NASHVILLE – Josh Malone’s phone was ringing last season. The problem was that nobody called a second time.
Teams wanted to talk to him and look at him. But that was as far as things went.
After four seasons in the NFL, therefore, the wide receiver spent 2021 out of action. Cut by the New York Jets late in the preseason, he got opportunities to show what he could do, but no team saw fit to add him to their roster.
“I was getting workouts,” Malone said. “It’s just the opportunity wasn’t there at the time. I just had to keep my head up, keep working and just wait for the next opportunity.”
It finally came in February. The Tennessee Titans – one of the teams that hosted him for a workout last season – signed him exactly one month after their playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and presented him with an opportunity to earn a job.
His chances at a regular-season roster spot got better when Julio Jones was released in March and A.J. Brown was traded in April. The result was that the 26-year-old who attended high school in Gallatin, Tenn., a short drive from downtown Nashville, currently ranks as one of the more experienced and productive receivers on the offseason roster.
A fourth-round pick by Cincinnati out of the University of Tennessee in 2017, Malone has 11 career receptions with one touchdown in 26 contests. Minimal though it is, that is still more production than the majority of the 12 wide receivers currently under contract with the Titans, half of whom are rookies or first-year players.
“I like the opportunity,” Malone said. “Landing here, you know, it’s just fate. I had the opportunity to work out for them earlier in the season before. Luckily, I was blessed enough to get an opportunity with this organization. I just want to take advantage of it.”
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Even before last season, Malone’s career was not exactly trending in the right direction.
In 11 games (seven starts) as a rookie with the Bengals, he caught six passes for 63 yards. Over the next three seasons, he played in just 15 contests and caught five passes. Cincinnati cut him just before the start of his third season. He spent the majority of 2019 and 2020 as a member of the Jets’ practice squad.
Then came last season, when he was out of work but showcasing himself in almost weekly workouts.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Malone said. “It’s frustrating. But it’s all about perspective. It’s all about just continuing to do what you do to prepare yourself for the next opportunity and to be ready for it whenever the opportunity comes.
“… Just keep fighting. Just get in the right situation, and just take advantage of the right opportunity.”
He hopes that is what he has found with Tennessee. As of right now, he does not consider it a chance to start over but as a chance to turn things around and get back on track.
“To get an opportunity like this, you don’t want to take it for granted,” Malone said. “It’s really a blessing.
“… I wouldn’t say it’s a re-start. I would say it’s just continuing on the path that this career has set out for me in this journey.”