Before we begin, I will say that I was pretty happy with Webster's moves in the offseason last year. He has been an excellent talent evaluator, and has been solid in both filling positions of need, as well as assembling quality depth and bringing in players who fit the system. That said, he has not been faultless, as this evaluation will no doubt imply:
(Only players who logged significant snaps with the team are listed)
Levitre was the most expensive move of the offseason for the Tennessee Titans. It was looking like a mistake early on in the season, as he was but a cog in a line that was struggling to get the offense off the ground. Levitre was also a major offender in holding penalties during the course of the season, which set the offense back, and generally forced a punt. With an offense run primarily by Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 10 yards is basically insurmountable. That said, the LG came on later in the season, and seemed to be much more comfortable beside the rookie Brian Schwenke. Levitre flashed his athleticism as well, showing he is capable of pulling effectively, and getting to the second level. Overall, the ex-Bill was a great addition to the team, since he is both young and talented, and not to mention durable. I was critical of his cost-play ratio early in the season, but he slowly proved he was worth the contract he was given.
Rob Turner (IR)
The former Rams Center was a 16 game starter in 2012, which made it all the more odd that he was jettisoned so freely. The Titans soon found out why. While Turner brought leadership to a young offensive line, he also brought a lack of ability to run block or pass protect effectively. It is easy to forget how much Jake Locker was pressured up the middle due to Turner's play, and it is definitely worth taking into account when you compare Locker's time under center vs that of Fitzpatrick, who played much of his season behind Brian Schwenke. Turner was good for a couple bad penalties during the game, and was clearly over-valued by Titans staff, who saw him as a Mawae-esque player. What an error of judgment.
(2454 yds, 62% completion, 14 TDs, 12 INTs, 82.0 QBR)
Now it gets fun. Ryan Fitzpatrick made his migration from a starter role in Buffalo to a backup one in Tennessee. Nevertheless, he ended up starting a majority of the games in Jake Locker's absence. The QB neither improved nor regressed from his career norms, so the Titans poor win-loss record under his watch should be no surprise. Fitzpatrick is a very streaky passer with some very good performances (INDY, ARI) mixed in with really poor showings (SEA, INDY). I have never been a fan of his for obvious reasons, but in hindsight it is hard to fault Webster for brining him in as the backup. He likely fared as well or better than most in his position would have.
(60 receptions, 571 yards, 6 TDs)
The Walker signing wasn't a cheap one for Tennessee, but I would argue it was good value for a very solid starting TE who is an asset in both aspects of the offense. While the Titans suffered through a poor year of running the football, Walker was not the reason. He also grew into the role Webster envisioned, doubling his career highs for catches and becoming an important cog for the offense. It is also worth noting that he is a leader first and foremost, and he developed a very good rapport with both QBs. When you bring in a TE and he ends up leading your team in receiving TDs, you can safely say that it was a good signing.
(77 carries, 295 yards, 4 TDs, 3.8 ypc, 6 receptions, 39 yards)
This one gets a little muddy. Shonn Greene has shown he is an effective, bruising runner, and churned out consistent yards as expected. That said, it isn't easy to fully evaluate a guy who missed such a significant portion of the season with an injury, a knee no less. Greene was no less effective than CJ when he was on the field. Many bemoaned the price they paid for Greene, but had he stayed healthy, he would have been right around where expectations lay. In addition, for the money they have been paying CJ, I would be happy to roll with Greene next year along with another back to compliment him. Overall, the ex-Jet showed his power when called upon for the most part, and played very well when the blocking improved. I'm not going to let injury down his grade too much since he signed a multi-year deal.
(36 carries, 142 yards, 1 TD, 3.9 ypc, 4 receptions 36 yards)
Battle was signed at the last minute before the first pre-season games. I know he got a whole lot less popular around here, but he has been a good signing. He filled in for Shonn Greene when he was hurt in the season opener, and has been a consistent performer on special teams. His major knock was a single 4th and goal play in Kansas City where he didn't follow the play as designed, and it cost the Titans in a big way. In the end of the day, I don't think you can do too much better as RB3, and his value is very good considering he is on vet minimum.
(30.1 return avg.)
