One of the offseason goals articulated by Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher was to add more speed to his linebacker corps, and the Titans accomplished that goal on Monday morning, as ESPN.com learned that the club has reached a contract agreement with unrestricted free agent David Thornton.
The four-year veteran, who had played his entire career with the Indianapolis Colts, will sign a five-year contract that averages about $4.5 million annually. The deal includes $8 million in bonuses.
Thornton, 27, will team with Keith Bulluck, one of the best if unheralded defenders in the league, to give the Titans a standout tandem of outside linebackers. Tennessee is likely to lose two veteran linebackers, Brad Kassell and Rocky Boiman, in free agency. But even if that weren't the case, the Titans probably would have pursued Thornton, rated by ESPN.com as the No. 22 most attractive free agent.
Over the weekend, Thornton, who had hoped to remain in Indianapolis and will find it difficult to leave Colts coach Tony Dungy, visited with Titans officials. So impressed was Thornton by Fisher, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and linebackers coach Dave McGinnis that he extended his stay and instructed agent Brian Macker to start negotiations.
Thornton was to have visited with the Seattle Seahawks later this week.
The Colts had made some contract overtures to Thornton toward the end of the season but did not have sufficient cap room at the time to complete an extension. The team's recent history in free agency is that it does not overpay at the linebacker position and Thornton is just the latest in a series of starting linebackers to leave the Colts in free agency.
A former North Carolina standout, Thornton was a fourth-round choice in the 2002 draft, just the 106th player chosen overall that year. But he moved into the starting lineup in his second season and has been a fixture there ever since. After playing the 2003 season at strongside linebacker, Thornton moved to the weak side in 2004 and started there for two years. Bulluck has also started at both outside spots for the Titans, and so the pair provides the inventive Schwartz considerable flexibility.
In 63 games, including 47 starts, Thornton has 394 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions, five passes defensed and four forced fumbles. While he isn't a flashy player, Thornton is a terrific two-way defender, stout against the run and able to drop and cover. As a starter over the past three seasons he averaged 117.3 tackles and he posted a career-best 158 tackles in 2003.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.