If there was ever any doubt that Chris Johnson's days with the Tennessee Titans are numbered, those doubts were erased about 10 minutes into free agency when the Titans forked over a $12 million, three-year contract to land former Kansas City Chiefs receiver/running back Dexter McCluster.
McCluster immediately gives new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who will serv as the offensive play-caller, the type of weapon that can be used in a variety of ways - as a running back, a slot receiver and out wide when necessary.
McCluster, whom the Chiefs picked in 2010, is also one of the NFL's most dangerous punt returners, something the Titans have not had since the trade of the infamous Pacman Jones back in 2007.
In addition to adding McCluster early in free agency, Tennessee also brought back veteran kick returner and running back Leon Washington, who tweeted out the news of his return to the team. Washington was picked up after the New England Patriots released him last year and helped to solidify what had been a disastrous return game for the Titans in 2013. With Washington on kickoffs and McCluster on punts, Tennessee's return game should be a strength, rather than a liability, in 2014.
But back to Johnson, when the running back openly refused to accept any sort of pay cut from the team regarding his $8 million base in year three of a $53 million extension, the writing was basically on the wall for a player who had just 1,077 yards and averaged only 3.9 yards per rush.
There has also been talk of locker room "cancers" made public by tight end Delanie Walker in the off-season, and though no names were ever mentioned, many speculated that Johnson's name was on that list of players whose approach to the game could sometimes be a detriment.
The other part of the equation is that the Titans don't have to be in a hurry to divest themselves of Johnson, since he has no bonus due. They would take a $4 million hit in dead money if they release him, unless of course, they designate him a post June 1 release.
As for Tennessee's other targets in free agency, many of the players they took a first look at, such as D'Qwell Jackson and Art Jones, both signed with the Colts.
Linebacker and the defensive line will continue to be areas where the Titans are expected to plug holes through free agency. The switch from a 4-3 to a hybrid 3-4 necessitates that some changes need to be made in personnel.
--The Titans are reaching out trying to appeal to their fan base. They held a gathering with season ticket holders and held a Q&A session with new coach Ken Whisenhunt and also made select players available to those season ticket holders in a meet-and-greet situation as well.
Executive vice president of administration Don MacLachlan spearheaded the event along with new Titans team president Tommy Smith.
More so now than any time since they first arrived from Houston and were first trying to gain a foothold in the Nashville market.
"The fact that we sold out games for 15 straight years doesn't mean we'll do it for a 16th straight year," MacLachlan said. "That's why we're way in front of the curve this year."
An estimated 4,600 fans attended the all-day event held at the new Music City Convention Center.
--The Titans made an unusual change this offseason, replacing head trainer Brad Brown last month after 28 years on the job. In his place, the team brought in Todd Toriscelli as their Director of Sports Medicine.
Toriscelli spent 17 years in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization.
"I have known Todd for nearly 20 years and have a great deal of respect for the work he has done through the years," said Ruston Webster, Titans General Manager. "He is organized, professional and has a wide-range of knowledge from his years in the field. He also has respect within the athletic training world as many of his former assistants have gone on to become head trainers in the NFL and college."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: With the switch to a 3-4 defense, Tennessee needs a proven pass rusher to man the outside. Akeem Ayers is being counted upon to be better with the switch to a 3-4, and Tennessee has interest in Steelers cap cut LaMarr Woodley.
--INSIDE LINEBACKER: The Titans swung and missed in trying to court D'Qwell Jackson, losing out to the rival Colts for him. Tennessee might use Zach Brown and/or Zaviar Gooden here, but need a speedy linebacker who can not only go to the ball, but drop in coverage as well.
--NOSE TACKLE: The Titans will use Sammie Hill here on some downs, but still need another big body to spell him on occasion as well.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--C Kevin Matthews (not tendered as RFA); once his father, Bruce Matthews, was relieved of his duties as offensive line coach, the writing was on the wall for Kevin Matthews, who was a fringe player re-signed in the middle of the season after injuries.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Kenny Britt won't be back after wearing out his welcome with injuries, run-ins with the law and decreasing production. He needs a fresh start and so do the Titans.
--DT Antonio Johnson has some interest to the Titans, who could still bring him back on a bargain deal, if he doesn't find a better spot somewhere else.
--WR/KR Marc Mariani. With the acquisition of Dexter McCluster and the re-signing of Leon Washington, the old fan favorite is probably not in the plans anymore.
--T Mike Otto has been a serviceable backup for a number of years, but with a new coaching staff in place, he probably doesn't fit anymore.
--QB Rusty Smith will test free agency after four years split between the active roster and the practice squad. He never developed into the No. 2 quarterback the Titans envisioned him becoming in 2010 when they drafted him.
--G Chris Spencer played a backup role last season on a one-year deal and likely will move on in free agency.
--C Rob Turner began 2013 as the starter and was blamed for some of the offensive line's issues early in the year. He finished the season on IR and probably won't be back in Tennessee.
--WR Damian Williams is a useful player who should find a role somewhere in the league if the Titans opt not to bring him back for 2014.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--RB Jackie Battle: Potential UFA; $855,000/1 yr.
--DE Ropati Pitoitua: Potential UFA; $9.6M/3 yrs, $2.175M SB.
--S Bernard Pollard: Potential UFA; $6.3M/2 yrs, $850,000 SB.
--RB Leon Washington: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Dexter McCluster: UFA Chiefs; $12M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--CB Alterraun Verner: UFA Buccaneers; $26.5M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
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- Tennessee Titans
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Dexter McCluster
- Ken Whisenhunt
- Leon Washington