NFL Nation: Rusty Smith

On drafting quarterbacks regularly

February, 24, 2014
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker is in line to be the Titans' starting quarterback in 2014.

But he’s going to have competition and Tennessee hopes the group is better overall.

Right now it’s Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Wilson.

Expect a draft pick as well.

“I really think you probably should look at the quarterback position every year,” general manager Ruston Webster told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “I’d like to take that philosophy moving forward.”

Ron Wolf, the former GM of the Green Bay Packers, believed in drafting a quarterback every year. Hit on them at any kind of decent rate, you develop the most important commodity in the league, give yourself options, make trades and upgrade draft picks.

The thing that makes it somewhat difficult is that to take an approach like that, a team without a clear-cut franchise signal-caller probably has to commit to carrying three quarterbacks.

In the Titans' case, it’d be the presumptive starter in Locker. It’d be the veteran backup in Fitzpatrick or someone like him who could play when needed but not require regular practice snaps. And it’d be the rookie or second-year kid like Wilson.

The loser of that last spot could be rated as a practice-squad talent, but there would be very little practice work for the third guy, let alone the fourth.

Here's some detail on drafting quarterbacks from Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Information:

In the last 10 drafts (2004-2013), there have been a total of 126 quarterbacks taken.

Most QBs taken in last 10 drafts:
  • Broncos: 7
  • Jets: 6
  • Eagles: 5
  • Packers: 5
  • Browns: 5
  • Ravens: 5
  • 49ers: 5
  • Redskins: 5

The Titans have drafted three in that span, tied for 24th most.

Two of the three quarterbacks the Titans have taken in that time frame have been first-round picks -- Vince Young, third overall in 2006, and Locker, eighth overall in 2011.

That's tied with four other teams (the Broncos, Browns, Bills, Redskins) for the most QBs taken with first-round picks.

Tennessee is the only team in the last 10 drafts to use two different top-10 picks on QBs.

There have been a total of 28 quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last 10 drafts, 16 with top-10 picks.

The Titans also took Rusty Smith with a sixth-round pick in 2010.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner is allowing room for sentiment on Sunday.

As he takes the field for the Tennessee Titans against the Houston Texans, it will creep into his head that it could be the last time.

Verner has a great feel for the game and a knack for being around the ball and breaking things up.

“Definitely that thought has occurred to me, but it’s not overriding where I am letting that emotionally distress me or get me away from the game,” Verner said. "It’s definitely crossed my mind that this could be [it]. Could be.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee Titans' Alterraun Verner
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe price tag looks to be high for defensive backs Alterraun Verner, No. 20, and Bernard Pollard, both free agents at season's end.
He’s timed things up well. After such a solid season, his price may be at an all-time high. I’m sure the Titans would like to keep him. But they’ve spent two recent offseasons trying to give his job away to Tommie Campbell and clearly see Verner's speed as a deficiency in an otherwise solid game.

Future: They should certainly try to keep him. But at this stage, there is no reason for him not to wait for free agency and check out the market. And I’ll bet a team that thinks it’s a corner away will offer him something bigger than the Titans will.

A look at other guys for whom Sunday could be The Last Time.

Running back Chris Johnson

We’ve written frequently about the cost-versus-production equation for Johnson, most recently here. St. Louis fifth-round pick Zac Stacy has a few more yards and a slightly bigger yards per carry average this season. Stacy made $581,500 in 2013. CJ made $10 million.

Future: It’s not working, as Johnson hasn’t been the playmaker he sold himself as when he got the big contract after three years. He won’t take less money – or sufficient responsibility, for that matter. They should move on.

Right tackle David Stewart

He broke his leg late in the 2012 season and has never returned to form, with all sorts of nagging injuries slowing him down this year. He’s questionable for this game with a shoulder injury. He’s been a tough, physical presence for the team for a long time. But he’s due $6.4 million in 2014.

Future: The Titans cannot pay him that much next year.

Strong safety Bernard Pollard

He’s delivered on what the Titans asked when they signed him for one year, providing attitude and toughness to go with solid play. They’ve used him smartly and if he’s not back they will have a hole that will be difficult to fill in both production and leadership.

Future: They should try to keep him, but it’s unclear what the market will offer. Surely there will be a multi-year deal to be had. Will the Titans offer one?

Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley

He’s not been a fit for the Titans, who grabbed him in 2011 after their failed pursuit of Peyton Manning. When they focused solely on him meant Mario Williams went to Buffalo. Even if there's a new staff and it wants to run a 3-4 that’s more suited to Wimbley, he’s not worth $6 million in 2014.

Future: It’s long been presumed he will be cut.

Wide receiver Damian Williams

He got benched for the Arizona game because of a violation of team rules, but such a slip was totally uncharacteristic. He’s a bright guy who can play every receiver spot. He’s ideal as a fourth with potential to be a solid third.

Future: They should re-sign him.

Wide receiver Kenny Britt

The last year of his initial contract has been a disaster during which he lost confidence and was unable to catch the ball consistently. He’ll likely be inactive again Sunday. In a new setting, perhaps he can recover. But he’ll get a minimum contract or something close to it, when a big season would have set him up as a free-agent prize.

Future: It’s elsewhere.

Quarterback Rusty Smith

He’s been the team’s developmental quarterback for four years, and he could never work his way to a place where the team wanted him to be the No. 2. He ended up in that spot only because of injury.

Future: If he’s not a No. 2 by now, it’s time to move on. Tyler Wilson was a late signing, and should take over the Smith spot as the developmental quarterback.

Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua

Started very strong but hasn’t been as good down the stretch. He gives the Titans good size in their run-down front and would benefit from better linebacker play.

Future: Worth keeping at the right price and contract length.

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson

He’s a workmanlike run-down defender who’s a good piece as a role player.

Future: Shouldn’t be hard to keep.

Also with expiring contracts: Returner Leon Washington, returner Marc Mariani, running back Jackie Battle, wide receiver Kevin Walter, offensive tackle Mike Otto, interior offensive linemen Rob Turner and Chris Spencer.

Steering the car back onto the road

October, 15, 2013
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A look at some of what I am hearing on Twitter and on the radio, paired with my attempts to steer the car back onto the road:

It can't be any worse with Rusty Smith at quarterback.

Smith
Smith
Yes, it can. Somehow there is a perception out there that Smith would be a safer play than Ryan Fitzpatrick, that he would take better care of the ball. Au contraire. In training camp practices where Jake Locker and Fitzpatrick would make a lot of safe throws, Smith consistently threw it downfield the most. He's a chance-taker. He'd come with far more risk.

Why is Smith on the team if he can't play?

He can play, it's just that the scenario where he would play is one where Fitzpatrick gets hurt. Plenty of teams don't even have a legitimate starter, so quality backups are hard to come by. No. 3s? They are developmental guys hoping to graduate into No. 2s. The alternatives for Smith's position were washed up guys like David Carr and John Skelton who've had plenty of chances to show they can't play. The first guy is better than the second guy who's better than the third guy. Thus the depth chart.

The Titans are insisting on running Chris Johnson up the middle when he's far better in space.

Absolutely true. But saying "get him in space" is a lot easier than getting him in space. They need to be more creative and assertive in trying. And don't be so sure the calls are telling Johnson to go inside. My radio colleague Jonathan Hutton says he's told CJ is taking stretch plays and other stuff designed to create opportunity outside, either being impatient or not finding time, and taking them inside.

The Titans should have signed a better backup quarterback in the offseason.

Who would that have been?

The Titans should have kept Matt Hasselbeck.

Maybe. But I understood the rationale. He was overpaid and they felt like he was getting a bit gun shy: willing to throw for 3 yards on third-and-6 in order to avoid a hit. It wasn't unreasonable for them to seek to change direction.

Titans don't endorse Rusty Smith, yet

September, 30, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting at quarterback for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, and very likely for a while beyond that.

While Jake Locker is out with hip and knee injuries, the Titans need a new backup.

Smith
Smith
Dowell Loggains said during the preseason that he'd stand on the table for Rusty Smith, though Smith was cut and then signed to the practice squad.

The likely move to back up Fitzpatrick would be to promote Smith to the 53-man roster. But Mike Munchak hardly offered a ringing endorsement of the 2010 sixth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic.

"We haven't decided what we're doing yet at that position," Munchak said. "...He knows our offense well, he knows what we are doing well. So you have to take a lot of those factors into what's the best thing if something does happen now to Ryan? What's the best thing for this team to win. We'll consider our options before we decide what to do."

But why have Smith on the practice squad if he's not technically the third quarterback?

