Ranking the 2014 Impact of Tennessee Titans' Free-Agent Signings so Far
The Titans made a lot of moves in free agency, re-signing six of their own free agents and picking up five more from other teams.
So far this offseason, the Titans have addressed their needs at inside linebacker, right tackle, defensive line, safety, running back and wide receiver. If nothing else, they've done a pretty good job at addressing nearly every need that the team has.
As with every offseason, some signings will have bigger impacts than others. Here is my ranking of all 11 signings ranked by their impact on the 2014 season.
11. Jackie Battle
I liked what Jackie Battle did in 2013, but even so, I was surprised to see the Titans bring him back.
Battle is a battering ram. However, that's pretty much all he is. In fact, the only reason he was on the Titans' team in 2013 was because Shonn Greene had an injury at the start of 2013. Greene is a power runner, so he already fills the role that Battle does.
His signing tells me that either Ken Whisenhunt is going to want a power running game, or he doesn't trust Greene to stay healthy.
Either way, Battle is a nice piece to have around if you can afford him. I'm not sure the Titans have the room on the roster for him unless someone gets injured.
10. Leon Washington
Leon Washington is looking like an afterthought as a kick and punt returner now that the Titans have signed two Pro Bowl returners since they came to terms with Washington, but that doesn't mean he isn't useful any more.
Both Marc Mariani and Dexter McCluster will be playing outside of special teams, Mariani as part of the receiving corps and McCluster as a running back, so they won't be doing all of the returning.
Washington is old for a professional football player, but he brought life to a return unit that had none in 2013, so even if he isn't the primary returner for the Titans, he's a nice piece to have around.
9. Charlie Whitehurst
With the possible exception of cutting Rob Bironas, the signing of Charlie Whitehurst was, in my opinion, the worst move that the Titans have made this offseason.
They saved a little money by cutting Ryan Fitzpatrick, but that money went right back out to Whitehurst, who is an inferior player to Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick caught a lot of blame for being a turnover machine, but he was a backup for a reason. As far as backups go, he was pretty good. Whitehurst, on the other hand, has never really distinguished himself, and even though he knows Whisenhunt's system, that will be only a little useful.
Since Jake Locker's history doesn't bode well for his chances of playing the entire season, Whitehurst's signing may have a bigger impact than Titans fans hope it will.
8. Al Woods
Al Woods brings as much versatility to the table as you could possibly ask for. He can play all three positions on the 3-4 defensive line, and that's huge, especially for a team like the Titans who will be just now transitioning to the 3-4.
On the other hand, he brings a history of injury and very little playing time with him as well, so it's hard to say just how much that versatility will really mean.
All that said, the Titans got him for a very small amount of money, so if he flops, they haven't lost much.
Overall, he could end up being a valuable depth piece, or he could be inconsequential. With his small experience on the field, it's hard to say which way he goes.
7. Marc Mariani
Marc Mariani was a tough guy to place on this list. If he comes back strong, he'll be a valuable piece of the Titans receiving corps and the return game as well. However, at this point it's tough to tell if he'll be back in that shape.
That said, I tend to think he's in pretty good shape just because the Titans re-signed him. Damian Williams is still floating around, and if the Titans staff had any concerns about Mariani's abilities going forward, I'm sure they would have just signed Williams instead.
Even so, Mariani is a depth piece and special-teams player and no more. With Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington as the entrenched starters and Michael Preston bringing size and speed with him, Mariani will be a fifth option at receiver.
In the return game, he'll see competition from Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster as well.
Still, Mariani is one of the few Titans to have made a Pro Bowl, so getting him back is still a pretty good move.
6. Antonio Johnson
Antonio Johnson is a valuable signing for two reasons: One, he is a former Tennessee player, and two, he has experience in the 3-4 base defense.
Johnson is the perfect size for a nose tackle in the 3-4, and he's coming off a career best season with the Titans. If he can play at that level in 2013, he'll give Sammie Hill a run for his money as the starting nose tackle.
For those that don't remember, Johnson filled in for an injured Hill in 2013, and Johnson recorded three sacks and a defended pass from limited playing time in the nose tackle position.
