Titans turn to Antowain Smith
By Len Pasquarelli
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.