'01 draft tells story on Titans
By PAUL KUHARSKY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, 03/29/05

Report cards issued by the media after the NFL Draft drive personnel executives and coaches crazy.

A draft, they argue, can't be judged for at least a couple years, until everyone sees how the picks pan out.

Four years is plenty of time, however, and the Titans have nothing to show for their 2001 draft.

Barring an unlikely remarriage with free agent cornerback Andre Dyson, the 2005 Titans will have none of their 2001 picks nor any player obtained in trades for 2001 picks.

It's probably not fair to call the 2001 draft a bust. The Titans got solid contributions from defensive tackle Kevin Carter (obtained in a trade for the first-round pick), Dyson (second-round pick) and wide receiver Justin McCareins (fourth-round pick).

Still, the Titans failed to find even a single long-term core player in the batch. Carter was recently released as part of a salary-cap purge, the Titans allowed Dyson to become a free agent and McCareins was traded last year for a second-round pick that was used on defensive end Travis LaBoy.

The Titans excluded, NFL teams currently have an average of 2.76 players from their 2001 draft classes, though there is still potential for movement by free agents.

The St. Louis Rams still have six players from their 2001 draft class, with one of them a free agent, and the Indianapolis Colts have five, with one free agent.

The New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys are the only other teams with none of their 2001 picks.

ESPN's Randy Mueller, a former personnel executive with the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints, said teams can no longer expect extended service from all their draft picks.

''Four or five years now is long-term,'' Mueller said. ''You would hope your first-rounder and maybe your second-rounder would be around.

''It's like college recruiting, you hope you don't have a full year without input from a draft class. But it happens in this day and age. It's not ideal, but there are ways to overcome it.''

For the Titans to overcome it, last year's 12 draft picks and this year's nine will have to make reliable contributions.

Since the end of last season the Titans have lumped a series of moves to help them get under the salary cap for 2005 and gain financial freedom again in 2006.

Titans General Manager Floyd Reese views the inability to re-sign Dyson the same way as he views the cuts of veterans Samari Rolle, Derrick Mason, Fred Miller, Joe Nedney, Robert Holcombe and Carter the moves weren't indictments of the players, but were necessary in a broad strategy for coming to terms with the cap.

''You obviously were drafting well enough to get guys who could play in the league,'' Reese said. ''Now were you able to keep them on your club is another question, and that's part of what we've run through with the whole cap dilemma.

''Ideally, with each draft, you'd like to be able to keep X number of guys, whether it's two or five or seven guys, that will be the core of the next group. Part of the reason we decided to take all the hit this year is we were seeing that we were losing the ability to keep some of the guys we wanted to keep.''

Reese said he takes some solace in knowing that six of his seven 2001 picks will still be playing in the league this fall: tight end Shad Meier (New Orleans), wide receiver Eddie Berlin (Chicago), linebacker Keith Adams (Philadelphia), McCareins, Dyson and offensive lineman Adam Haayer.

''It's not that they are not playing,'' Reese said. ''It's that we were unable to keep them playing for us.''

The Titans got good play from their top additions in 2001.

Carter was obtained from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for Tennessee's first-round pick, 29th overall. With the Titans he provided veteran leadership, was versatile enough to be used at both end and tackle, and did not miss a game.

Dyson was a four-year starter who hauled in 16 interceptions. The Titans didn't count him as a core player worthy of a new contract and allowed him to hit the market when he completed four years of service and became eligible for unrestricted free agency March 2.

McCareins scored seven touchdowns in 2003 and was heading for a payday the Titans weren't going to be able to afford, prompting the trade to the Jets.

''What they gave up for Carter, that would be a player that would probably be there today,'' said NFL.com's Gil Brandt, who was Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel for 29 years.

''It's not like it's a terrible team that has floundered with the draft. This is just kind of an usual circumstance.''

But rare is a draft for the Titans that does not produce at least one long-term starter.

The Titans still have three solid starters left from their 2000 draft Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Bulluck (first round), tight end Erron Kinney (third) and linebacker Peter Sirmon (fourth).

The Titans picked right guard Benji Olson in 1998 and left guard Zach Piller in 1999.

They got eight seasons out of running back Eddie George after drafting him in 1996, eight seasons out of fourth-rounder Mason (1997) and seven out of second-rounder Rolle (1998).

Wide receiver Drew Bennett was a big find for the Titans in 2001 as an undrafted free agent. He's set to enter his fifth season with the team and is signed through 2006.

With nine picks in the April 23-24 draft, Reese said he hopes the group he brings to Nashville will include a handful of long-term contributors.

''Ideally you'd like to have them all, but we all know the cap and injuries affect all of that,'' Reese said. ''You're going to get in situations where you have to cut guys or somebody gets hurt and their career never really develops or whatever. That always affects the plans.

''Everything equal, you would certainly like to get four years out of the ones that were OK, and then the ones that you really like you'd love to sign them to a new contract and keep them around for years after that.''