A day after Eddie George asked to be released from his contract, the Titans decided to give him a while to perhaps change his mind.
But in a league where things happen fast, the team wasted little time searching for his potential replacement.
Former New England Patriots running back Antowain Smith visited Baptist Sports Park yesterday and appears to be the Titans' top choice to replace George if he sticks to his guns and refuses to accept the team's contract proposal.
Attempts to reach Titans General Manager Floyd Reese last night for comment about Smith's visit were unsuccessful. Earlier yesterday, Reese issued the team's first public statement on George's request for release.
''We want to take our time and make sure everyone involved understands the ramifications of this action,'' Reese said. ''I don't think taking a day or two of reflection for something of this magnitude is a bad thing.''
The Titans want George back as their starting running back this fall, but only with a restructured contract that includes a pay cut. There's no indication the Titans plan to raise their offer of $1.5 million, which is $2.75 million less than George was scheduled to make this year.
George is seeking approximately $2.5 million, plus some assurances for future seasons. The franchise's all-time leading rusher will turn 31 in September.
George was out of town on business yesterday. His agent, Lamont Smith, was unavailable for comment.
In an interview with The Tennessean on Monday night, George indicated he would be hesitant to accept even an improved offer from the Titans and all but conceded his days with Tennessee are numbered.
''The reality of not being here is hard, real hard,'' George said. ''This is all I've known for the last (eight) years. … It's hard to think about being someplace else.''
Antowain Smith doesn't have the credentials of George, but he's had plenty of success during his seven-year NFL career. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound free agent also earned a pair of Super Bowl rings in his three seasons with the Patriots. He spent his first four seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
In addition to George, running backs on the Titans roster are second-year pro Chris Brown, veteran Robert Holcombe and rookies Troy Fleming and Jarrett Payton.
The story so far
Running back Eddie George is under contract with the Titans through the 2006 season, but earlier this offseason the team asked him to restructure his deal. What's happened since then:
February: George and the Titans begin negotiations, but the team wants him to take a significant pay cut. The Titans offer a base salary of $1.5 million for 2004, which is $2.75 million less than the $4.25 million he was scheduled to make. George and his agent, Lamont Smith, balk at the offer and break off negotiations.
March: The March 2 deadline for each team to be below the salary cap comes and goes with George still on the roster. The Titans could release him, but opt to wait, hoping to agree on a restructure.
April: Smith is angry the Titans refused to negotiate before the draft. If the Titans are going to trade George, Smith says, then it's time to talk. Titans GM Floyd Reese says his focus is on the draft.
May: Titans owner Bud Adams tells The Tennessean he's pessimistic that George will be on the roster much longer. Adams says Smith is unwilling to negotiate, and that the Titans need money from a restructured deal in order to sign their 13 draft picks.
June: George meets with Reese, Coach Jeff Fisher and running backs coach Sherman Smith to discuss his role. George is told if he plays well, he'll get plenty of carries and remain the feature back. George comes away from the meeting feeling ''pretty positive things will work out.'' Money remains an issue, however.
July: Upset because the Titans refuse to budge, George meets with Reese, then travels to Denver to meet with his agents. Two days later he asks the Titans to release him.
Is George's decision to ask for his release all about money?
Some observers think so, but it has just as much to do with long-term security. George wants a deal that will keep him with one team for the final three or four years of his career. He'll probably receive a decent signing bonus and a multiyear deal from another team.
Couldn't George have restructured his contract to help the team?
At least six other Titans have restructured their contracts this offseason, but George was asked to restructure his contract and take a pay cut.
When quarterback Steve McNair's contract was restructured, his base salary for 2004 was lowered from $6.75 million to $660,000. But McNair didn't take a hit to the wallet. He immediately received the difference in a signing bonus. The Titans, meanwhile, helped themselves because signing bonuses don't count against the salary cap.
Most players are willing to restructure their contracts — George has done so in the past — because they get fast cash. The line of players willing to take a pay cut is much shorter.
Couldn't the Titans restructure other contracts to keep George around?
Yes, but right now they're not willing to do so.
The Titans wanted to restructure the contracts of cornerback Samari Rolle and wide receiver Derrick Mason to create more cap room, but agent Lamont Smith (who also represents George) wasn't willing to do so.
Smith seemed willing to reconsider those restructures, but now the Titans aren't interested.
I wonder how TEN would want to use A. Smith. I know that when he went to visit TB, they were looking to use him as more of a short yardage and goalline back as insurance if Alstott wasnt 100%.
I could see the same thing in TEN, where A. Smith would be the TD vulture for Brown and spell him on occassions. Probably getting around 10 carries a game, and making neither of them all that valuable fantasywise.
Of course this is me just rambling and thinking out loud, as this is very premature since they 1) havent released Eddie yet, and 2) havent signed A. Smith
I first saw this and panicked (as a dynasty owner of Brown), but the more I think about it, the more I think it could be a good thing for Brown owners. It's a no brainer that Tennessee would fill George's spot with another (vet) RB, so who else would you rather have your guy going up against?
Fantasy wise, it can deal a devasting blow to me. My biggest rival in my league has chris brown as his #3 guy. I have charlie garner has my #3 and if george lands in tampa, it would only be fitting if Smith takes Brown's role, although like previously said, smith is merely a TD vulture.
Most people saw this coming...I read a *news* article yesterday that suggested the team would probably be looking at a veteran RB to stick with Brown and mentioned Antowain Smith. Brown is the future full-time back in Tennessee but I think the future is a year away.
by Vlad the Impaler_ffc » Wed Jul 21, 2004 10:49 am
What is it with the Titans love of RBs who have no speed, no moves, and can't catch? Smith and George will put up basically the same lame numbers if they are given the load, and Chris Brown is a strait-up runner with limited moves who is going to get pulverized in the NFL.
They may never replace Eddie George, but the Tennessee Titans have wasted little time filling his roster spot, reaching a contract agreement in principle with free agent tailback Antowain Smith on a one-year deal.
Smith visited with Titans officials on Tuesday, one day before the release of George, and will sign a contract that is believed to include a $25,000 signing bonus and a base salary of $660,000, the NFL minimum for a seven-year veteran. The contract will count only $475,000 against the Tennessee salary cap.
The New England Patriots' leading rusher each of the last three seasons, Smith played a significant role in the club's two Super Bowl victories in that stretch, but was released early in the spring for salary cap considerations. Several other teams, notably Tampa Bay, had indicated interest in Smith in recent weeks.
It appears the Titans still plan to turn the starting tailback job over to second-year veteran Chris Brown, who suffered through nagging injuries the first half of his 2003 rookie season and carried 56 times for 221 yards. But acquiring Smith provides the Titans an excellent insurance policy, and another veteran to go along with the versatile Robert Holcombe.
Even with the presence of tailbacks like James Stewart and Dorsey Levens in the free agent market, Smith was by far the top choice of Tennessee officials to help solidify a backfield in flux, with the departure of George after eight seasons.
Smith, 32, entered the league with the Buffalo Bills in 1997 as a first-round choice. He played four seasons with the Bills, then was released in the spring of 2001, and signed with the Patriots. Known as a power runner between the tackles, Smith has displayed a knack for coming up big in big games, as demonstrated by his Super Bowl performances.
The former University of Houston standout has carried 1,481 times for 5,713 yards and 47 touchdowns. He posted 1,000-yard seasons in 1998 and 2001. Last year, Smith ran for 642 yards on 182 carries. He has appeared in 102 games and started in 65 of them.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Well we all moved Brown up a few notches on the cheat sheet, and now we can knock him down a tad.