The Tennessee Titans have a decision to make, and it’s not how much time off they should give their players before starting offseason workouts.
No, the question they must answer will have ramifications to their future success. With three quarterbacks on their roster, who stays and who goes? Which two of the three give the Titans a better chance of both immediate and long-term success? Most importantly, what number will we see start under center next year?
Kerry Collins, the long-suffering veteran who has battled personal demons for a good part of his career?
Vince Young, the electrifying former Longhorn who has a day dedicated to him in his native Texas, but appears to be struggling with the fickle ebb and flow of professional fans?
Or Chris Simms, the young man who has so far failed to live up to his famous father’s pedigree, but has apparently shown great strides and is developing into a potential starter?
Kerry Collins stepped in for “quarterback of the future” Vince Young after Young suffered a knee injury at the start of the 2008 season. Nothing huge was expected out of Collins, a washed up, racist redneck, a just-above-par quarterback, a recovering alcoholic who is one drink away from being found face-down in a gutter on Lower Broadway.
Instead, Collins stepped in, won against Jacksonville, and found himself the starter both for his performance and after concerns surfaced over Young’s abilities to cope with the big time.
Collins performed admirably for the Titans, leading them to a 13-3 record—tops in the NFL—and a first round bye. Unfortunately the Titans fell to Baltimore 13-10 in a closely-contested game that came down to the accuracy of Matt Stover’s leg.
The Titans’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens cannot in any way be pinned on Collins. He performed well above par, but his efforts were stymied with critical turnovers by ball carriers almost every time the Titans threatened to score.
Asked Monday what his thoughts were about returning, Collins was clear: “I’d like to be here. I’ve got good years left in me. I know that. I like playing here.”
“My family likes Nashville a lot, and I hope it works out. But this is the NFL and nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
Here’s the catch: Collins is a free agent, and after the renaissance season he displayed, there are sure to be a number of teams who would be glad to have him if the Titans aren’t willing to keep him around.
“I think I made my case known that I’d like to be here for several more good seasons, and give them several more good years,” Collins said. “At this point, I think everybody just needs to decide what they want to do.”
We’ve seen this before from Collins. He deteriorated quickly after his first trip to the postseason with Carolina, and again after his Super Bowl trip with the Giants. But that was a different time, a different set of life circumstances.
Gone is the angry young man with the sour disposition. The rabble-rousing, alcoholic redneck who was once punched in the face by teammate Norberto Garrido after uttering a racial slur in a drunken attempt to “bond” with his teammates has been replaced with a man at peace with himself, his career, and his options.
“It’s just that I’ve played so much of my career and been a starter for so long that I still feel I am a starter,” Collins said. “There’s things that I’m looking forward to in my life after football. I’m at peace with my career to a certain extent. I still feel I have more to do, but if it comes down to it, there’s so much preparation that goes into it and so much practice time, that to do it and be a backup is just not what I’m interested in doing right now.”
For his part, Jeff Fisher is doing nothing to indicate which direction the Titans may go in the off-season. When asked about the quarterback “situation”, Fisher responded, “Kerry has one or two options. He starts, and hopefully, it’s for us, or he’s on his tractor on his farm. … Kerry has no interest in backing up. He wants to start, and rightfully so.”
“He’s adamant about that, and I think he’s earned the right to say that. Again, we’ve got a lot of time, and we’ll work things out.”
Fisher also elaborated on both Vince Young and Chris Simms, indicating that he was happy with where both young quarterbacks were in their development. Although Simms is not likely a serious contender for the Titans role, Fisher was very complimentary of him: “I really like what I saw out of Chris. Chris was very thankful for his opportunity, and I thanked him for his commitment...I think he can play in the league.”
Vince Young is another story entirely. Still under contract with the Titans through 2011, VY has some fences to mend, not only with fans, but with the Titans organization.
After initially refusing to re-enter the season opener after fans booed him for throwing an interception, Young subsequently sprained his knee, was replaced by Collins, and prompted a police search when he disappeared without his cell phone and the Titans were hearing rumors of his contemplating suicide.
Since being relegated to a backup role, Young has appeared to respond, but Fisher still wants to see improvement. While still adamant that Young will one day be back under center for the Titans, his tenure with the Titans comes with conditions.
“We expect 100 percent commitment from Vince, and we’ll accept nothing less than that,” Fisher said.
With $35 million available under the salary cap, money isn’t likely to be an issue even with the possibility of needing a big contract to retain Albert Haynesworth, who is also a free agent this year. And Collins isn’t in it for the money, per se. He wants the opportunity, and if he doesn’t get it, he’s perfectly happy walking away.
The Titans would be wise to keep Collins and give Young another year to develop, learn from the veteran, and get his head straight. Young has the ability to get the job done, but he’s going to have to learn how to handle failure and fickle fans better if he expects to succeed.
Kerry is getting long in the tooth by NFL standards, and he won’t be around forever. But he’s seen the bottom, and he’s gotten tantalizingly close to the top. Plus, he's already served his time in purgatory: he had to play for the Raiders.
VY could benefit from his mentorship, and Collins deserves another shot at the ultimate prize.