NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans are doing their best to recreate the Patriot Way in Music City.
General manager Jon Robinson, hired in January 2016, got his NFL start as a New England scout. Robinson signed cornerback Logan Ryan as a free agent last year. He then hired Mike Vrabel, who won three Super Bowls as a Patriots linebacker, as Tennessee’s new coach in January after the Titans’ season ended in Foxborough in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Now the Titans are kicking off free agency by agreeing to deals with a pair of Patriots in cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis.
Agent Derek Simpson told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Butler will sign a five-year deal worth more than $60 million, which includes more than $30 million guaranteed, once free agency begins. A person familiar with the deal told the AP that Lewis has agreed on a four-year contract worth a maximum value of $23.4 million .
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because signings can’t become official until the start of the new league year on Wednesday. ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the deal.
The Titans declined to comment because free agency does not begin until Wednesday afternoon. Tennessee had approximately $59 million in salary cap space to spend after releasing running back DeMarco Murray and three other players last week.
The 28-year-old Butler is a Vicksburg, Mississippi, native who went undrafted out of West Alabama but spent the past four seasons with the Patriots. Butler started 48 of his 59 games and has eight career interceptions. He was the hero of New England’s Super Bowl win after the 2014 season, intercepting a pass to seal the 28-24 victory over Seattle.
The New Orleans Saints pursued Butler as a restricted free agent last year, but the trade price was too high.
The cornerback was well-respected in the Patriots’ locker room and played last season under a $3.9 million tender offer. After a slow start, he ended up playing 98 per cent of New England’s defensive snaps and finished the season with two interceptions.
Butler started the Patriots’ first two playoff games before he was mysteriously benched for the Super Bowl. He played only one snap — on special teams — in New England’s 41-33 loss to Philadelphia. Butler later denied any off-field misconduct, saying he never missed a curfew or did anything to hurt the Patriots’ chances.
His two interceptions were the same number as fellow cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was signed by the Patriots to a five-year, $65 million deal last spring.
The Titans will add Butler to a secondary already featuring Ryan and Adoree Jackson, who started 16 games after being drafted 18th overall. Ryan wrote on Twitter earlier Tuesday that he was working the phones recruiting free agents to Tennessee.
The Titans ranked 13th in total defence and improved slightly against the pass, giving up 239.3 yards through the air to move from 30th in 2016 to 25th overall.
After releasing Murray, the Titans needed more help for quarterback Marcus Mariota and new offensive co-ordinator Matt LaFleur.
Lewis joins a backfield already featuring Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, who had bided his time behind Murray his first two seasons. Lewis is a big receiving threat with 109 catches in his three seasons with New England, even with his first season in 2015 cut short by knee surgery after seven games.
He played just seven games during his return in 2016, but he had a career season in 2017, leading New England with 896 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. He also had three receiving scores and was the Patriots’ best kickoff returner, posting a 103-yard return for a touchdown against Denver.