NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have jumped head-first into free agency with a flurry of moves — with the blessings of owner Bud Adams.
The Titans introduced four new players late Wednesday afternoon 26 hours after free agency opened with guard Andy Levitre, running back Shonn Greene, defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill and tight end Delanie Walker. They also re-signed their own fullback Quinn Johnson.
“Coming off that 6-10 year, we needed to be aggressive,” general manager Ruston Webster said.
A frustrated Adams let everyone know — staff, players, fans — he wasn’t happy last season and gave the OK for the Titans to explore free agency as a way to improve. This time, he stayed out of the way unlike last year when he ordered his front office to chase Peyton Manning in a fruitless courtship that wasted precious time as top defensive targets signed elsewhere.
Webster said many hours was spent with coaches and pro scouts deciding which players to target in free agency before taking advantage of the three-day window that started Saturday morning to start talking to agents. The GM made sure each player knew how much the Titans wanted them.
“They were the plan, and it’s come together,” Webster said.
The Titans focused on trying to improve their offensive line first to protect quarterback Jake Locker, and Levitre was the first player they agreed to terms with to kick off free agency. He replaces left guard Steve Hutchinson, who announced his retirement Tuesday morning. Coach Mike Munchak said this portion of the year is all about rebuilding the roster and filling in needs both on the field and in leadership.
“The main thing we’re looking at is to become a tough, physical, football team and create an identity and look for those type of players that help us do that again, and that’s what you see in these guys here,” Munchak said.
Levitre reportedly received a six-year, $46.5 million deal, and the 6-foot-2 guard is one of only three offensive linemen drafted in 2009 to start every game since coming into the NFL with 64 starts at Buffalo. He now will get to play against Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt twice a year as AFC South rivals, and Levitre, who described himself as someone who leads by example, sounds ready for that matchup already.
“I think I can prepare myself well enough to do well against him,” Levitre said. “He’s not Superman, so I can play well against him.”
Greene got a deal that The Tennessean and other outlets say is three years for $10 million. He spent his first four seasons with the New York Jets, has rushed for 3,423 yards and 18 touchdowns on 822 carries. The 5-foot-11, 226-pound Green also has 65 catches for 482 yards, and he scored eight touchdowns in 2012. He is coming off the best year of his career with 276 rushes for 1,063 yards and eight touchdowns rushing.
That’s two fewer than the Titans scored rushing as a team, and they see Greene as a perfect change of pace for Chris Johnson. Munchak said Greene is used to splitting carries with another running back, though Johnson remains the Titans’ main back.
Greene said he knows this is Johnson’s backfield.
“I think he’s a phenomenal player,” Greene said. “He’s very explosive, very talented. He can take off whenever. Just with our different styles, we can keep defenses on their toes. You have to prepare with him with his speed and getting to the outside, and then coming with me and the power and the downhill stuff. I think it just gives defenses a lot to worry about.”
The Titans haven’t had that kind of option to Johnson since trading away LenDale White in 2010. They ranked 21st in rushing in 2012 but struggled to stay on the field. They ranked last in the NFL averaging just 27 minutes, 18 seconds in time of possession per game in Locker’s first full season as a starter.
Walker will help replace Jared Cook, who left for St. Louis as a free agent. Walker joined the news conference late after signing his own deal, and he said his strength is blocking. The Titans see him as versatile enough to block or line up in the slot, and Walker said he has had issues with drops he blamed on concentration.
“They’ve given me an opportunity to be a playmaker, and I’m going to take advantage of it,” Walker said.
Quinn Johnson, who has been a lead blocker for Chris Johnson, agreed to his own deal coming back. The fullback had four carries for 5 yards and caught five passes for 40 yards playing all 16 games last season.
The Titans still have to address their defense after allowing a franchise-worst 471 points in 2012.
Their lone free agent signing was safety George Wilson last month until they reached a deal The Tennessean reported at three years and $11.4 million with Hill. He played 59 career games with 18 starts with Detroit and four sacks. The Titans see him helping play all three downs with the tackle 6-foot-4, 329 pounds, and Hill said he likes the opportunity to start so close to his Alabama home after playing behind Corey Williams, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in Detroit.
Webster said the Titans still have between $5 million and $7 million left in salary cap space.
“I wouldn’t say we’re completely done,” Webster said.