As free agency begins, it will be interesting to see what course general manager Jon Robinson and new head coach Mike Vrabel plot as they continue to add to what is now a playoff roster.
Robinson made it clear at the Combine last week that the Titans are still looking for certain types of players, both in the draft and free agency, that fit the culture that has been built in Tennessee over the past couple of seasons.
“I think we’ve got a bunch of guys that are committed to team-first football, that are tough-minded, that we can count on. They’re dependable guys,” Robinson said last week. “I think we’ll try to continue to supplement the roster with like-minded guys to really build on that culture and hopefully further it.”
While that may or may not include adding a big-name free agent or two, one thing is certain, the Titans value players for the role they will play and for being the right fit as much or more as they do pure talent.
One potential free agent who might fit that profile is New England Patriots safety and special teamer Nate Ebner.
Coming from the Patriots and the culture that both Robinson and Vrabel are in tune with doesn’t hurt. But the connection between Ebner and the Titans’ brass goes deeper than that.
Ebner, who just completed his sixth NFL season (he missed the latter part of 2017 with a knee injury), has a background in rugby and was in fact a member of the U.S. Olympic Rugby team in 2016. His father, who was killed in a brutal murder/robbery in 2009, was a rugby star who passed his love of that sport on to his son. It was his father’s death in 2008 that helped lead Ebner to walk on for football at Ohio State and immerse himself into learning the game.
When Ebner was coming out of college at Ohio State, he still had more rugby experience than football experience at the time. But the Patriots took a sixth-round flier on him for his special teams work.
Robinson was in the Patriots scouting department at that time, and no doubt knows Ebner and his work ethic well.
But Ebner also has a connection with Vrabel, who was on the staff at Ohio State when Ebner was a backup and special teamer for the Buckeyes. It was Vrabel’s recommendation that helped lead the Patriots to do their due diligence on Ebner and determine that he was worthy of a draft pick, despite his lack of a football pedigree at the time. Ebner had considered Vrabel “a mentor” from a 2012 article about his transition to pro football from rugby.
When the bell opens on free agency on Wednesday, Ebner is likely to have multiple suitors, but with the connections he has to the Titans’ brass and his strong work ethic, Tennessee is likely to be in the mix as a possible landing spot.