NASHVILLE, Tenn. Eddie George's career with the Tennessee Titans is over.
The team granted George's request Wednesday and released the franchise's all-time leading rusher a move forced by salary cap pressures and perhaps George's declining skills.
''The best thing for Eddie George would be for him to finish his career here,'' general manager Floyd Reese said at a news conference. ''For a number of reasons we were unable to get that done.''
The eight-year veteran, who turns 31 in September, rejected the Titans' latest offer and asked for his release Monday so he would have time to catch on with another team before training camps open next week.
The Titans wanted George back, but at a reduced salary. The team's final offer was $1.5 million in base salary considerably less than the $4.25 million he expected to make this season.
George, who has never missed a start in his career, was popular with Titans fans, but his production slipped in recent years. In 2000, he ran for 1,509 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. But last season his average fell to 3.3 yards per carry, and his total was 1,031.
The Titans' offense has also changed and now emphasizes the passing of Steve McNair, the NFL's co-MVP in 2003.
Reese said there was a disagreement over a $1 million roster bonus the Titans paid George in March. The team considered that part of his salary for this year, but George considered it part of the previous deal.
''How do we replace him? Well, we're going to have to replace him with more than one guy,'' Reese said. ''It's going to be impossible to find one guy to do all the things Eddie did.''
Reese said the team would prefer to sign free agent running back Antowain Smith, who reportedly visited the Titans on Tuesday.
Smith, who has averaged 3.9 yards per carry over his seven-year career in New England and Buffalo, has won two Super Bowls with the Patriots.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said he also expects the Titans' remaining backs, veteran Robert Holcombe and second-year player Chris Brown, to play a greater role in the offense.
''I think George gave this organization his heart and his soul, and I'll be forever grateful for that,'' Fisher said.
Speculation over George's future with Tennessee began last season over whether the Titans, in deep salary cap trouble, could afford to keep the running back. Tennessee tried to free up salary cap space in February by reworking George's deal, which runs through 2006, but he declined.
George has said he wants to play for a team with a chance to win the Super Bowl, specifically mentioning Tampa Bay, Dallas and his hometown of Philadelphia.
He is only the second NFL running back to rush for 10,000 yards while never missing a start, joining Jim Brown. Only Walter Payton (170) has started more consecutive regular-season games than George's 128.
Last December, George became the 17th running back to top 10,000 yards. He has 64 touchdowns for the franchise that drafted the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State in April 1996.
''I could draft running backs for the next 30 years and I may never draft another Eddie George,'' Reese said.
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