"I didn't say he's not going to be the two, we're always going to take a look at the situation before we make a decision," Munchak said. "Standing right here, I'm not going to make the decision right now. We haven't made any decisions right now. We're just going to make sure it's the best decision when the time comes."

"If he's not the guy, I'll explain to you why at that time."

Munchak said the Titans would have available quarterbacks in for a look on Tuesday.

There is hardly a quality list of available quarterbacks. It includes veterans like Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Tyler Thigpen, David Carr and Trent Edwards.

There are also young quarterbacks on other practice squads the Titans could sign, though they can't try those guys out and making that move would be the biggest possible indictment of Smith.

Those quarterbacks include Indy's Chandler Harnish, Buffalo's Thad Lewis, Oakland's Tyler Wilson and Cincinnati's Greg McElroy.

If Locker doesn't go on IR-recall, which Munchak made sound unlikely, the Titans will have to cut someone to make room for Smith or an outsider.

Offensive tackle Byron Stingily and rookie defensive end Lavar Edwards have both been inactive for every game. Rookie cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson re-aggravated a hamstring injury in the win over the Jets and they could put him on IR to create room.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- More notable than the guys from Titans training camp who are on the initial list of practice squaders is the one who isn’t: Rusty Smith.

But Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean tweeted that Smith is expected to accept the Titans' offer and join up.

Smith cleared waivers unclaimed, and while his feelings might have been hurt, an offer to join anyone else’s practice squad probably wouldn’t have wound up better for him.

The Titans do really like him, they just decided they didn’t need three quarterbacks on the roster. And they don't. Functionally, he will still hold the No. 3 role and if Jake Locker or Ryan Fitzpatrick is hurt and can't suit up, the Titans will sign Smith to their roster and dress him for a game.

If there was another practice squad chance, he might have had weaker quarterbacks in front of him at No. 1, No. 2 or both. But he’d have had to move and he’d have had to learn a new offense and won over a new coaching staff.

There could have been more reward, but there certainly would have been more risk.

Once he signs, the Titans will have filled six of their eight practice-squad spots, all with players who were with them in camp.

That list:

DT Stefan Charles
FB Collin Mooney
WR Rashad Ross
LB Jonathan Willard
CB Khalid Wooten

All of the players were with the Titans during training camp this season. Four of them were undrafted rookies while Wooten was a seventh-round draft pick.

Ross' selection speaks especially highly of him, because the Titans have a deep group of receivers and kept six on the 53-man roster.

Tennessee Titans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: Marc Mariani came back from a vicious broken leg suffered in the preseason in 2012. A shoulder injury suffered in the preseason opener cost him the rest of camp and the preseason, and the Titans put him in injured-reserve Saturday, ending his season. He might have been ready as soon as Week 3, but the Titans clearly didn't like the uncertainty. They could have waived him injured, exposing him to a claim. In that scenario, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who was instrumental in the Titans drafting the receiver/returner out of Montana in 2010, might have wanted him. But the Rams or anyone else would have had to have added him without getting to examine the injury, and Mariani's not under contract beyond this year so a new team could have been at risk for picking up a year's salary and getting nothing out of him. If he wasn’t claimed, he would have reverted to Tennessee’s IR. By putting Mariani directly on IR, he is assured of his $575,000 base salary this season but won’t play anywhere. The move means Darius Reynaud is the returner. He showed himself to be only the team’s fifth-best running back during camp, but sticks to handle punts and kickoffs.

Wildcard: If Rusty Smith clears waivers, the Titans will want the fourth-year quarterback back on their practice squad. He’s not been on the active roster for nine games in any of his first three seasons, so he retains his practice squad eligibility. If Smith is claimed, the Titans will need to find a young quarterback for the spot, who they can work to develop as insurance and who will be able to offer an option as the No. 2 if Jake Locker or Ryan Fitzpatrick suffers an injury that results in any missed time. One team that won't claim Smith -- his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars.

What's next: I could see the Titans shopping for a veteran safety as they sift through cuts. Seventh-round pick Daimion Stafford is on the roster now, but the Titans are heavy with strong safeties and light at free safety. They’d probably like better balance and Stafford could ultimately land on the practice squad. With 10 defensive linemen plus strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers in line to play a good share of end, the last pure end -- Keyunta Dawson -- is hardly a lock at this point. Only one injured Titan, rookie linebacker Zaviar Gooden, is likely to miss the season opener at Pittsburgh.

