This much already is clear: The Tennessee Titans are willing to wait on Monty Rice.
That notion was reaffirmed Saturday when the inside linebacker, a third-round pick, became the last of the team’s eight selections in the 2021 NFL Draft to agree to contract terms. Negotiations concluded on the day that rookies, quarterbacks and injured players were eligible to report for the start of training camp. The bulk of the roster will report Tuesday and the first practice of training camp will take place Wednesday.
Right from the start, though, franchise officials have shown patience when it comes to the three-year starter at the University of Georgia.
Scheduled to make the 85th overall selection in this year’s draft, Tennessee traded with Green Bay and moved back to No. 92, where it made Rice the first of two third-round selections (cornerback Elijah Molden, at No. 100, was the other). The deal netted a fourth-round pick, No. 135 overall, which the Titans used to select defensive end Rashad Weaver.
It is an approach that could work out well for both sides.
Rice (6-foot, 233 pounds) plays a position at which both starters have been in place for two years. However, those starters, Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown, are on track to become free agents in 2022. Tennessee declined to exercise their fifth-year option on Evans, a first-round selection in 2018, and re-signed Brown, a free agent this year, to a one-year deal earlier in the offseason.
If one or both eventually move on to a new team, Rice will be in position to be a starter a year from now. For now, though, he will have the chance to study under two proven players as well as the coaching staff.
“I think they’re just ready to get to work and help me be a better football player, and just perfect my craft at a high level and just do whatever I can do to be a better player,” Rice said on draft day. “I think that starts with staying in the weight room and staying strong and mastering the playbook.”
It would not have helped for him to miss the start of training camp. Now, that is not an issue.
“I’m going to come to work every day and live right on and off the field and just do what I’m supposed to do to help the team win,” he said.
And wait for his chance to start.