A nose tackle that's big enough to take up running lanes and get some pressure on the quarterback can be a handy tool to have, so picking Johnson back up was a good move for the Titans.
5. Dexter McCluster
Dexter McCluster is probably Chris Johnson's replacement, but don't expect him to play like Chris Johnson did. The Titans almost certainly plan on using him in a very different way.
In fact, more than anything, the signing of McCluster shows how big of a change Whisenhunt has in store for the Titans offense.
McCluster is a somewhere between a true running back and a receiver, much like Darren Sproles. I imagine that Whisenhunt intends on using McCluster the same way: He'll either run out of the backfield and be the quarterback's dump-off target, or he'll catch passes in the backfield and run from there.
Overall, McCluster's signing shows that Whisenhunt plans on running a much more pass-oriented offense than Mike Munchak did.
4. Wesley Woodyard
I would have loved the Wesley Woodyard signing were it not for one detail. The Titans got him at a fair rate, and he will probably be a solid weak-side inside linebacker. The problem is that I'm not sure that that's where the Titans will play him.
To expand on my point, you have to first remember that Ken Whisenhunt, Ray Horton and Lou Spanos are all 3-4 guys, so the Titans will probably be playing out of the 3-4 a lot more.
Among their current linebackers who could play in the 3-4, there's Akeem Ayers, who will certainly play outside; Moise Fokou and Colin McCarthy, who will hopefully be backups; and Zach Brown and Zaviar Gooden, both of whom project to the inside.
Unfortunately, the two inside linebacker positions aren't interchangeable, and both Zach Brown and Zaviar Gooden would probably fit best as weak-side inside linebackers, where they can take advantage of their speed.
If you remember, that's the position that Woodyard will ideally play. So in my mind, the Titans have three weak-side inside linebackers, all of whom probably won't be playing that position.
Unless one of those players makes a surprising transition, then the Titans didn't make the best personnel decision in signing Woodyard.
3. Michael Oher
This signing makes a big impact, but not in a positive way. Michael Oher was a highly regarded prospect out of Mississippi, but he's never put it together in the NFL. He's been an average, or even less than average, right tackle for the Ravens so far in his career.
However, the Titans paid him way too much money to do anything but start him, and his salary will make them unlikely to draft a tackle in the fantastic 2014 class.
Now, they will go into 2015 without a plan for left tackle. Michael Roos will be 32 and at the end of his contract, and the Titans will have to hope he still has some football in him or that they'll be in a position to draft a replacement.
Oher is a step down from David Stewart, even with Stewart's injury issues, but the Titans have made their bed. Now they have to lie in it.
2. Ropati Pitoitua
Whether it's a good or bad thing, the Titans made their best signings before free agency actually began.
Ropati Pitoitua was one of those signings. Pitoitua's numbers from 2013 aren't all that impressive; he had four sacks and seven tackles for loss. Not bad, but far from all-pro numbers.
However, Pitoitua was a valuable player on the defensive line, and he played very well against the run, and his impact on the passing game was bigger than his numbers indicate.
He also got a boost in value when the Titans hired a coaching staff that ran the 3-4 defense. Pitoitua has the perfect build for a 3-4 defensive end, and he may be much better there than he was as an end in the 4-3 defense.
Bringing back one of the better players on 2013's defense, who happens to also be a perfect fit for the scheme of the 2014 defense was a great move, no matter how you slice it.
1. Bernard Pollard
In my opinion, re-signing Bernard Pollard was the best move the Titans made in free agency. It's also the one most likely to have a big impact in 2014.
The strong safety position had been a position of weakness for years in Tennessee, but Pollard changed that in 2013, bringing both stability and attitude to the defensive backfield.
With Alterraun Verner leaving, the Titans couldn't afford to lose another key cog in their best unit from 2013, so they re-signed Pollard before free agency began.
Pollard may have cost the Titans some yards via penalties, but he more than made up for it with his ability to defend against the run, and he played better than he had for most of his career against the pass.
Outside of Verner, Pollard was the highest priority free agent that the Titans had, so getting him back was a great move, and it ought to help the defensive backs transition to a Verner-less defense and a new scheme.