The Tennessee Titans signed free-agent receiver and punt returner Dexter McCluster to a three-year, $12 million contract when the signing period began Tuesday. McCluster played his first four NFL seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He caught 172 passes, including a career-best 53 in 2013. McCluster had a bigger impact with the Chiefs as a punt returner. He returned a punt for a touchdown three times, twice last season.
Here, ESPN NFL Nation reporters Adam Teicher (Chiefs) and Paul Kuharsky (Titans) discuss the signing and what it means for the teams.
Teicher: Paul, give us an idea of how McCluster will fit in with the Titans and just how big a need a player of his skills is for them.
Kuharsky: The team hasn't announced the signing or spoken about him yet. I expect they view him as a running back and receiver and that he will be used much the way Ken Whisenhunt used Danny Woodhead in San Diego last year, primarily as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Put McCluster there, Kendall Wright in the slot and Justin Hunter and Nate Washington outside and that could be a pretty versatile four-pack of receiving options. They are into versatility and he can bring that, though I know they are projecting what they think he can do for them more than banking on a history of production. I would think McCluster will also field punts, which was a major problem area for most of last season.
He carried the ball a decent amount for the Chiefs in 2011. Was it a matter of Jamaal Charles just emerging and them not wanting to take carries away or did they lose faith in McCluster?
Teicher: It was a couple of things. First, the Chiefs weren't really sure what they wanted to do with McCluster back then. He was a slot receiver as a rookie in 2010 but they weren't happy with what they got from him there, so he moved to running back. Remember that was the season Charles tore his ACL early in the season, leaving the Chiefs to choose as their featured back between McCluster, a washed-up Thomas Jones or Jackie Battle, who wound up leading the Chiefs in rushing before eventually finding his way to the Titans. They all received work, McCluster included. The next season the Chiefs, again unsure about what to do with McCluster, moved him back to slot receiver. He's been there ever since.
Understanding the uncertainty surrounding Chris Johnson, do you think the Titans need to add more to their mix of offensive skill players or is McCluster the final piece?
Kuharsky: And now McCluster and Battle are on the same team again. I don't think this is Tennessee's last skill position move by any means. Anthony Dixon, the 49ers running back, is visiting today. I think he'd compete with Battle for a fourth back/special teams role. I expect them to draft a back who would be a big part of a committee that also features Shonn Greene. I anticipate a pretty good competition for roles amount backs. And if Damian Williams leaves as a free agent, they need another receiver.
Is McCluster a guy the Chiefs will feel they need to replace or does it just thin their receiver group a bit?
Teicher: They were thin at receiver last year even with McCluster so they have some work to do there. Specifically regarding McCluster's role as slot receiver, the Chiefs signed Weston Dressler from the CFL and will give him a look there. He put up big numbers playing for Saskatchewan. They have Junior Hemingway, a bigger receiver who seems to be a favorite of Andy Reid's. Regardless, I expect the Chiefs to sign a veteran receiver or two and draft a receiver as well.