As I noted in the TE positional analysis, Walker's YAC has dropped off a cliff in recent years and he turns 30 before the season begins.

Player: LB Moise Fokou
Analysis: Most players signed early in free agent are lock starters who are well paid. Fokou was neither. He did end up starting, though, and had a stabilizing influence in the middle of the defense, at least early in the season. As the year went on, I was less impressed by his play. Then again, that was the player I was expecting for the entire season. Overall, I still rate him as performing above my expectations.
Grade: B-minus

Player: RB Shonn Greene
Analysis: Greene qua a downhill physical RB was a player the Titans needed. Greene qua the guy who spent half of 2012 looking completely washed up, missed five games, only had 77 carries, and didn't play on third downs? Eh. That at $3.3 million per season? Double yuck.
Grade: D-plus for the player, D-minus for the contract. Again, ask me in a year or two as the grade does not include any consideration of Greene's role as the likely lead back for the 2014 te… oh, heck, I won't like this deal any more then.

Player: DT Sammie Lee Hill
Analysis: Part of the Quest For Bulk On The Defensive Line. Hill was a solid enough player as a rotational guy, but did not have the sort of impact I was looking for from somebody who got $3.7 million or so.
Grade: C for the player, D-plus for the contract.

Player: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Analysis: The quarterback switcheroo, when the Titans decided Matt Hasselbeck was scheduled to make more money than they wanted to play him. When Jake Locker's injuries forced him into the lineup, he played just like I expected him to play.
Grade: C for the player, C-plus for getting him on a contract less than what Hasselbeck got from the Colts (or maybe that's just a D for Ryan Grigson).

Player: C Rob Turner
Analysis: The Titans were determined not to undergo 2012's problems where they were forced to bring multiple interior linemen in off the street during the season and play them. While not the most talented sort, Turner was at least another body. Ended up starting a few games, at least in part because of Brian Schwenke's camp hamstring injury, then got benched because he was not very talented before going to injured reserve. Will not be back for 2014.
Grade: C for the player/contract, D for the decision to cut Fernando Velasco, a better player.

Player: SS Bernard Pollard
Analysis: I mentioned in the George Wilson writeup his contract would not prevent the Titans from making further moves. When the Ravens decided Pollard's release was a necessary part of their salary cap maneuvering, the Titans pounced and got a player who made an impact both on the field and in the locker room. Re-signed for 2014.
Grade: B-plus

Player: DE Ropati Pitoitua
Analysis: Another part of the Quest For Bulk On The Defensive Line. Pitoitua was a very solid rotational run-stopper who actually provided a slight bit of pass rush at times, which I certainly was not expecting. Oh, and he also came with a modest price tag. Re-signed for 2014.
Grade: B

Player: G/C Chris Spencer
Analysis: Joins Turner in the mix of veteran interior offensive linemen they added. Made the team and played a ilttle bit on a fill-in basis. Hard to evaluate his play, since he did not actually play much. Not under contract for 2014.
Grade C-plus. Gets the -plus for making the team, no lock in his position.

Player: WR Kevin Walter
Analysis: I think he could have been a good blocker and useful fourth/fifth receiver. Instead, he hurt his back in the offseason and never played. That he attended every wide receiver meeting anyway is weird. Not under contract for 2014, and my guess is his career is over.
Grade: Incomplete/C

Player: RB Jalen Parmele
Analysis: Possible RB3, did not make the team, basically losing his job to another free agent.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: DT Antonio Johnson
Analysis: Another part of the Quest For Bulk On The Defensive Line. He was even more of a rotational player than Hill was, though they ended up with similar overall snap totals because of the games Hill missed. On the other hand, he came with a very modest contract. Not under contract for 2014.
Grade: C for the player, C-plus for the contract

Player: RB Alvester Alexander
Analysis: Pushing the limits of "veteran," as Alexander had not yet played an NFL game. He was not, however, straight out of college. Still has not played in an NFL game.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: LB Greg Jones
Analysis: "Do we need another middle linebacker? Why not sign another one?" part one. Did not make the team, nor did I expect him to.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: OT Barry Richardson
Analysis: "We need another body so we can get through practices in OTA and minicamp." Did not make the team, nor did I expect him to.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: RB Jackie Battle
Analysis: Another veteran back. A similar sort of runner as Greene, and a player the Titans could have really used in years past. He ended up making the team and playing when Greene got hurt, on third downs, and special teams. Definitely more of a role than I expected, not that I was thrilled to see him take that.
Grade: C for the player, C-plus for the role relative to my expectations

