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NFL 2004: Rams, Titans stay consistent in an era of inconsistency

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  • NFL 2004: Rams, Titans stay consistent in an era of inconsistency

    NFL 2004: Rams, Titans stay consistent in an era of inconsistency
    Associated Press Sports
    Updated: 5:03 p.m. ET Aug. 18, 2004

    The St. Louis Rams haven't won an NFL title since Mike Jones stopped Kevin Dyson a yard short of the goal line to preserve a 23-16 win over Tennessee on Jan. 30, 2000. The Titans haven't returned to the Super Bowl since.

    Yet in an era where a team (Oakland) can go to the Super Bowl one season and finish 4-12 the next, the Rams and Titans have remained the NFL's two most consistently successful teams, each 56-24 over the last five years.

    Each has missed the playoffs only once in that period: Tennessee in 2001 and St. Louis the next year. But they remain the rarest of the rare, teams able to avoid the yo-yo effect caused by free agency and the salary cap.

    ''There will be a point in time where you hit a wall and everyone in the league knows that,'' says Tennessee general manager Floyd Reese, who is as responsible as anyone for maintaining the Titans' relatively high level of play.

    ''You try to push it off as far as you can, and if you're lucky enough to bring in enough young players that are cheap, maybe you can survive. Nobody else has, so we keep thinking it's out there. It's out there. It's coming.''

    But maybe not this year, even though the Titans ended last season $16 million over the salary cap and had to make numerous cuts. Like the Rams, they draft wonderfully, the best way to get the cheap young players that keep them a contender.

    They also know when to let go of aging or injured stars.

    The Titans enter the 2004 season without running back Eddie George and defensive end Jevon Kearse, who with quarterback Steve McNair had been the core of the team during the five-year run. George, clearly on the downside of his career, was released for cap reasons and signed with Dallas. Kearse, who missed 14 games with injuries the past two seasons, signed a $66 million, eight-year deal with Philadelphia

    The Rams no longer have Kurt Warner, the league MVP in 1999 and 2001, released because Marc Bulger is younger, cheaper and healthier and has been more effective the last two seasons. And it would not be a shock if this was the last year for Marshall Faulk, MVP in 2000.

    None is likely to be missed much, primarily because of astute personnel selection.

    Bulger, unheralded coming out of West Virginia in 2000, was a sixth-round draft choice of the Saints who was released in training camp that year. But Mike Martz spotted him in college and snapped him up, mentioning Bulger as a potential NFL starter even before he was released by New Orleans.

    When Kearse was injured, Tennessee replaced him with a variety of players, starting with Carlos Hall, a seventh-round draft choice in 2002 who had an instant impact as a rookie. Hall has stepped right back in at defensive end this year and was in on two sacks against Cleveland in the exhibition opener.

    George's replacement is Chris Brown, a third-round pick a year ago who averaged 5.3 yards a carry in last year's playoffs and had 46 yards in six carries last Saturday night. To back him up and add experience, the Titans signed veteran Antowain Smith, who led Super Bowl champion New England in rushing last season. They are paying him almost $2 million less than George was asking.

    Another key to consistency is at quarterback. The Rams have had Warner and Bulger and the Titans have Steve McNair. When injury free, which is not often, McNair is one of the NFL's best — he was co-MVP last season with the Colts' Peyton Manning.

    That element also applies to the third- and fourth-best teams over the last five seasons. Indianapolis with Manning and Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb are each 51-29, with the Eagles going 46-18 over the past four years, although they have lost three straight NFC championship games.

    New England, winner of two of the past three Super Bowls and one of the favorites this year, is also strong at quarterback, proving with Tom Brady as the Rams did with Warner and Bulger that a top QB doesn't have to be a top draft pick to become a star.

    ''That's why I think quarterback is a must,'' says Ernie Accorsi, general manager of the New York Giants, who gave up a bunch of draft picks to get Eli Manning, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. ''With the constant turnover this system forces on you, it's important to have a keeper and a standout at the most important position.''

    Turnover is certainly the rule elsewhere for Tennessee and St. Louis.

    Cornerback Samari Rolle is the only defensive player left on the Titans from the 2000 Super Bowl. McNair, left tackle Brad Hopkins and right guard Benji Olson are the only offensive starters. Overall, there are seven players remaining on the team, including punter Craig Hentrich.

    The Rams also are almost totally transformed. They prepare in advance, grooming Bulger to replace Warner and drafting running back Steven Jackson with their first pick this year as the eventual replacement for Faulk.

    ''It gets more difficult as you win to keep your free agents because it seems like you win, everybody wants your guys,'' says guard Adam Timmerman, who was on a Super Bowl winner in Green Bay and joined the Rams as a free agent in 1999 just in time to play on another one. ''But we've kept a core group of guys and we've kept the guys we need.''

    So have the Titans.

    The record reflects it.

  • #2
    Re: NFL 2004: Rams, Titans stay consistent in an era of inconsistency

    Talk about making a series of dubious statements ...


