NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eddie George, Tennessee's all-time leading rusher, rejected the Titans' latest contract offer Monday and asked the team to release him quickly so he can seek a job with a new team.
George and Lamont Smith, his agent, considered the Titans' offer over the weekend, but the proposal had not changed significantly from what the team initially offered in March."I'm not accepting it," George told The Associated Press on Monday night. "My expectation when making the decision is to be released. At that point, I'm looking at other options."
Smith said he told the Titans earlier Monday that George had rejected the offer and wanted to be released. He was told that team officials wanted to "kick it around" and get back to them. "Eddie was clear to me -- no more discussions," Smith said. "There's nothing else to discuss." A Titans spokesman had no immediate comment Monday night.
Owner Bud Adams said in May that he was "pessimistic" that a new deal could be reached, although general manager Floyd Reese said last week that the team remained hopeful. "I guess in a way they are trying to point me out to be the bad guy," George said. "I'm not being greedy. I've always tried to help this organization win. That's all I've wanted is to help this organization win and be the best I could possibly be and earn a decent living, and get paid what the market value's supposed to be."
George is under contract through 2006 and was due to make $4.25 million this season. The Titans asked him in February to rework his contract and paid him a $1 million roster bonus in March. But the salary cap-strapped Titans, whose woes are only expected to worsen in 2005, need to clear space to sign their 13 draft picks before training camp starts July 31.
Smith said they gave the Titans a counteroffer two to three months ago that would have shaved $3 million from their salary cap, only to see team officials stick close to a proposal of approximately $1.5 million this season with less money each year through 2006. "In essence, the deal we had on the table doesn't assure me of anything but a one-year deal," George said. "I don't plan on retiring after next year."
George attended the team's offseason minicamps as he recovered from arthroscopic surgeries on his right knee and left ankle. But NFL teams start opening camps over the next two weeks. He has a franchise-best 10,009 yards, and he has never missed a start since the franchise drafted the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State. His 112 consecutive starts are behind only Walter Payton (170) and Ricky Watters (114).
George, who turns 31 in September, spoke of Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Dallas as potential options and said he wants to join a team with a chance of winning a Super Bowl if he leaves Tennessee. "Change may be good," George said of playing for a different team. "I hate to sever the ties here. My first and only option was to finish a Tennessee Titan under fair circumstances. Unfortunately, that's not how I perceive it at this point. I look to move forward in a new situation."
George, who rushed for 1,031 yards last season, said his best season came in 2000 with fullback Lorenzo Neal as his blocker. The Titans have evolved into an offense that now looks to pass first behind Steve McNair, who was named co-MVP last season after leading the NFL with a quarterback rating of 100.4.
Both George and Smith said the Titans never made upgrading the offensive line a priority in the draft, preferring to let Hall of Fame lineman Mike Munchak coach low picks into shape."The priority for me to be successful wasn't a high priority on their list," George said. Releasing George would leave the Titans with second-year rusher Chris Brown, veteran Robert Holcombe and rookies Troy Fleming, Vick King and Jarrett Payton at running back. Brown rushed for 221 yards last year, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. George averaged 3.3 yards a carry and had five touchdowns.
Smith said he used Carolina running back Stephen Davis to help gauge George's market value. Davis, like George, entered the league in 1996, and signed a five-year deal worth $15.5 million including a $2.5 million signing bonus last year.