With the new league year beginning Tuesday, the Titans took their first splashes into the free agent market, signing a pair of veterans. First came wide receiver Harry Douglas, and he was followed by safety Da’Norris Searcy.
Douglas had been previously released by the Falcons, so he made his free agency tour a little earlier than most teams. The Titans brought him and several other players in, including Ted Ginn and Jacoby Jones, and signed Douglas after the two players signed else. Douglas spent the first seven seasons of his career with Atlanta after they selected him in the third round out of Louisville in 2008. He’s spent most of that time as the third receiver, playing primarily in the slot. He saw his most extensive action in 2013, when Roddy White and Julio Jones both missed time. He started 11 games, played 926 total snaps, and caught 85 passes on 132 targets for 1067 yards and a career-high 2 touchdowns. 2014 saw him play a more customary role, 557 snaps, 74 targets, 51 catches, 556 yards, and matching that career-high touchdown total. By DVOA, he came out a bit better than average (5.7%, 32nd) for the second straight season, a number roughly comparable to what Nate Washington did with Tennessee.
The big question for Douglas is what sort of role the Titans see him as playing. I need to dive deeper into his play in 2013 and 2014 to see how much and how well he played on the outside; my mental model of him is that he’s a poor outside receiver who needs to operate in the slot to be effective; he’s listed at 6’0″ and 183 pounds, which to me are more inside receiver dimensions and doubly so for Whisenhunt, who showed a preference before joining Tennessee for good-sized receivers instead of the shrimps the Titans have mostly had lately. Turning 31 in mid-September, right now I’d say the reasonable good case scenario is he gives you pretty much what Nate Washington did last year, except maybe not doing quite so much downfield work. The big question is what his presence means for Kendall Wright, who filled a similar sort of short target role (average Wright target 8.5 yards downfield compared to 8.4 for Douglas, both numbers in the bottom 15 among the receivers with at least 50 targets). Plus, unlike Ginn and Jacoby, he’s not a return man. He definitely upgrades the #3 receiver spot based on the current Titans roster. I wrote in the receiver positional analysis, though, that I think the Titans need at least two receivers. We may have to wait until the draft for the second, but I’d be very disappointed if the Titans were done addressing the position. I’ll be diving into more detail on Douglas in the future to see if he’s more than I think he is, but I doubt it. Financial terms, when we get them, will also be interesting.
The Titans’ second foray into the free agent market came with safety Da’Norris Searcy, late of the Buffalo Bills. After releasing Bernard Pollard, the Titans had a definite need at strong safety unless they were a lot higher on the Marqueston Huff-Daimion Stafford combination than I thought they were or should have been. By handing Searcy a reported $24 million over four years, including $10.5 million in guarantees, Ruston Webster and friends made a clear statement that they were not comfortable going into the season with Huff or Stafford as their starter and that they believed Searcy would be an impact player. It’s a fascinating move for a player who has never been a full-time player in his career. Searcy finally became a starter in 2014, starting 13 of 15 games he played in, but played just 648 snaps, or just under 60% of the time. He saw more extensive action in 2013, playing 729 snaps (63.7%), but that was the high-water mark of his first four seasons.
As a player, Searcy definitely stylistically is more of a strong safety. A lot of his action in 2013 came as a dime linebacker, lining up close to the line of scrimmage in extra defensive back sets. He played a similar sort of box role in 2014, and was probably most effective there. A brief check of the data collected through the Football Outsiders game charting project in 2014 suggests he was much less involved in coverage in 2014 than he was in 2013, and the Bills’ other safety, Aaron Williams, a converted corner drew more single coverage assignments. While the Bills were a fine defense overall (#2 overall, #1 against the pass per Football Outsiders) and handled running backs and receivers well, my preliminary guess is that Searcy deserves relatively little individual credit for that. Safeties are a hard position to evaluate statistically, though, and I’ll have to do a deep dive into Searcy to see more specifically what type of player he is. My reaction right now is the same as it was when the signing was first announced, that it’s a very aggressive contract for a player who will be counted on to play a much larger role than he’s played in the past. Just 26, he’s of the right age to make that kind of gamble, and that’s what you have to do sometimes in free agency to get an impact player, but that’s also the sort of contract that can make a GM look very, very silly in a year’s time.
The Titans aren’t done with free agency yet, not by a long shot. Outside linebacker is still a necessity, and they’re still in serious play for at least Brian Orakpo, who’s reportedly headed to Nashville for a visit. As I’ll mention when I get to that positional analysis, they have a need for multiple players and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them sign multiple veterans. As I just covered, right tackle is still a position of need, their interest in Cary Williams suggests they rightly see cornerback as another need position, and you can run down a few other positions where they could use a quality player or two. When they do address other needs by signing players, I’ll write those up as well.