Tennessee Titans cuts: S Al Afalava, T Daniel Baldridge, TE Brandon Barden (injured), DT Stefan Charles, DT Zach Clayton, TE Jack Doyle, LB Gary Guyton, DT DaJohn Harris, S Corey Lynch, FB Collin Mooney, DE Nigel Nicholas, RB Jalen Parmele, WR Rashad Ross, LB Tim Shaw, QB Rusty Smith, LB-DE Scott Solomon, G Kasey Studdard, WR Dontel Watkins, LB Jonathan Willard, CB Khalid Wooten, C-G Fernando Velasco

Placed on Injured-reserve: WR/returner Marc Mariani.

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- We will see a lot of third-string quarterback Rusty Smith Thursday night when the Tennessee Titans wrap up their preseason with a game at Minnesota.

[+] EnlargeRusty Smith
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsRusty Smith, a three-year veteran in the NFL, could be a third quarterback option for the Titans.
But is that the last we will see of him?

John Glennon of The Tennessean examines the state of the Titans' No. 3 quarterback, and the case for him and against him sticking on the roster.

They’d like to keep him as the third quarterback. Should Jake Locker or Ryan Fitzpatrick get hurt, there would be built-in insurance. If the No. 1 and No. 2 are healthy, Smith would be a weekly deactivation, one of eight players of the 53 who don’t dress for a game.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains called a third quarterback a luxury, but said it’s a luxury he hopes the Titans will have.

But Smith is in his fourth season. He was a sixth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic in 2010. He’s got practice-squad eligibility, and the ideal scenario would be to get him there, but if the Titans cut him, they run the risk of him playing for another team's roster.

Here’s an example of what the Titans should do, and it's based on Loggains' answer to a question about the likelihood of Smith getting claimed on waivers if he’s cut.

“I think he’s done enough in his career and shown the ability to throw the ball good enough that he would have the opportunity to get picked up by someone else, if some other team wants to keep three quarterbacks.”

By his fourth year, he needs to at least be able to challenge for the No. 2 job. The Titans swapped out one veteran, Matt Hasselbeck, for another, Fitzpatrick, this offseason. They didn’t think for a second about turning to Smith as their alternative to Locker. Loggains doesn't think another team would consider Smith as a No. 2.

Fitzpatrick has a two-year deal, so Smith wouldn’t necessarily graduate to backup next year either.

They need him on the practice squad, but there isn’t room for him on the 53.

If I’m the Titans, that’s the move I make. And if someone else snatches him up, well, my scouting department better have a list of a couple guys coming free who’d seize a practice squad opportunity and provide roughly the same things Smith does, even without the experience with the franchise.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has played in four preseason games.

Locker
Per Mike Sando of the NFC West blog, Tannehill leads all presumptive NFL starting quarterback with 103 snaps, 10 of them coming in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

No. 2 on the list is Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans, who’s steadily improved in the preseason during his 97 snaps.

Locker played 26 snaps in a loss to Washington, 35 in a loss at Cincinnati and 36 in Saturday’s win over Atlanta.

The Titans and Locker are feeling good about where he stands now.

I’m part of The Midday 180 on Nashville radio, and we chatted with Locker on Monday.

The rest of the top of the list isn’t loaded with youngsters, as we’d probably expect.

Joe Flacco, who just one a Super Bowl, is third. Peyton Manning, settling into Year 2 in Denver is fourth.

Brandon Weeden of the Browns is next, and he does need the time, thought he’s not young for a second-year guy. Tom Brady is sixth.

Mike Munchak has said Titans third-stringer Rusty Smith will get the most playing time Thursday night in Minnesota. Locker’s hardly the only starter who won’t see a lot of time. Some won’t play at all.

Locker will finish near the top of this list. The question is whether or not his first full preseason as the Titans starting quarterback will pay dividends on opening day Sept. 8 in Pittsburgh.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some observations from Friday evening’s Tennessee Titans training camp, the first open to fans...

In 7-on-7 work with no linemen:

Tight end Taylor Thompson angled away from a defender and was open about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, but Jake Locker missed him with a wobbly ball that sailed too long.

Undrafted rookie receiver Rashad Ross was well-covered by corner Tommie Campbell, but quarterback Rusty Smith zipped a short pass completion to him anyway.

