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Titans want to use cap space to tie up young players

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have some salary cap space for 2008 and would like to use it on some of their own players.

The Titans held a minicamp with a closed session Thursday and will have an open practice Friday without franchise player Albert Haynesworth, who is working out on his own. Right tackle David Stewart, who has not signed his $2.01 million tender, is present under a waiver.

This franchise has been criticized heavily over the past year for having lots of salary cap space and not using it on big-name free agents.

Instead, the Titans have been much more selective, signing cornerback Nick Harper last year and veterans like tight end Alge Crumpler and defensive end Jevon Kearse this year.

Tennessee reached a new six-year, $43 million contract with left tackle Michael Roos just before the NFL Draft two weeks ago in what could be the first of several signings on players already on the Titans' roster.

"The good thing is we're in a position now where we essentially have all of our guys counting under the cap," general manager Mike Reinfeldt said Thursday.

"There's two guys not signed in Albert and David. We still have a lot of room we can use to get a head start for next year. That would be important to us."

Reinfeldt declined to get specific on certain players so whether that means Haynesworth will get the big contract the All Pro defensive tackle wants remains to be seen. Same for All Pro kicker Rob Bironas.

But the Roos deal could be a model for players the Titans have been busy rebuilding with since a salary cap purge in 2004 and 2005. In short, sign the guys they drafted and keep them around.

They drafted Roos out of Eastern Washington in the second round of 2005. He has started every game since his rookie year, including the last two seasons at left tackle. He will receive $15 million in guaranteed money in a deal that includes $1.5 million as incentives for Pro Bowl berths.

Roos' agent, Cameron Foster, said when the deal was reached that the contract allows the Titans to take most of the salary cap hit in 2008 and 2009.

Reinfeldt said it was important for the Titans to keep Roos around.

"When we got down to it and started exchanging offers, I think we were kind of in the same ballpark. Once we realized that, both sides found a way to make it work for a player who wants to be here, enjoys Tennessee and his teammates. That's a good equation right there," Reinfeldt said.

The Titans want to keep Stewart around as well. They have offered their fourth-round pick in 2005 a one-year tender at the highest level possible as a restricted free agent. The 6-foot-7, 318-pounder has started 30 games since taking over at right tackle three games into the 2006 season.

"He'll be up after next year. We'll entertain the possibility of getting something long-term with him as well," Reinfeldt said.

The Titans have Vin Marino, hired in February 2007 as their senior director of football administration, who works on contracts throughout the year. Haynesworth has the biggest deadline of July 15 to either reach a new deal or sign his tender as franchise player, which would pay him $7.8 million.

As the Titans work on the field as part of their offseason program, Reinfeldt will be watching to see how the veterans are holding up and which young players are improving, especially those like defensive tackle Antonio Johnson and receiver Paul Williams who did not play as rookies in 2007.

"It's almost like they've been redshirted for a year, and we'll see if they're ready for the big time now," Reinfeldt said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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