Player: TE DeMarco Cosby
Analysis: Training camp roster fodder.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: WR Justin Hilton
Analysis: Training camp roster fodder.
Grade: incomplete

Player: LB Kadarron Anderson
Analysis: "Do we need another middle linebacker? Why not sign another one?" part two. Pretty much training camp roster fodder
Grade: Incomplete

Player: LB Gary Guyton
Analysis: "Do we need another middle linebacker? Why not sign another one?" part three. In retrospect, the body shuffling they did here feels a sign of the spitballing they would do at WLB in the regular season.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: S Corey Lynch
Analysis: First signed in training camp, he would not make the 53 but would be re-signed in October and play for three weeks, all on special teams.
Grade: C

Player: LB Zac Diles
Analysis: I assumed Diles was a Frank Bush Special, and once Bush was fired we had seen the last of him. Signed when Moise Fokou and Patrick Bailey were both injured. Bailey returned first, then Fokou, then Diles was gone when they needed a roster spot elsewhere. On the team for six games, of which he was only active for two. Did not play any snaps on defense.
Grade: C

Player: OL Pat McQuistan
Analysis: Added to the roster when David Stewart missed a couple games due to injury in case they should have another tackle injury. They did not, so he was inactive twice. Cut when Stewart returned to the lineup.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: C Kevin Matthews
Analysis: Added during the season when Brian Schwenke got hurt and Rob Turner was on IR because he knew how to snap the ball and was familiar with the system. What else could you expect from a mid-season player signed off the street?
Grade: C. I'm tempted to ding Webster et al. for having to resort to him, but three centers (Turner, Schwenke, Spencer) should have been enough. If you want to give a low grade because he's not very good, give your F to the Jeff Fisher Scholarship Program that resulted in his presence on the team in previous seasons.

Player: WR Devon Wylie
Analysis: A sort-of veteran, in that he'd played before even though technically his signing was off the practice squad. Added because they needed a return man. He was not it, as his fumbled kickoff helped cost them the home game against the Colts.
Grade: C prospectively as bringing him in was not unreasonable, D-minus for the result

Player: QB John Skelton
Analysis: Added after Jake Locker was injured. Spent four weeks on the roster as the third-stringer. My preferred nominee for the "player who's inexplicable still listed by some people on the Titans roster over a year after he's been off the team" award previously held by Bryce Fisher, though apparently Herb Donaldson is this year's actual nominee.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: DB Micah Pellerin
Analysis: Claimed off waivers from the Cowboys, leading to Lynch's release during the season. Did not play a snap on defense, did play some on special teams.
Grade: Incomplete, though of course he may have a future with the team

Player: RET Leon Washington
Analysis: After Reynaud, Wylie, and the internal candidates were judged unsuitable, the Titans desperately needed some stability in the return position. Washington brought it. Not under contract for 2014.
Grade: C-plus, though it kind of felt like an A

Player: S Shann Schillinger
Analysis: I'm sure they had some reason for signing him. On the team for a week, was active and played special teams only, then cut.
Grade: Incomplete

Player: FB Quinn Johnson
Analysis; Collin Mooney went to IR, so they needed another fullback. I kept getting annoyed at QJ sticking around, but given his earier presence bringing him back made perfect sense.
Grade: C

Player: TE Visanthe Shiancoe
Analysis: Delanie Walker got hurt and they wanted a receiving tight end. I honestly thought Shiancoe had actually retired, though his signing showed he just had been retired. Gone when Walker came back
Grade: C for the player, ???? for the "Delanie Walker got hurt so we must bring in a brand new player and throw him the ball more than the tight ends we have on our team" element of the signing.

Player: QB Tyler Wilson
Analysis: A late season add off the Raiders practice squad. Privilege nothing about him, especially with a new coaching staff.
Grade: Incomplete

Conclusion-Type Things

I did not, and still do not, love or even like the money Ruston Webster handed out in free agency. Still, outside of Shonn Greene, it's hard to identify a particular signing and boldly declare, "This was a mistake. The Titans should not have done this. There is no way the Titans would do this deal knowing what they know now" (excluding, e.g., the minimum salary players like Kevin Walter). The flip side of the equation, though, is there were no A players who I thought had a major impact on the team beyond what I was expecting. Bernard Pollard came closest, which is why I gave him the highest grade.

Looking back at this class, I would say they were not why the Titans went 7-9 and missed the playoffs. Bottom line: A number of solid but unspectacular players joined a not very good team. Said not very good team improved, but not massively. That's actually not a bad free agency class. Rather, free agency tends to be a tough way to acquire players and an especially tough way of acquiring the most valuable players-the biggest difference-makers rarely make it to free agency in the first place.

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