In the end, both Samari Rolle and the Tennessee Titans both got what they wanted.
After weeks of sometimes harried negotiations that included a three-day walkout by Rolle, the cornerback agreed to terms Thursday on a six-year $37.5 million contract that includes an $11.5 million two-tiered signing bonus.
The Titans get another of their core players locked up long-term in keeping the 25-year-old Rolle off the free agent market at season’s end.
Rolle gets the long-term security he had been seeking that was at the center of the dispute in the negotiations. He will receive about $5.7 million this season, then have a $5.8 million option kick in in March 2002 that will be paid out to him over the next two seasons.
That’s a significant increase over the $1.488 million tender offer Rolle had signed to play for when he reported to camp as a restricted free agent.
The deal, which averages $6.25 million per season, makes Rolle the third-highest paid cornerback by average salary in the league.
“He’s still a young man, and he possibly could sign a contract after this, but I’m sure this will take the bigger part of this career,” Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. “We’re proud he’s going to remain a Titan. We feel like he’s one of the premier young DBs in the league and we think he’s going to help us win a lot of games for a lot of years.”
Rolle, who has led the Titans in interceptions the past two seasons, including seven in 2000 when he earned All-Pro honors and his first Pro Bowl berth.
“What we’re happy about is it’s Samari’s desire to play his entire career in Tennessee. Samari loves Nashville and loves the Titans,” said Peter Schaffer, who along with Lamont Smith, represents Rolle. “We’ve had a positive working relationship with the Titans and we were able to overcome some detours to get deal done that was beneficial to both parties.”
The two sides began floating the idea of a new long-term deal for Rolle back in March just after the Titans re-signed Derrick Mason, whom Schaffer and Smith also represent. Those talks were slow to materialize, however, as the Titans were preoccupied with getting quarterback Steve McNair’s contract extension finished in order to create some salary cap space for Rolle’s deal.
When no deal was in place by the start of training camp, Rolle reported by signing the tender offer while talks continued. However, those talks came to an abrupt halt 13 days before the regular season when Smith and Schaffer instructed Rolle to leave camp because of insurance/injury concerns and their perceived lack of progress in the talks.
He returned three days later and the deal was completed three days before the deadline of the regular season opener.
“I feel way more relaxed now, knowing that this is where I’ll finish my career,” Rolle said. “This is where I wanted to be. We’ve got a great team and all our key guys are signed to long-term deals.
“I believed it would get done, because they told me in the off-season it would get done.”
The Titans made good on another promise Thursday as well. After saying all through training camp that they would scour the waiver wire for a veteran running back, the Titans claimed former UCLA star Skip Hicks on Thursday.
Hicks, a day earlier, had been waived by the Chicago Bears, who signed him as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season. The Bears let Hicks go when they claimed Autry Denson, who had been let go by Miami on Tuesday.
By claiming Hicks, the Titans are responsible only for the final $418,000 base salary Hicks is due this season, plus any incentives that may have been tied to the contract.
“We said from the beginning we were trying to find an experienced backup guy and I think he brings us more of that,” Reese said. “Mike Green hasn’t carried the ball much. Skip’s been in the league long enough to understand it. It’s a one-year deal, and he’s going to come in and give us a solid, veteran backup.”
Hicks, who spent the first three years of his career with the Washington Redskins, essentially fills the role the Titans originally had Jonathan Linton slated to do. However, Linton was released before the final cutdown day. Hicks’ best season came in 1998 as a rookie when he rushed for 433 yards and eight touchdowns.
To make room for Hicks, the Titans waived rookie sixth-round pick Dan Alexander, but hope to re-sign him to the practice squad if he clears waivers today by 3 p.m. If Tennessee can re-sign him, it will release either Derek Combs or Reggie White from the practice squad.
Alexander had to leave the practice field Thursday during practice to be informed of the news of his release. Still, he had a bit of unfinished business. He had promised some teammates before practice that he would make a food run to a local eatery. After practice Alexander stayed true to his word, pulling into the Titans parking lot after practice with their order.