Safety Michael Griffin has been on the Tennessee defence longer than anyone else, and the Titans made sure Tuesday he will stick around as they rebuild the unit with his leadership.
The Titans announced the five-year extension Tuesday shortly after the end of their first session of a three-day minicamp, a deal eased in part by the man quietly taking part in the off-season program despite being tagged as the team's franchise player back in March.
"He is a big part of what we're trying to do moving forward," general manager Ruston Webster said.
"We really want to keep a core of our players together. I think that's important in building a team, and Michael has the talent and the character we look for in our players. He's handled himself like a true pro through this whole franchise tag thing, and I couldn't be happier to sign him to a new deal and have him be a Titan for a long time."
A two-time Pro Bowl safety, Griffin did not balk at being tagged, with $6.2 million US in guaranteed money if he played the season under that contract. He wound up with reportedly $15 million in guaranteed money in a deal worth up to $36 million.
Griffin said he handled the tag his way, telling his agent, Ben Dogra, he wanted to take part in the off-season program from the start and asked if he could sign something to protect himself in case of injury to be with his teammates.
"That was all that was important," Griffin said. "It was just to be here and working out with the team. I had a great time this off-season. Two more days, then we all break. I can't wait for training camp to get back around these guys. Just to be around them this is my job. This is like my family. I just enjoy being around them."
Griffin's agent credited the safety and the Titans with being willing to work together.
"It's not always easy to work through a franchise tag," Dogra said.
Griffin was a first-round draft pick in 2007 out of Texas, and his 17 interceptions rank fourth among safeties over the past five years — tops among safeties in his class.
He has played in all 80 games with 73 starts since being drafted 19th overall. He ranked third with 96 tackles last season with Pro Bowl selections in 2008 and 2010.
Last August, the Titans were trying to talk with Cortland Finnegan's agent about an extension only to see the feisty cornerback bolt camp briefly upset at negotiations. Talks died down, and Finnegan wound up signing his big deal in St. Louis.
With Finnegan gone along with the departure of safety Chris Hope, Griffin is the most tenured player on the defence with Tennessee. The Titans brought back Jordan Babineaux at the other safety spot for a second straight year, a veteran going into his ninth NFL season. Linebacker Will Witherspoon is a 10-year NFL veteran with the past two in Tennessee.
Webster said they like Griffin's size at 6-foot and 203 pounds along with his athletic ability and ball skills.
"He's tough. He can play in the box. He can play deep, and he can intercept the ball and make plays," Webster said. "And I think we can help him more. The more rush we get, the more balls are going to be up there for him to get, and we're going to get better not only on the back end with him being long term, but also up front. I like the way our defence is heading."
Griffin believes he can improve too, especially after spending the off-season learning the tweaks in the defence by co-ordinator Jerry Gray that the NFL lockout last year prevented. He also wants to be more consistent.
"Make the plays I know I'm capable of, making plays I made in the past," Griffin said. "Not trying to do too much, just do my job and stay focused. I think that's the most thing I can do for this team. Play my game, be consistent and let the game come to me."