Will Keith Bulluck Stay or Go?

Lucas HendricksonCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 23:  Keith Bulluck #53 of the Tennessee Titans stands on the field during the game against the New York Jets at LP Field on November 23, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Veteran Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck brought up the possibility that the 2009 season could be his last in the Columbia blue, with his contract scheduled to expire at the end of the season.

"I think so, yeah. And I have no reason to believe that it isn't,” Bulluck said May 21 during the team’s minicamp. “I have seen great players come here and go, players you’d think would finish their careers here and didn't. But I know how things work, and know it isn’t personal.

“The circumstances for me this year are different. I am kind of approaching this year like it's my senior year in college.”

This, my friends, is the beginning of “negotiating through the media” season. Bulluck is a smart guy both on and off the field, and knows that by throwing a match or two on the kindling before the season might pave the way for extension talks to begin.

However, the Titans are known for letting players walk should their contract demands get too out of hand, with former Titans legends like Steve McNair, Eddie George, Samari Rolle, and Derrick Mason proof positive of that (you could count Albert Haynesworth in that bunch, but there was absolutely no way GM Mike Reinfeldt was going to get into that sweepstakes).

So, we’re left to watch and wait, seeing how Bulluck performs in his “contract year.” Granted, as fans we’re not going to be given any input into the final decision, but for the purposes of text-based sports talk, let’s look at the Pros and Cons (otherwise known as the “Yeah, but…”) aspects of Bulluck’s recent career.

Fewer Than 100 Tackles Two Consecutive Years: After averaging nearly 140 tackles per season between 2002-06, Bulluck’s tackle numbers dropped precipitously, to 88 in ’07 and 98 in ’08 (even though the ’08 number led the team by 27).

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Yeah, but… if you only look at that set of numbers and fail to take into account the rise of the players around and in front of him, you only get part of the picture.

“It got to a point where I didn’t really understand what was going on, because I was used to 12, 13 tackles a game, so it got a little bit frustrating,” Bulluck told me prior to last season, in an interview for Nashville Arts & Entertainment magazine.

“But you get halfway through the season, and you realize that you’re playing linebacker behind a guy who finished second in voting for defensive MVP [Haynesworth], and Kyle Vanden Bosch who also went to the Pro Bowl.

“They’d never played on the same side, so I’m smart enough to know that’s why my numbers went down. Three All-Pros on one side of the ball? Everybody can’t make all the plays.”

Zero Interceptions In 2008: Following the ’07 season, Bulluck could take solace in the fact that he notched his career best (and a team high) five interceptions. However, the ’08 campaign found the Syracuse product getting shut out of the INT column for the first time in his career.

Yeah, but… again, you have to look at the productivity of players around him, specifically a defensive backfield that found Michael Griffin and Cortland Finnegan emerging as legit superstars, to see that the Titans didn’t necessarily miss the picks Bulluck’s given them in the past.

Entering His 10th Season: This is probably the area that gives the Titans’ front office the most pause. Bulluck’s been a reliable and resilient player for a long time, having started every single game since becoming a full-timer in 2002. They have to wonder how much longer he’ll keep this kind of productivity up. 

Yeah, but… it’s exactly that kind of steadfastness and work ethic, combined with experience and the appropriate nasty streak when need be, that’s made him a Jeff Fisher favorite for years.

There’s no sense that any of that will change in ’09 or beyond, barring catastrophic injury. His leadership skills, especially this season with the ascension of defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, will prove invaluable as the team (especially the linebacking corps) adjusts to life without Haynesworth clogging the middle.

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