From his own 15-yard line, Locker looked for receiver Michael Preston but his terrible pass found cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick on Thursday.

In team periods:

Locker rolled left, against his arm, a few times by design. On one, he did very well to square his shoulders and hit Craig Stevens. On another he hit Justin Hunter, but cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had it so well sniffed out he would have leveled the rookie receiver if allowed.

Locker threw a deep ball over Nate Washington's head up the right sideline. After he bounced one to Kenny Britt, Locker hit Damian Williams on a very nice pass down the middle for roughly 20 yards.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey showed great lateral movement and got nearly to the sideline to end one breakout running play by Jalen Parmele. Later Casey managed to knock the wind out of Shonn Greene after tracking him on a dump off pass closer to the line of scrimmage and the center of the field.

You can already see stretches where the Titans are working to mimic the sort of no-huddle, high-speed offense they will sometime have to defend. With a new batch of offensive players quickly taking over for the group that just ran routes and blocked, the defense had to race to get back into position for a snap.

On a “now” pass, the quarterback throws immediately to a receiver split wide who hasn’t really moved off the line of scrimmage. The ball has to arrive in a way that the receiver can run with it immediately. Locker threw one left to Kendall Wright, but Wright had to bend at the waste to pull it in from too low. That doesn’t lend itself to the play working.

Line of the day, from Britt to safety Bernard Pollard: “Your name’s Bernard, you ain’t THAT tough.”

Receiver Marc Mariani let a Fitzpatrick pass bounce off his hands that was picked off by linebacker Tim Shaw.

Campbell does look very confident and was in good position a lot. On another play, where Locker had someone in his face as he checked down short over the middle, Campbell closed and batted down a pass thrown for Hunter.

Backup kicker Maikon Bonani has a gigantic leg. But during the field goal period he had one atrocious miss, shanking his ball low and left and missing the wide screen set up well behind the goal posts.

I wanted to note one play in particular: Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun and the defense couldn’t get lined up. Multiple players were shouting calls, waving each other around and didn’t know what to do or where to line up. It’s a play where Fitzpatrick has to get his guys set -- maybe one was late, but I didn’t see it -- snap it quickly and take advantage of the defensive confusion. Instead, however, Fitzpatrick waited a long time and the defense found some semblance of organization. He wound up throwing a short incompletion that may have been a throwaway. The defense can’t win that play but did.

“Yes, we’d want him to snap it,” Mike Munchak said afterwards. “I don’t know if he was waiting for the defense or waiting for one of our guys. Generally, in a game we’d go. In a practice, I think he was making sure, because we weren’t in a hurry-up mode. The offense should have an advantage there, yes.”
Matt Hasselbeck’s been a more valuable influence on Jake Locker and a more important leader for the Tennessee Titans than most people know.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsWith the Titans for two seasons, veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is now in search of a new team to play for this season.
But the Titans parted ways with him Monday, unable to find common ground that would drive down the quarterback's cap number of $7.5 million.

The move saves the Titans $5.5 million cap dollars but also puts them in the market for a veteran backup behind a starter who’s hardly established.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported that the team spoke to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, recently released by Buffalo, at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix.

Hasselbeck joined the team in 2011 and brought veteran leadership from the quarterback position as the franchise tried to recover from Vince Young.

He was the starter that year ahead of Locker, but the Titans judged Locker to have won the job in 2012. Hasselbeck started five games while Locker dealt with a shoulder injury and played in eight.

I believe both sides agreed the cap number of $7.5 million and a base salary of $5.5 million were too high in the third year of a three-year deal.

The team could not find something with which both sides could be happy -- including, I believe, at least one scenario that meant adding an additional year to the contract.

Will Hasselbeck find a better situation?

The Indianapolis Colts need a backup to replace Drew Stanton, and Hasselbeck probably has a skill set that could fit in Pep Hamilton’s new system featuring West Coast principles. But Hasselbeck would get no work in Indianapolis barring an injury to Andrew Luck.

Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Arizona are all unsettled at the quarterback position. But the Eagles and Cardinals may have their candidates for the job already assembled, and I’m not sure the Jaguars will skew older.

Maybe Hasselback gets a look from the Bills or Browns, or maybe he’s a veteran backup solution in a spot like San Francisco.

Other veteran options beyond Fitzpatrick are limited. Jason Campbell and Kevin Kolb are other possibilities. If you don’t like those, the list takes a substantial dip from there.

