Well that was convenient. Not long after I said in yesterday’s post I thought the Titans would have signed Shaun Phillips by now, news broke that he was actually at St. Thomas Sports Park that day. Before the day ended, he would sign a contract with the Titans. Per multiple media reports, it is a two year deal worth up to $6 million, with $2.5 million guaranteed.
Ever since Ray Horton’s arrival, I considered Phillips a natural fit for the Titans to pursue in free agency. Turning 33 in May, he is not a young player by any means. He has a great deal of experience as a 3-4 rush outside linebacker, though, and has been a productive player the last two seasons. He had 9.5 sacks for the Chargers in 2012 and 10.0 for the Broncos in 2013. With the Chargers, he was an OLB in a base 3-4 for about all of his career, while with the Broncos he rushed both standing up and with his hand in the dirt. From what I’ve seen of Phillips, he doesn’t have a single base move like Kam Wimbley’s shoulder dip. Rather, as the Bill Polian comment in this post notes, he’s just a good player who knows how to rush the passer.
Sadly, the year I watched the Chargers was 2011. That season, Phillips was banged up and it really showed in his production. He still played in 12 games, but only had 3.5 sacks and his hurry numbers weren’t great either. Antwan Barnes, more of a pure speed guy, was the Chargers’ best pass-rushing linebacker this year. I was cautious on Phillips’ career going forward, but he’s more than answered those questions with the production the past two seasons. His ancillary pressure numbers, like hurries, suggest the sack totals may be slightly inflated, but that might just mean he’s particularly good at converting pressure into sacks (see Polian’s comment about closing well). Still, if he’s “just” an 8.0 sack player instead of a 10.0 sack player, well, that’s more than a Titans edge rusher has had since Jason Babin in 2010.
At least as important as what Phillips the player will bring to the Titans is what he means for how they can operate. Between Akeem Ayers, Derrick Morgan, Kam Wimbley, and Phillips, the Titans have enough players to mix it up at outside linebacker that they don’t have to force anything to happen. If Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr are off the board at #11, they don’t have to force e.g. a Dee Ford pick, or if one of the players at another position they have rated highly falls they could take them rather than making another need-driven pick. The contract is even reasonable enough; I’d bet the reported guaranteed money will all be paid this season and they can move on for 2015 if they choose with only a modest dead money hit. In short, a useful player who gives them optionality, which makes this a signing I really like.