By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have released veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a move buying the team more cap space after they couldn’t work out an agreement to trim his $5.5 million salary for 2013.
Hasselbeck, 37, spent the past two seasons with Tennessee, leading the Titans to a 9-7 record and just missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker in 2011 in coach Mike Munchak’s debut season coming off the NFL lockout. Hasselbeck threw for 3,571 yards, the fourth-best passing season in the team’s history and the third highest of his career.
But the Titans used the No. 8 draft selection overall in 2011 on Jake Locker, and they named him their starter for 2012. Hasselbeck still started five straight games after Locker hurt his left shoulder. The 14-year veteran has 34,517 yards passing for his career with 201 touchdowns. Due to count $7.5 million against the salary cap made him too pricey to keep for a team still needing help on the defensive line and at linebacker.
General manager Ruston Webster thanked Hasselbeck for the past two years.
“He was an important part of the transition process,” Webster said. “He was a pro at every turn, and he provided an example to the rest of the team. I know that we are a better team for his being here and we wish him the best.”
The Titans had been trying to work out a new deal with Hasselbeck, who wound up playing in eight games last season throwing for 1,367 yards with seven touchdowns. They have Rusty Smith and Nathan Enderle currently on the roster at quarterback, and Smith has one start in his three seasons with Tennessee. But the Titans may be going in a new direction.
A person familiar with the situation said former Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has an offseason home in Arizona, met with officials from both the Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals at the Phoenix hotel where the NFL’s annual meetings are being held. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither team have publically announced meeting with Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is out of work after being cut by the Bills last week, on the first day of the NFL’s free agency period, and a day before the team was due to pay him a $3 million bonus. The Bills made the decision to cut Fitzpatrick after failing to get the quarterback to restructure the five years left on the six-year, $59 million contract he signed in October 2011.
He spent four seasons in Buffalo, and most of the past three as the Bills starter. He finished with a 20-33 record, and took part of the blame for the team’s three consecutive losing seasons. He was mostly knocked for failing to shed his inconsistencies. Though Fitzpatrick finished with 80 touchdowns in 55 games with the Bills, he also threw 64 interceptions, including a career-worst 23 in 2011.
Fitzpatrick has proven to be a more than capable backup during his eight-year career. That’s exactly what the Titans now need for Locker who will be going into his third season with former Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, signed last week, helping protect him.
Selected by St. Louis in the seventh round of the 2005 draft out of Harvard, Fitzpatrick spent two seasons with the Rams. He then signed with Cincinnati, where he got his first true shot at starting experience in 2008. Fitzpatrick went 4-6-1 as a starter with the Bengals, in taking over after Carson Palmer sustained a season-ending elbow injury.
Hasselbeck, who turns 38, in September, could be an attractive backup himself if he still wants to play.
The Super Bowl runner-up San Francisco 49ers are one team likely looking for an experienced backup quarterback to Colin Kaepernick after trading 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith to Kansas City at the start of free agency.