INDIANAPOLIS _ It is no secret that one of the Tennessee Titans' biggest needs is at defensive end.
The question for the Titans is whether to address that need in the draft, try and resolve it in free agency or to do both.
Titans general manager Ruston Webster admitted that finding a pass rusher who can be a difference-maker is a priority and something that could be more easily addressed in the draft than through the expensive route of free agency.
“I think it could help immensely. A special player, like say when the Titans drafted Jevon Kearse, he was a special player who changed things,” Webster said, recalling Tennessee's 1999 selection of Kearse. “When I was in Tampa, we had Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp. They made everybody else around them better. So those type of special rusher really can affect your defense. They help guys on the back end and if you can get a lead on people and rush the passer, you've got a great chance to win.”
Webster said pass rush help can come in forms not necessarily in the same type of package that Kearse brought with his lean, athletic fram.
“I think it's hard to say. Special rushers, there's only a handful. I think what you have to do is look for special traits. They might be a little undersized but they've got special traits,” he said. “They might not be a 6-5, long, athletic looking kind of guy, but you've got the Trent Coles. They don't necessarily look like your typical pass rushing defensive, but the have the explosiveness to affect the passer. You have to look for the right traits.”
The Titans eyed North Carolina's Quinton Coples, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, among others, at the Senior Bowl, and Webster admits it is easier to use the draft route rather than the more expensive free agent mode.
“I would think it's easier here, because those guys usually don't get to the free agent market. You have to look for those guys in the draft. I think they're all along the draft, top to bottom,” he said.
If the Titans do look in free agency, there are some prize players whose contracts are up. Mario Williams of division rival Houston is the top name currently on track to become a free agent. But there is also Calais Campbell of Arizona, Cliff Avril of Detroit and among older players Robert Mathis of AFC South rival Indianapolis.
Tennessee's typical stance on free agency is not to overpay, and to play is safe by using the allotted money on a couple of lesser players rather than bankrolling one high-priced free agent. But Webster sounded like, without mentioning Williams or any of the others by name that, going after a star-caliber player is not completely out of consideration.
“I don't really want to overpay for anybody, but the one position where that can happen with the most is with pass-rushing defensive linemen,” Webster said.
According to sources, the Titans have at least pondered the possibility of Williams and the other ends who could become free agents, but not even the front office will get their hopes up on what is available until free agency opens March 13.
“I think you've just got to see what's out there when it all breaks. Typically those guys don't get out there. You think they're going to and and don't, so you just have to see what's available. But anytime there is a pass rusher out there, you have to take a hard look at him,” Webster said.
Titans coach Mike Munchak sees a definite need at end, not only from a needing a difference-maker, but from a numbers standpoint as well.
“It's definitely a need. Derrick Morgan is the only guy under contract right now that's been playing a lot. (Will) Hayes' contract is up; (Dave) Ball's contract is up,” he said. “That's something that we will be looking at on both ends, free agency and the draft. When the smoke clears, we'll have some good defensive ends, it's just a matter of where they come from.”
As for Morgan, a first-round pick who has yet to live up to that billing thanks in part to injuries, Munchak is optimistic.
“I think he has that potential,” Munchak said. “So for me, we had five rookies out there player. Now that he's gotten a year behind him with the injury, the ACL and he had his knee scoped in camp and all, we're expecting big things out of him. We're hoping he can be one of those guys (that can make a difference).”