Bulluck sees end of road with Titans
Proving to be as dependable as any linebacker in the NFL , he’s started 113 consecutive games and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
Yet as Bulluck prepares for his 10th season, he senses a big change on the horizon. He suspects this will be his last year with the Titans.
“I think so, yeah. And I have no reason to believe that it isn’t,’’ Bulluck said Thursday. “But I don’t look at it as something that makes me sad, I really don’t. I have seen great players come here and go, players you’d think would finish their careers here and didn’t. But I know how things work, and know it isn’t personal.
“The circumstances for me this year are different. I am kind of approaching this year like it’s my senior year in college.’’
Make no mistake: Bulluck would like to finish his career with the team that selected him in the first round of the 2000 draft. But with his contract set to expire after the season, and no big extension to be announced any time soon, he’s preparing for a potential change of address.
While his main goal is to help the Titans reach the Super Bowl, he knows the 2009 season could very well be his audition for other teams in 2010.
“It is kind of like I am an independent contractor, you know what I mean?’’ Bulluck said. “It is all good, and I understand the whole business aspect. I learned about the whole business aspect and how this organization does things five or six years ago. So now being in my 10th year I know it is nothing personal. I know they are going to do what’s best for the organization to continue to have great players here and keep the winning tradition going. If I fit in that puzzle then that’s great, and if I don’t I know there’s 31 other teams in the NFL.
“ … My body of work the last eight, nine years speaks for itself. And like I have always said, what is great about this league is you have to go out and prove yourself every year and that is what I am here to do. I am preparing to have a great year.’’
Last month Bulluck turned 32. This week he returned to Baptist Sports Park after missing the first two weeks of the May minicamps, but he said his absence had nothing to do with his contract. His situation won’t be a distraction this season, he vowed.
“It’s not like I am thinking, ‘I hope they sign me back,’ ’’ Bulluck said. “That is not my focus. My focus is to prepare myself for a great season, and I feel like we have unfinished business here. I have one year to get it done, that’s how I look at it.’’
Bulluck is scheduled to earn $5.5 million in base salary in 2009 and he’s already collected a $1 million roster bonus. His cap number of $7.858 million puts him among the five highest-paid linebackers in the NFL.
Bulluck is not the lone player in search of a new deal. A large number of Titans are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the season, including defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch , linebacker Stephen Tulloch, cornerback Nick Harper, defensive tackle Tony Brown and defensive end Jevon Kearse. And that’s just on defense.
Asked if Bulluck is in the team’s plans beyond this season, Coach Jeff Fisher said: “Yes. They’re all in our plans.’’
Bulluck had a team-leading 120 tackles last season, the seventh straight season in which he posted more than 100. He ranks third on the franchise’s all-time tackles list with 1,147, and led the team in tackles six of the past seven seasons.
Vanden Bosch is among those who can’t imagine the Titans without Bulluck.
“It would be difficult,’’ he said. “We had a couple of (practices) when Keith wasn’t here and it just didn’t feel right. Keith is definitely the on-the-field leader, our field general. He gets our calls and gets us in the right defense and when he was here this week in practice it felt right. It felt like our defense again. I hope I play defense with Keith the rest of my career.’’
For now, Bulluck said his goal is to be in the best shape he can possibly be in. He stepped up his workout regimen this offseason, doing a lot of training in California. On Thursday he was all over the field, making his presence known to anyone who might’ve forgotten him.
And at this point he said his mind isn’t on former teammates such as Steve McNair, Eddie George, Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle and Albert Haynesworth — guys he thought might be Titans forever yet for various reasons wound up elsewhere.
“I am in the last year of my deal and there is no guarantee that I’ll be back, I know that,’’ Bulluck said. “But what’s great is I totally feel like I am in the driver’s seat because I am going to go out and perform the way I always have, if not better, and the only one who can stop me from doing my job is God.’’
Reach Jim Wyatt 615-259-8015 or firstname.lastname@example.org .