Talked with August West, a writer over Music City Miracles, the Titans fansite, about Cortland Finnegan, Jeff Fisher, the accusations of being a dirty player, and a lot more. Great guy, super informative, and clearly someone who loves football!
Rick: Let's start off by talking about your team. Cortland Finnegan is a Pro Bowl caliber cornerback, and those are not easy to find. Do the Titans have a replacement on the roster, or do you expect the team to make a free agent move or add another corner in the draft?
August: When Cortland was a Pro Bowl CB, he was also one of three guys to go that year (Hope and Griffin went as well), and they all benefited greatly from Albert Haynesworth and the defensive line. Over the past two seasons Alteraun Verner and Jason McCourty have established themselves as good starters for us, which allowed Cortland to play mostly in the slot last season. That’s a great role for him, especially since he’s a good blitzer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fisher/Williams/Cecil use him in a similar way at times in St. Louis.
Rick: Lost Cortland Finnegan. Lost Jason Jones. Losing out on Scott Wells, Chris Myers, Haruki Nakamura and John Abraham. The only positive move of the offseason so far is signing 34 year old guard Steve Hutchinson. Have fans begun to feel like the Peyton Manning chase has taken up entirely too much of the attention of the Titans front office? Or is the feeling "do whatever it takes, Peyton is worth it"?
August: Some fans are over the Manning chase already, but they’ll come back around once the dust settles. As fans losing out on the other guys, I don’t really think those situations have much to do with Manning mania. Cortland wanted, and got, way more than were ever going to pay him. Mike Reinfeldt and Ruston Webster had a dollar amount in mind for him, and when they offered it to him before last season Cortland stormed out of camp for a day or so. Jason Jones got moved from DT to DE last year because Jerry Gray prefers a bigger D-line than Jim Washburn ran, and the move just didn’t work out well, so that was more of a fit issue than anything else. Abraham and Myers wanted to stay where they were, though our FO pursued them openly.
I think most of these things have just been situations that din’t work out for us. Most people are forgetting that we’ve re-signed a slew of guys, gotten the Hutchinson deal done, and had visits with players, so I’m confident that the FO is functioning as usual through this whole thing… I would have really loved to sign Wells though. That’s a good pick-up for you guys.
Rick: The first time the Rams visit the Titans with new head coach Jeff Fisher, what will the response by the fans be? Boos? Cheers? Mustache slurs? And what will the response to Cortland Finnegan be?
August: Cheers all around. Nobody in Nashville really hated Fisher, it was just obvious that he wasn’t a good fit here anymore. There was just too much baggage, old loyalties and unhappiness around Fisher and the Titans to produce a consistent winner. With Cortland, we’ve known for a good while he would leave and make great money somewhere else, and he’s earned that. I say more power to anyone who comes out of Samford, goes in the 7th round and earns a $50 million contract. That doesn’t happen every day.
Rick: On to the topic of the hour, Cortland Finnegan. The biggest concern for a lot of Rams fans is Cortland's reputation as a dirty player. The Andre Johnson incident is now infamous, but there have been other instances, against the Broncos and Giants, in Cortland's past. So how accurate is the label of "dirty"? Is he a dirty player, or a guy that just goes 110% all the time?
August: Cortland isn’t as dirty as everyone thinks he is. He does play with an edge, and he’s crossed the line a few times, but not in a way to seriously hurt anyone. Also, he’s cut way back on that stuff over the past year and half. Most people don’t get that the reason opponents hate him, is that he’s a master agitator. He’s mouthy, pesky and annoying to WRs. I’ve often said that I have no idea what he says to the guys he lines up against, but I’d love to hear it. He gets in their heads, and uses that to throw them off their game. That’s not dirty, it’s just infuriating to opponents, but who cares if they’re happy?
Also, regarding the Johnson incident, the whole precursor the national media didn’t pick up on was a fight that broke out the year before when Cortland got shoved in to the Texans bench at the end of a play, and Jacoby Jones and a bunch of teammates started in on him, and left with a big chunk of Cortland’s hair. It only ended when Keith Bulluck came flying in and the refs realized something was going on. Needless to say, it’ll always be fireworks when Cortland lines up against the Texans.
Rick: Despite his opponents labeling him as a dirty player, how well does he get along with his teammates? Is he an on-the-field leader? Is he well liked in the locker room?
August: As far as we’ve been able to tell, his teammates love him. Coaches absolutely adore the guy.
Rick: The reported deal between Finnegan and the Rams is 5 years, $50 million dollars, $24 million guaranteed. If he is a #1 corner, he is clearly worth it. But there is some question if he is a true #1. His ratings by advanced stats website Football Outsiders has had him as high as #3 at his position in the league, and as low as #98. The Titans rated #30 in defending the other teams #1 receiver last year. So, August, with all that thrown at you, is Cortland Finnegan a true #1, and did the Rams overpay?
August: I don’t think Cortland is in the league of Revis and those upper tier guys, but he’s probably at the top of the second tier. In terms of talent, yeah, you guys probably over paid a little. However, I think Fisher signed Cortland to be a tone setter. He’ll set a good example, and he’s got a confidence that other guys can feed off of.
Rick: The Titans had the opportunity to use their franchise tag on Cortland, but chose not to, instead using it on safety Michael Griffin. The franchise tag for a safety is $6.2 million. For a corner, it would have ended up around $10 million. Do you think this decision was made purely on a financial basis, or does the team consider Griffin to be more important to their future success than Cortland?
August: Cortland would have been irate at getting the franchise tag. The security of a long-term deal was big for him. Griffin got the franchise tag because there aren’t many great safeties in this draft or on the free agency market. We’re not terribly happy about it, but I get that they didn’t want to be stuck with a worse option. Griffin is ok most of the time, but we just haven’t seen anything close to the stellar year he had in 2008.
Rick: Cortland is three inches shorter than the "ideal" build for a corner. How much does this effect his play, and, from what you have seen, how does he compensate for it against bigger guys, like Andre Johnson?
August: Size isn’t an issue with him at this point. As he gets older and loses a step, or loses some of his vertical it might be, but right now he only struggles against the likes of Andre Johnson because CB in the league struggles to cover Andre Johnson consistently.
Rick: From the perspective of a huge football fan, but not a Titans fan, it seemed like Cortland was in the backfield constantly. Do you consider Cortland to be an exceptional pass rusher for a corner, or just a guy who had a lot of opportunities in the scheme he played in?
August: Cort is a very, very effective blitzer. That’s a big reason why Gray put him in the slot last year. He doesn’t get tons of sacks, but he blows plays up a lot. The only issue is that when you blitz him, if he gets picked up, then your best CB is taken out of the play.
Rick: On a personal level, what will you miss most about Cortland? Any one particular thing?
August: He’s a blast to watch as a fan, because the guy plays with such passion. Also, he’s not too bad of a singer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI94LdrzSNU
Rick: Any other comments on the Rams, Titans, Cortland Finnegan, Jeff Fisher, or anything else football related?
August: I’m really interested to see how Fisher works out in St. Louis. He’s a great defensive coach, and as long as he as a QB he can trust he isn’t nearly as conservative on offense as people think he is. If Sam Bradford can grow into a consistent QB, you guys will have success with Fisher and company.