Tennessee still has third-stringer Rusty Smith, but he’s played in one terrible game and wouldn’t amount to someone Locker could lean on or an alternative the the Titans could count on.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC South team needs to address the quarterback position.

Houston Texans

Matt Schaub didn’t finish the season with a high popularity rating among Texans fans. While he was part of a first-round playoff win over Cincinnati, he did not finish strong as the team lost three of its final four in the regular season and a divisional round game in New England. That did nothing to dent the franchise’s faith in him. Put simply, Gary Kubiak loves him. Schaub got a big contract extension before the 2012 season and is going nowhere. The backup is T.J. Yates, who played as a rookie in 2011 after injuries to Schaub and Matt Leinart. He’s a good system fit but not necessarily a dynamic player. The Texans could easily go into 2013 as is, though Kubiak said they are always on the lookout in the draft for a QB who can play 10 or 12 years.

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck is coming off a excellent rookie year. While he threw too many picks and took too many hits, he effectively pushed the ball downfield the way coordinator Bruce Arians asked him to. The team will upgrade his protection and we’ll see a higher completion percentage as Pep Hamilton, Arians’ replacement, installs an offense with more West Coast principles. Drew Stanton was the backup in 2012 and is heading toward free agency. He could find a situation where he has a better chance to play, perhaps reuniting with Arians in Arizona. If he leaves, the Colts will be in the market for a veteran backup for Luck. It’s hard to imagine Chandler Harnish, the final pick of the 2012 draft, being ready for that role.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blaine Gabbert is going to get a solid crack at winning the starting quarterback job. But the new regime is not married to him as the group that drafted him was. Chad Henne will be Gabbert’s primary competition. Both of them showed severe limitations during their turns as the starter in 2012. New coach Gus Bradley and new general manager David Caldwell both have been emphasizing how they want to create as much competition as possible. So a draft pick or a veteran -- or one of each -- is likely to be added to the mix as they look to sort out roles at a position where expectations are low. Jedd Fisch is the third cordinator in three years who will try to get Gabbert good.

Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker is the starter heading into his third season, and the offseason will be spent crafting a team that is better equipped to take advantage of his strengths. The interior offensive line is a big rebuild project, and better play inside will help him. New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who took over the post with five games left, will make things simpler for Locker. He was shaky in his first year as a starter, which included only 11 games because of a shoulder injury. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck is the backup heading into the third year of a three-year contract. With a $7.5 million cap number this season, the Titans could look to extend him to cut costs and hold on to an experienced guy they like. Rusty Smith is third in line but seems unlikely to have a chance to advance beyond that.

How gap between Titans, Ravens grew

January, 28, 2013
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The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens used to be bitter rivals, closely matched.

Then Tennessee collapsed in a playoff game after the 2000 season at what now is LP Field, losing 24-10 despite dominating the game in a lot of ways.

Since that fork in the road, the teams have gone in very different directions.

Writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean: “The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and they will play for a second championship on Sunday in New Orleans against the San Francisco 49ers. The Titans, meanwhile, haven’t won a playoff game in nine years and are coming off a 6-10 season.”

But that’s not the line of demarcation I’ll use.

The 2008 Titans were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The sixth-seeded Ravens won in Miami to earn another playoff trip to Nashville. And Tennessee lost that divisional round game in a similar fashion to the game in 2000, even though the score was a lot closer, 13-10.

Since then:
  • The Titans are 29-35 (.453) with no playoff appearances.
  • The Ravens are 43-21 (.672) with a 6-3 playoff record.

That playoff meeting in Nashville was Joe Flacco’s second playoff game, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s now a Super Bowl quarterback.

Since then, the Titans have started Kerry Collins, Vince Young, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and, in an emergency situations, Rusty Smith.

Instability at quarterback is only part of the reasons the teams have been so different.

John Harbaugh has developed into a steady coach while Jeff Fisher’s tenure fizzled out and Mike Munchak hasn’t established any solid footing after two seasons.

Led by one of the NFL’s top general managers, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have continued good roster building.

The Titans actually have more starters and contributors out of their last four drafts, but it’s partly because of previous failures -- think Young, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Chris Henry, Paul Williams -- that so much opportunity is available.

Baltimore’s gotten far more production out of outside veterans it’s brought in: Center Matt Birk, receiver Anquan Boldin (via trade), fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, resurgent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, receiver/returner Jacoby Jones.

