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On the Titans holding on to players

Chris Hope was signed to a six-year deal in 2006. For for years, he was a very good player for the Titans, then had a down fifth year. In 2011, he got hurt early and lost his starting job to Jordan Babineaux.  As disappointing as Hope’s performance was, all the more galling is that he made $7 million for it. Given his 2010 play, there’s no chance he would’ve gotten that kind of deal in the free agent market, and it’s a surprise the Titans kept him around.

Well, not that much of a surprise. One of the things that became an irregular theme when I discussed the Titans’ recent free agent signings in yesterday’s post is that Hope is far from the only player the Titans signed in free agency who started off good and then ended his tenure on a down note. Kevin Mawae (yes, I’m aware he made the Pro Bowl), Nick Harper, and Jake Scott are other examples of the trend.

Like not churning the roster, this seems to be the result of a broader team philosophy. Some teams, and I once again cite the Patriots, are willing to let players go a year early, and if they have a good year elsewhere, so be it. The Titans have not been that team. Jason Babin and Stephen Tulloch are rare examples of Titans who had a good year somewhere else, because the Titans tend to hang on to players at least until their effective sell-by date, and in the case of players like Scott and Harper, past it.

If you want to look at the situations in some detail, a little more texture comes out. When Mawae signed his deal, I thought there was little chance he’d play all four years with the Titans. Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano were in the fold, so there’s no reason that couldn’t have been the offensive line in 2009. Obviously with the season Chris Johnson had, it’s tough to begrudge how the line was constituted, but Mawae was perhaps the worst center in the league. As I’ve written, the Titans were awful running the ball between the tackles that year; CJ just had so much success running to the outside that almost nobody noticed.

The Nick Harper situation is a little harder to parse. The Titans basically allowed their corner depth to be gutted after 2008. Finnegan and Harper ended up the only two experienced cornerbacks on the roster, as they drafted Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty. Harper turned 35 at the start of the season, and it’s not unusual for old corners to hit the wall very quickly. Most teams are a little bit more prepared than the Titans were; they needed Mouton and McCourty to be immediate impact players, especially when first Vinny Fuller and then Finnegan got hurt, and they weren’t.

Jake Scott his past season is another situation like Harper where the Titans clearly weren’t ready to move on. Velasco they don’t seem to trust in pass protection, plus he was their backup at center and left guard. Otto apparently was valued more as the backup at tackle than as a starting guard and trusting Troy Kropog or even rookie Byron Stingily to fill that role while Otto started. I really thought the Titans would add at least one player, likely a mid-round pick they could groom for a year before putting him in the starting lineup, and this hypothetical player might have a shot at taking Scott’s job. Of course, it was not to be.

With Hope, the situation was a little more complicated, as the Titans had struggled to draft and/or develop good young safeties. Robert Johnson, Nick Schommer, and the like fell enough out of favor that apparently paying Hope that much money was the more attractive option.

It’s tough for me to really believe there couldn’t have been a different option than Hope, but that’s just the way the Titans roll. Frankly, I’d prefer to see them change, but that doesn’t mean I expect them to.