7:05am: After staying relatively silent throughout the first few days of 2015’s free agent period, the Titans have made their big splash on Friday morning, fortifying their defense with a pair of pass rushers, per multiple reports. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter), the team has agreed to terms with former Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo. Meanwhile, Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports (via Twitter) that the club has also reached a deal to re-sign its own marquee free agent, Derrick Morgan.
Both players will be signing lucrative four-year contracts with Tennessee. Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports has the terms on both deals, tweeting that Orakpo’s four-year pact will have a $32MM base value, with $13.5MM guaranteed, and can be worth up to $35MM overall. Morgan’s deal is worth just a little less, with a max value of $30MM, a base value of $27MM, and $10.5MM in guarantees, tweets Garafolo.
The pair of signings are extra intriguing for a Titans defense that will be bringing aboard former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for the coming season. Having made the switch to a 3-4 scheme a year ago, the Titans went through some growing pains en route to a 2-14 record, but LeBeau is expected to help smooth things out in 2015, and having a pair of talented pass rushers like Orakpo and Morgan on the outside should only help that transition.
Orakpo, 28, is coming off a disappointing 2014 season that ended after just seven games when he tore his pectoral muscle and was placed on injured reserve. Still, despite the fact that he logged just 0.5 sacks last year, the former first-round pick was viewed as one of the top free agent players a year ago, when he was coming off a 10.5-sack season and earned a franchise tag from Washington.
Orakpo, who had a multi-day visit to Tennessee this week and was expected to eventually visit the Cardinals if he didn’t work something out with the Titans, was ranked as the NFL’s fourth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013 by Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required). Per PFF, Orakpo racked up an impressive 51 total quarterback pressures in ’13.
As for Morgan, his return to Tennessee is a little surprising, since he is considered a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end, and has never really lived up to his first-round billing in five seasons with the Titans. However, despite modest sack totals (his 6.5 in 2014 matched a career high), Morgan graded as a top-10 outside linebacker according to PFF, which ranked him eighth in 2014 and credited him with 49 total quarterback pressures.
Morgan paid visits to the Falcons and Buccaneers this week, and was reportedly scheduled to hit Dallas for a meeting with the Cowboys next. Instead, he’ll be returning to Tennessee, where LeBeau will be tasked with getting the most out of the former 16th overall pick, who will be entering his age-26 season.
When I ranked PFR’s top 50 free agents last weekend, both Orakpo and Morgan squeezed into the top 20, at 19th and 20th respectively. Outside of Greg Hardy, who has his share of off-field question marks, the two players looked like the clear-cut top pass rushers still available as we neared the end of the first week of free agency. The Titans did well to get them both, and if the club were to add to its front seven next month by drafting a player like USC’s Leonard Williams to complement Jurrell Casey, the defense in Tennessee could look significantly more dangerous heading into the 2015 season.
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