The Tennessee Titans acquired Ryan Tannehill as a backup before the 2019 season, but should the team commit a long-term contract to him?
With the oft-injured Marcus Mariota, the Tennessee Titans have been reliant on their backup quarterback the last couple of years. In 2018, it was Blaine Gabbert. He played in eight games, starting three of them, but finished with a less than impressive 78.3 yards-per-game and 74.9 passing rating. In the two previous seasons, it was Matt Cassel, who played in six games and posted similar numbers as Gabbert.
It was blatantly apparent that the front office needed to improve the quality of the backup quarterback. In March, they acquired Ryan Tannehill from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a sixth-round and fourth-round pick in the 2019 and 2020 NFL Drafts, respectively.
Mariota started the year, but the team got off to a 2-4 start, and Tannehill replaced the former Heisman Trophy winner. The Titans would go onto win seven of their final 10 games, finishing 9-7 and grabbing the final Wild Card spot in the AFC.
Tannehill, 31, posted the best numbers of his career with a 70.3 completion percentage and had career-highs in yards-per-attempt (9.6), yards-per-completion (13.6), and passer rating (117.5).
The Titans dethroned the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and knocked off the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, both games on the road. They eventually met their match in the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, but it’s difficult to argue that Mariota would have taken them that far.
For his efforts, Tannehill earned a Pro Bowl selection and is set to become a free agent this offseason. He’s already indicated that he would like to return to the team in 2020, and potentially beyond.
“I do know I love the (Titans) organization,” said Tannehill. “I love the team, I love the guys on the team, and I love the tone coach (Mike) Vrabel sets, and the vision that he has. I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Titans enter the offseason with a projected $54 million in salary-cap space and would be able to sign Tannehill to a multi-year deal while locking up a couple of their other key free agents.
That being said, would a long-term extension make sense?
Given the individual and team’s accomplishments in 2019, it would seem a return would benefit both parties. His market value is right around $30 million AAV, which is just below Aaron Rodgers-type money.
The team could opt for the franchise tag route, but that would come at a projected $27 million.
Tannehill thrived in Arthur Smith’s offensive scheme. He often found rookie sensation, A.J. Brown, who averaged 20.2 yards-per-reception. Jonnu Smith is a player that saw a substantial increase in targets and overall production once Tannehill was under center. He seemed to make everyone around him better, but it also helps when you have Derrick Henry in your backfield.
Still, he eclipsed the 250 passing yard mark in six games during the regular season and was recently ranked as the fourth-best quarterback in the NFL.
As noted, the front office has a fair amount of money to work with this offseason. Still, $30 million per year seems like an awful lot to commit to a player that had been ranked near the bottom of the league in passer rating for starting quarterbacks before last year.
Tannehill was able to stay mostly upright in 2019, taking the fewest sacks since the 2016 season, which is a big testament to the strength of the offensive line.
I have reservations that 2019 was an anomaly for Tannehill. Yes, he’d have another year in the Titans’ offensive system, which, in theory, should benefit him. But his track record proves that he’s an average NFL quarterback with a passer rating of just 87.0 before his Cinderella season.
I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, that he was not a good fit in Miami, and has finally found “it” here in Nashville. But if the Titans are going to commit a multi-year deal to Tannehill for his projected market value, I would hope they would include some opt-out after year two in the contract should he regress considerably.
It’s looking positive that he will return next year, whether it be via the franchise tag or a long-term deal, but the Titans would still be smart to find their next quarterback in this year’s draft. As of right now, Logan Woodside is the only quarterback on the roster for next year, and if Tannehill regresses or is lost to an injury, 2019 might be the closest to this organization will get to winning a Super Bowl for quite some time.