A late season add brought the heralded kick returner to Nashville, and not a moment too soon. Washington instantly turned the return unit around and made good decisions on his way to an impressive close to the season. He had some very good returns, including a 90+ yarder. His impact was night and day, and since Marc Mariani hasn't really played significant NFL football for 2+ years, I would be upset if the team didn't bring him back next season.
(99 tackles, 05. sacks, 3 INTs)
Not many players were more reviled in Tennessee (and New England for that matter), than the loud-mouthed Bernard Pollard. What a turnaround. The big-hitter gave the Titans defense a physical, gritty mentality, and his leadership trickled down in a positive way. For a mere 2 million, the veteran SS posted his best season as a pro, dispelling notions of coverage struggles, and helping shore up the run defense. While he wasn't stellar in coverage, he certainly wasn't the sore-thumb Ravens and Texans fans sold us when the team signed him. I have said it before and I will say it again: after reviewing a lot of Titans tape from this year it is clear to me that a lot of those 10-15 yard runs given up by the linebackers would have turned into 50+ ones without Pollard's efforts. Tennessee needs to bring this guy back for 2014.
(40 tackles, 1 INT)
Another veteran safety who I can't say enough about. George Wilson is a consummate professional and a great locker room leader. Wilson played sparingly, but he made an impact when he did. Having a guy like him on the roster, who can make an mark on special teams (one which sealed a win after an onside kick recovery). He also nabbed a game-icing interception, and played admirably in certain packages. He was a great addition, especially when you consider his mild cap hit.
(78 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles)
The Fokou signing was initially viewed as an effort to build depth. Through training camp and the preseason, however; Fokou was earning starter snaps over 2012 starter Colin McCarthy. Fokou went on to start the season, playing solidly in his first few games before being sidelines with an injury. Even when he returned to lineup, his play suffered and the run defense slowly but surely deteriorated. His coverage skills left a lot to be desired as well, a point driven home when he was left in the dust by Texan RB Jonathan Grimes despite the fact that he should have had good positioning on him. One year later the Titans are still searching for the answer at MLB.
(44 tackles, 4 sacks)
The big Samoan has been excellent for the Titans this season, especially when you consider his value. Pitoitua has also had his best career year in 2013 with the Titans, and his ability to be a capable run defender has helped the defense out in a big way. Despite arriving as much of a "depth" move, just like Fokou Ropati took command of a starting spot over Kamerion Wimbley, part of the FO's efforts (misguided as they might be) to get bigger on the defensive line. He has also flashed in the pass rushing department as well, which was an added bonus since he hasn't been much of a rusher since he came into the league. He also has a good habit of keeping his hands up to bat would-be passes. While he is definitely not the dynamic pass rusher this Titans D could benefit with, he is certainly an important piece that would be worth keeping around.
I am calling Hill a bust. Maybe not a huge one, but a bust still. I was skeptical of the big DT coming from Detroit from the beginning. While it was obvious why he wasn't getting playing time up there with Suh and Fairley on the roster, I am at a loss to see why the front office decided to give him such a lucrative deal. Aside from injury, which took up most of his season, Hill has failed to impress as a run stopper and has little ability getting after the QB. That said, he has made a few plays after he made his way back from injury, but they were too few and far between, so much so that the Titans were actually better against the run with the "undersized" Karl Klug and Mike Martin out there. With so much talent and depth behind Casey at the DT spot, I wouldn't be surprised if they moved on from Hill early.
(22 tackles, 3 sacks)
Johnson came into camp as a late addition for extra depth at the DT spot. He impressed me during the season, especially for a guy on the vet minimum. Johnson played solidly in a rotation against the run, and even notched three sacks as well. While he is not a difference maker on the line, Johnson is a solid piece in a system of heavily rotated guys on the inside next to Jurrell Casey. I would say this was a good decision on Webster's part.
Overall I would say Webster's offseason was excellent, as almost all of the players he brought in ended up starting at one point or another, and making solid contributions to the team. Unfortunately, they were not enough to overcome some suspect coaching and injury at the QB position. I think, with another good draft and FA period (Daryl Smith and Eric Winston please!), this team could do some damage. That said, it may all come down to Tommy Smith's decision this Friday, so fingers crossed MCMers. It may very well be a bump road ahead.
Overall FA Grade: B+