    Originally posted by Associated Press Sports
    They also know when to let go of aging or injured stars.
    I think a case can be made for just the opposite. I am not sure that letting Proehl, Conwell, Hodgins and Warner go when they did says much about timing. Conwell and Hodgins arguably have yet to be effectively replaced and I think KW could have been traded for some value rather than having to absorb dead money.


    ... primarily because of astute personnel selection.

    They tried 6 people at TE using up two draft choices and are back to drafting a TE this year ... I think the statement is somewhat premature.


    proving with ... Bulger that a top QB doesn't have to be a top draft pick to become a star.
    Talk about hubris. Bulger is not a star yet.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: NFL 2004: Rams, Titans stay consistent in an era of inconsistency

      Like the Rams, they draft wonderfully, the best way to get the cheap young players that keep them a contender.
      I agree on drafting defense. 9 of our 11 starters on D have come via the draft. If Hargrove starts at DE make it 10 of 11, with Aeneas being the only exception. And with the exception of Little, all of those draft picks have come in the last 3 years.

      However, on offense we are only starting 3 draft picks, all first rounders. Pace, Holt, Bruce. Of which, Holt is the most recent ('99 draft). Maybe Manu will pan out, maybe Tercero will pan out, but right now we only have 3 drafted starters. Hopefully, Jackson is the beginning of a turnaround, but he has yet to get a meaningful rushing attempt, so we will just have to see.
      The more things change, the more they stay the same.

      Comment

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      • Nick
        Titans, Jets, and Cowboys have nothing to show for 2001 draft
        by Nick
        '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....
        -03-29-2005, 10:36 PM
      • RamWraith
        A Look at the Opponent: Tennessee
        by RamWraith
        Thursday, September 22, 2005

        By Nick Wagoner
        Senior Writer

        Few teams in the NFL underwent as much change in the offseason as the Tennessee Titans. Few teams needed those changes as much as they did.

        Unfortunately for the Titans, they had to make many of the moves they did in hopes of getting under the salary cap instead of improving a team that was 5-11 last season.

        The cap casualties included many of the team’s best players such as receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle, safety Lance Schulters, defensive end Kevin Carter and tackle Fred Miller, among others. Those subtractions left many holes for the Titans to attempt to patch up with little to no cap room.

        Instead of being active in free agency, Tennessee decided to try and bolster its fledgling offense by making some changes to the coaching staff. The Titans hired Norm Chow as offensive coordinator on Feb. 10.

        Chow brings with him a college pedigree that is matched by few, if any coordinators around. In his 32 years coaching at the college level, Chow coached three national championship teams, three Heisman Trophy winners and three times won the assistant coach of the year award.

        Most recently, Chow led the USC offense to one of the most dominant runs in recent memory and coached Bengals’ quarterback Carson Palmer and future top draft pick Matt Leinart to Heismans.

        Chow hopes to get Titans’ quarterback Steve McNair back to his MVP form of 2003. McNair has battled injuries for the better part of the past few years (2003 included) and had one of his least productive seasons in his 11 years last season.

        In 2004 McNair played in just eight games, missing the rest because of a sternum injury. He finished with 1,343 yards passing, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. His absence led to the emergence of backup Billy Volek, who performed admirably in McNair’s stead, but couldn’t do enough to get the Titans in the win column as often as they’d like.

        Volek is one of the league’s top backups and should McNair suffer another injury, Volek will be called upon to take his place. Volek had more success than McNair in his 10 appearances, throwing for 2,486 yards and 18 touchdowns for a rating of 87.1.

        While Mason was often McNair’s favorite target in the passing game, Volek’s emergence coincided with the materialization of a new receiving threat in the form of Drew Bennett.

        Bennett was one of the league’s top receivers in the final weeks of the season, catching nearly everything thrown his way. Bennett ended up with 80 catches for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns. With Mason’s departure, Bennett is officially the No. 1 receiver leaving the Titans hoping for former second-round choice Tyrone Calico to emerge this year.

        Calico has great size (6’4) and speed, but has yet to show it as injuries have limited...
        -09-23-2005, 05:16 AM
      • RamWraith
        Carter, Miler, etc... official
        by RamWraith
        Associated Press

        NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Receiver Derrick Mason and cornerback Samari Rolle were among six players released Monday by the Tennessee Titans in an effort to cut up to $27 million to get under the NFL salary cap.

        In addition to Mason and Rolle, the Titans released starting defensive lineman Kevin Carter and right tackle Fred Miller. They also cut fullback Robert Holcombe and kicker Joe Nedney.

        Mason led all NFL receivers last season with a career-high 96 catches for 1,168 yards and seven touchdowns. The eight-year veteran was the first player in franchise history to have four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

        Rolle, considered among the league's top cover cornerbacks, was arrested last week on a domestic assault charge. A Pro Bowl selection in 2000, Rolle played in 12 games last season before having surgery on his left knee. He had only one interception and 28 tackles.

