NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans think enough of tight end Craig Stevens to make the four-year veteran the first of their 18 pending free agents to sign a new deal, keeping him off the market.
Agent Kenneth Zuckerman said Friday that Stevens' four-year deal is the first since the NFL season ended, taking advantage of the new labor deal rewarding veterans hitting free agency for production over rookies. Zuckerman said Stevens wasn't sure of the Titans' interest in keeping him because the tight end caught only nine passes for 166 yards in 2011, averaging a team-high 18.4 yards per catch.
"Obviously by the terms and the deal, he saw how valuable he was to that team and how important he was," Zuckerman said. "He's real excited to get this behind him and start to prove to everyone that he's worth it."
The 6-foot-3, 268-pound Stevens was a third-round draft pick out of California in 2008 and has 24 starts over the past two seasons. He has 21 catches for 297 yards with three touchdowns in his career. But he is considered a key blocker for Chris Johnson, who has run for 5,645 yards and 38 touchdowns with Stevens at tight end.
"Craig is one of our young core guys for us," general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. "We will continue to see him improve into one of the better combo tight ends in the league. This deal came together very quickly. He wanted to be a part of what we are building here, and this is a deal that was good for both sides."
The Tennessean reported the deal was for $15 million.
The Titans still have plenty of work left before free agency opens March 13, with eight starters among the 18 players set to test the market. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan is among three starters in the secondary, and he retweeted a report of Stevens' deal Friday.