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What Do NFL Free Agents Care About?

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NFL.com took a look at what former NFL players looked for from a team in free agency. How do the Titans stack up?

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

We are officially two weeks out from the opening of NFL free agency! NFL.com employs several former NFL players, and they recently asked them about what they were looking for when they entered the free agent market during their playing careers. Here are the categories they felt were most important.

“High on team's priority list”

Players want to feel wanted. I would also say that this category contains the money factor as well since that is how a lot of players think a team prioritizes them. Nate Burleson was the example they used in the article. Here is what he had to say about his experience.

"The moment the clock struck 12:01 a.m., (then-Lions offensive coordinator) Scott Linehan was sitting down at the restaurant ready to negotiate," Burleson said. "That was the ultimate sign. He made me a priority and that was the selling point. Regardless of the negotiations and the money, when I walked in the restaurant and he was there, I knew I was going to sign with Detroit."

Burleson said he never honestly considered playing in Detroit prior to that meeting because the Lions had one of the NFL's best receivers -- if not the best receiver -- in Calvin Johnson. But Linehan continued to sell Detroit.

"[Linehan] said, 'In order for us to win, we need a guy like you.' It was a lot different than, 'Hey, we're bringing you in to help us win,' " Burleson remembered. "The way he phrased it was that I was a really big part of what they were trying to build. It made me think it was a marriage meant to be."

I do think this is probably the most important aspect of free agency. Being able to sell a player on how important they are to your team’s success is crucial to landing the top available players. The Titans quickly landed Ben Jones last offseason so it will be very interesting to see who they prioritize on the market this year. You can safely assume that some “backchanneling” between the various NFL front offices and the representatives for the top free agents has probably already begun to determine which potential targets might reciprocate interest. Of course, this type of discussion is technically illegal according to NFL tampering rules, but deep down we all know it happens since deals with dollar figures start to be reported within minutes of the opening of the “legal tampering” period.

I would suspect that Jon Robinson will have a 12:01 meeting set with one of the top free agent corners when the “legal tampering” period opens.

“Familiarity with coaches”

Players hate learning new systems. Being able to move to a new team without having to learn an entire playbook and quickly contributing at a high level is important to a lot of players. We have already seen this here the last few years with former LeBeau disciples Valentino Blake, Sean Spence, and Brice McCain coming to Tennessee to play for their former coach last offseason. While those guys may not have lit the world on fire here in 2016, it is worth taking a look at a few guys who have previously worked under LeBeau, Mularkey, or Robiskie who are expected to hit the market since it is likely those players would have some interest in playing here. Looking back at Mularkey and Robiskie’s former players in Jacksonville and Atlanta didn’t produce any realistic targets for the Titans, but there are a few more LeBeau guys that could be interesting.

  • Lawrence Timmons, ILB - Timmons would be intriguing to me. He was excellent under LeBeau, but has struggled somewhat since Keith Butler took over. Timmons will be 31 at the start of next season and its fair to wonder if he has much left, but I could absolutely see him coming here on a short, relatively inexpensive deal to pair with his old coach.
  • Jarvis Jones, OLB - The 2013 1st round pick has been a huge bust for the Steelers. Maybe a change in scenery and re-uniting with his former coach could help him unlock some of that talent that made him a first rounder. The Titans are pretty strong at OLB right now, but if they could get him for a cheap deal he could be a good rotation edge rusher.
  • James Harrison, OLB - Harrison is ancient, yet he keeps producing for Pittsburgh. He nearly came to Tennessee two years ago, but opted to stay in Pittsburgh. Its hard to imagine him deciding to come now that he would only be getting rotational reps at best.

I think Timmons is the most likely of this group, but Jones could be an interesting upside play if we think we could jump start his career.

To look at this from another angle, it is possible that some of the Titans potential targets could look to follow a coach elsewhere. Trumaine Johnson following Gregg Williams to the Browns could be possible. DeSean Jackson following Sean McVay out to LA (which is also his hometown) could make a lot of sense. Alshon Jeffery had his two best seasons in Marc Trestman’s offense in Chicago, maybe he heads to receiver-needy Baltimore to play for his old coach? Calais Campbell to the Jets to play for former Cardinals DC, Todd Bowles? All of these could be in play thanks to this factor.

“Bigger role and opportunity to win”

The Titans have often been able to offer a “bigger role”, but rarely the “opportunity to win” part of this equation over the past decade. That is different this year. The Titans are viewed around the league as a young team on the rise which should be a great selling point for free agents, particularly younger guys who could be interested in the chance to play on a team with Marcus Mariota for the next 4-5 years. The “bigger role” part is position specific, but for guys like A.J. Bouye and Logan Ryan who have never entered the season as the “#1 corner” the Titans could be appealing. Same goes for wide receivers like Kenny Stills or Pierre Garcon who could come in and likely get more looks than they do in their current situations.

“Fair chance to compete for starting job”

This is similar to the “bigger role” section above, but the specific scenario they used in the article was based around David Carr wanting a contract that reflected the opportunity to compete for a starting job.

The 2010 Niners were led by head coach Mike Singletary, with Alex Smith as QB1. When weighing his options, Carr knew he and Smith would be under similar contracts -- a great sign for the veteran.

"That means it will be fair," Carr said. "If he's making a ton more than me, they want him to play."

After that season, which saw Carr play in one game, Singletary was fired and the 49ers brought in head coach Jim Harbaugh, while director of player personnel Trent Baalke was promoted to general manager. Again a free agent, Carr was considering re-signing with San Francisco or heading back to New York. His decision was made after a meeting with Harbaugh.

"I told him that I'd love to play for him because I liked the staff a lot," Carr said. "He said, 'We'd love to have you stay here and compete for the job.' But he and the new GM were never on the same page, and the contract I was offered wasn't even close to the one Alex was offered.

"So I said, 'Thanks, Jim. But no thanks.' "

The Titans don’t really have a parallel situation on the roster currently that comes to mind, but it’s worth noting that this is something that players think about and notice when it comes to signing somewhere in a situation where they will be competing directly with an incumbent player.

Do you guys agree with this list?