Compare that to Tennessee’s veteran additions: Receiver Nate Washington, linebacker Will Witherspoon, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, safety Jordan Babineaux, guard Steve Hutchinson, end Kamerion Wimbley, returner Darius Reynaud.

The Titans fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and didn’t see much change with Dowell Loggains promoted to replace Chris Palmer.

The Ravens fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and got a major boost from Jim Caldwell taking over for Cam Cameron.

It’s a copycat league, and the Ravens were already a model franchise in many ways.

The Titans are one of a long list of teams that need to look at how the Ravens work and borrow some ideas.

Quarterback is the key, but the gap between these two teams was a playoff field goal just four years ago. It’s a deep moat now.

Will Washington do more with Locker?

November, 30, 2012
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In his first two seasons with the Titans, Nate Washington looked like an overpaid free agent miss. He was good for a periodic big play, but he also dropped a lot of balls and made a lot of excuses.

I remember speaking with a powerful personnel man about Washington. He said the Titans had overspent on a guy who was very good when plays broke down and got extended by a scrambling Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, but very average on a regular play that lasted a regular length of time.

Last year, with a big assist from new receivers coach Dave Ragone, Washington blossomed in a big way. He was a much more mature locker room presence, he was a quality leader on and spokesman for the offense, and he posted career highs in the big three categories with 74 catches for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns.

Playing mostly with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, Washington’s yards per catch were the second-lowest of his career -- 13.8.

Still, among active players with at least 300 catches, Washington’s 15.0 ranks eighth. (Vincent Jackson is first, at an outrageous 17.9. Calvin Johnson is second at 16.2, the rest are 15.6 or below.)

Washington was good at turning into a target for Roethlisberger under Pittsburgh’s scramble rules. The Titans thought he would do the same for Vince Young in a relationship that never really panned out.

Now, with Jake Locker healthy and set as the Titans' quarterback, Washington is working for another mobile quarterback with the chance to make some especially big plays when Locker can extend a play and coverage is asked to last too long.

Here’s a look, thanks to Matt Willis of ESPN Stats and Info, at Washington’s yards per catch by quarterback.

On our desire to see kids play, now

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
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Unsatisfied with what we see, we want an alternative.

I understand this concept. In many aspects of my life, I live by it.

But in professional football, the alternative is cast as an alternative for a reason. Backups don’t start because their coaches judge them as inferior -- my word, not theirs -- to the guy ahead of them.

Recently, I’m struck by how many readers ask me about changes to some of these alternatives.

[+] EnlargeWhitney Mercilus
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireWith Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed ahead of him on the depth chart, Whitney Mercilus looks to remain a backup for the foreseeable future.
From Houston, I’m asked why the young receivers aren’t playing and if rookie outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus should be starting.

Well, the young receivers may have more explosive capabilities than Kevin Walter, but Gary Kubiak loves Walter’s precision, dependability and blocking. Those aren’t qualities a first- or second-year player typically possesses, and so Walter is going to continue to play more than the kids and get more chances than them.

Mercilus has flashed beautifully in increased opportunities. But Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed are big-time players. Which one are you going to sit to play the rookie? I’m not sitting either of them. I’m just rotating Mercilus in to get the two starters some rest.

For Tennessee, I actually get questions about quarterback Rusty Smith.

He’s got a big arm, so when the Titans are way behind, shouldn’t he play ahead of Matt Hasselbeck?

In a word, no. The big arm hardly assures consistent deep pass-play connections. A trailing team faces a big pass rush, and he’s got minimal experience handling that. You play a third-stringer very rarely. You don’t look for reasons to get him in, you see reasons not to use him.

I understand craving alternatives. But let’s remember backups are backups for a reason.

An ascending player like Mercilus is ready to contribute. He’ll just have to wait for his time. We’re not sure what Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean or DeVier Posey can do yet, but they are at the front end of careers. They are more about contributing a bit later than now. Smith might graduate from third-stringer to backup in another year or two, but in Week 9 of 2012 isn’t the time to force-feed him work to get a better gauge.

Coaches are not sitting guys they believe give them the best chance to win.

Sometimes they do stubbornly stick with veterans, refusing to give kids a chance. That’s not the case in anything we’ve been talking about.

The young players in question need to show continued patience. As do the people wanting to see them play more.

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