        Carter was the veteran on a very young defensive line last season. He played both end and tackle while mentoring the Titans' five draft picks. Miller is a nine-year veteran who started at right tackle the last five seasons for Tennessee.

        Holcombe's roster spot has been in jeopardy since the Titans drafted Troy Fleming last April. Fleming had better numbers rushing and catching.

        Nedney has missed all but one half of the past two seasons with a torn ACL, then a torn hamstring.

        The Titans are the league's third-winningest team since 1997, and general manager Floyd Reese said they are paying the price now for trying to maintain that success.

        "We're done manipulating. Now we're going to fix this," Reese said.

        Reese said the cuts will clear 80 percent of the $27 million that the team is over the cap. The Titans are reworking a few other contracts, and Reese said Monday's moves will allow the team to tender offers to their 10 restricted free agents and all their exclusive rights free agents.

        Tennessee has the sixth pick overall in the upcoming the draft, their highest since selecting Steve McNair third overall in 1995.
        -02-21-2005, 05:13 PM
      • DJRamFan
        George asks for his release
        by DJRamFan
        Associated Press
        NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eddie George insists he isn't being greedy, he just wants to be paid close to what he's worth.




        Tennessee's career leading rusher rejected the team's latest contract offer Monday and asked the Titans to release him so he can land with a new team before training camp.


        "Change may be good," George said Monday night.


        "I hate to sever the ties here. My first and only option was to finish a Tennessee Titan under fair circumstances. Unfortunately, that's not how I perceive it at this point. I look to move forward in a new situation."


        The Titans declined comment Monday night on the running back's request.


        George's agent, Lamont Smith, said team officials told him they wanted to "kick it around" and get back to them.


        But Titans owner Bud Adams said in May he was "pessimistic" about George returning to the team, even as general manager Floyd Reese and coach Jeff Fisher said they were hopeful a deal could be reached.


        George is only the second NFL running back to rush for 10,000 yards while never missing a start, joining Jim Brown. Only Walter Payton (170) and Ricky Watters (114) have started more consecutive regular-season games than George's 128.


        Last December, George became the 17th running back to top 10,000 yards. He has 10,009 yards and 64 touchdowns for the franchise that drafted the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner in 1996. His best season was in 2000, with fullback Lorenzo Neal, when he carried 403 times for 1,509 yards.


        George is under contract through 2006 and was due to make $4.25 million this season. The Titans asked him in February to rework his contract and paid him a $1 million roster bonus in March.


        But the salary cap-strapped Titans, whose woes are only expected to worsen in 2005, need to clear space to sign their 13 draft picks before training camp starts July 31.


        Smith said they gave the Titans a counteroffer two to three months ago that would have shaved $3 million from their salary cap, only to see team officials stick close to a proposal of approximately $1.5 million this season with less money each year through 2006.


        "In essence, the deal we had on the table doesn't assure me of anything but a one-year deal," George said. "I don't plan on retiring after next year."


        The Titans have evolved into an offense that now looks to pass first behind Steve McNair, the NFL's co-MVP last season after leading the league with a quarterback rating of 100.4.


        George has been known throughout his eight seasons for his work ethic, which includes regular yoga sessions to maximize his flexibility. He had one of his best games...
        -07-20-2004, 08:46 AM
      • AvengerRam_old
        Remember the Titans?
        by AvengerRam_old
        One yard.

        That was all that separated the Rams and the Titans in 1999/2000.

        One yard, that gave the Rams their first championship, and left Tennessee wondering "what if?"

        Since then, the teams have travelled similar paths. The Rams have gone (including this year) 52-30 in the regular season since. The Titans have gone 49-33. Both teams have won their respective divisions twice. The Rams have also made the playoffs twice as a Wild Card, the Titans once. The Rams are 3-4 in the playoffs since the 1999/2000 season (and have made it back to the Super Bowl), while the Titans are 2-3.

        Similar...yes. But, objectively, the Rams have fared a bit better than the Titans. Also, while the Rams are coming off an 8-8 season in which they made the divisional round of the playoffs, the Titans collapsed last year and went 5-11.

        You know where I'm going with this.

        Given these facts, you have to ask... why do so many criticize Mike Martz and the Rams organization for supposedly failing to capitalize on the momentum of 1999/2000, while Jeff Fisher and the Titans organization seem to get nothing but praise?

        I'm sure it has a lot to do with the different styles of the teams' head coaches. Martz is the the flashy mad scientist who seemingly thumbs his nose at convention. Fisher is the throwback coach who stresses toughness and smash mouth football.

        Rather than dwell on whether this is fair, I'll make this point instead. Looking at the how the Titans have fared in the five years since "the tackle," you can't help but notice what a good job the Rams organization has done to sustain a quality run.

        We all know they have not made it back to the top of the mountain. But (the Patriots success notwithstanding), we should be reminded of just how tough it is in the NFL to stay in contention year in and year out.

        The Titans have done a fairly good job in that respect.

        The Rams have done an even better job.
        -09-19-2005, 09:43 AM
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