This offseason is going to involve another round of musical chairs for quarterbacks around the NFL, and that is going to present the Tennessee Titans with some interesting choices.
Before we dive into the Tennessee Titans’ best option and why it probably won’t happen, let’s go back a little bit and figure out exactly how the Tennessee Titans got to where they are.
After the 2019 season, Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson had to make a decision on the future of the franchise. For the first time in a decade, the Tennessee Titans offense showed signs of being an actual threat with Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and Arthur Smith as the primary engines.
They knew what they were getting into when they made the decision to move forward with Ryan Tannehill as the starting quarterback and to pay Derrick Henry. The Henry decision defied all odds and has continued to pay dividends for the Titans.
While Henry is viewed as a savior, Tennessee Titans fans want to point to Tannehill as a reason why the team isn’t better. This runs contrary to the evidence and the fact that for the majority of his career with the Tennessee Titans, his efficiency and maneuverability in and out of the pocket have been the reason that they have won as many games as they have.
Per Stathead, since the NFL merger 50+ years ago, this franchise has only had 11 quarterbacks start more than 10 games in their career. Those 11 quarterbacks are Ryan Tannehill, Steve McNair, Warren Moon, Dan Pastorini, Marcus Mariota, Matt Hasselbeck, Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Chris Chandler, Ken Stabler, and Cody Carlson.
Of those quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill:
-Is the leader in yards per attempt
-Has the lowest interception percentage
-Has the highest touchdown percentage
-Has the best winning percentage
That doesn’t mean that Ryan Tannehill is better than Steve McNair or Warren Moon, but it does mean that the Tennessee Titans made the right decision when they committed to keeping him back in 2020.
However, one of the drawbacks of paying a quarterback is that you lose out on one of the most beneficial things in the entire sport, and that is a cheap rookie quarterback.
No one talked about Tannehill’s contract for the first few years because it was a great deal and he was underpaid. However, that changed when the Titans moved money in Tannehill’s contract in order to make the trade for Julio Jones in an attempt to make a push for a Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, that was in 2021 when the Tennessee Titans started their active streak of being the most injured team in the NFL. Combining that with Tannehill’s worst game with the Tennessee Titans in the home playoff loss against the Cincinnati Bengals, and now the team is in a rough spot.
The fanbase wants to see new blood at quarterback, but Mike Vrabel has been hesitant to make a move there and it makes sense. In Vrabel’s time the only other QBs that have started for the Tennessee Titans have been Marcus Mariota, Malik Willis, and Josh Dobbs.
He knows just how ugly it can get, and if he is smart he also knows just how quickly seats get hot in the NFL.
Complicating things is the mandate from ownership that the Tennessee Titans need to compete this year, and they can do that with Ryan Tannehill if he has a good supporting cast.
However, it would be in Ran Carthon’s best interest to make a move for one of these rookie quarterbacks while he still has plenty of goodwill with the fan base and with ownership, and if things take a while to develop it won’t be his head on the chopping block…
Reloading (not rebuilding) the Tennessee Titans for 2023 isn’t too hard if you expect them to somehow shake their historically high injury rates. However, a crucial part of that is that Carthon needs to find plug-and-play starters with each of his top-100 picks.
That is going to put a lot of pressure on Ran Carthon, and if it doesn’t work out and the team has to actually attempt to rebuild in 2024 there is no guarantee that the QB class will be as deep as it is this year.
Collaboration is a fun buzzword to say over and over again, but the expectations for 2023 are going to create friction between Mike Vrabel and Ran Carthon. The decision on whether or not to move on from Ryan Tannehill (and to a lesser extent Derrick Henry) will be the first indicator of what the expectations actually are inside the building in 2023.
The most appealing reason for the Tennessee Titans to chase a new QB
Over the past few years, we have seen that QBs get way more than what you would expect on the trade market and Ryan Tannehill wouldn’t be any different. The team that trades for him would inherit a starting QB that is scheduled to make $17.8 million in non-guaranteed money.
That means that the team that trades for him could either extend him, lower his cap hit even further, and lock up their QB spot for a few years. If they want to give him a test run for a year before giving him a new deal, they could have a QB that isn’t expensive enough to be in the top-20 AAV at his position.
Let’s say the Tennessee Titans are interested in getting rid of all of their older players, which means they ship off Derrick Henry as well since he probably won’t have much left in the tank by the time a new QB is really hitting his stride. Between the two of them they would clear $24 million off of the books in 2023 and they would conservatively be worth a late 1st and a 2nd round pick.
With that ammo (and future draft picks), the Tennessee Titans could trade attempt to trade up to the 1 with the Chicago Bears, 3 with the Arizona Cardinals, 5 with the Seattle Seahawks, or they could even use Ryan Tannehill and/or Derrick Henry as chips in a pick swap deal with the Atlanta Falcons at 7.
At worst, a trade doesn’t materialize and the Tennessee Titans would end up with 4 picks in the first two rounds and they could really get to work building a supporting cast for their QB of the future.
At best, they end up with a rookie quarterback that gets to work with Tim Kelly who has done a fantastic job with rookie quarterbacks in the past. Even if they used all of their first- and second-round picks in a massive trade, the relief they would have from getting out of the Tannehill and Henry contracts would allow them to overpay a little bit for help at the offensive line, receiver, and tight end positions.
Think about play-action passes from C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young behind an improved offensive line, with Treylon Burks, Cedric Tillman, Chig Okonkwo, Dalton Schultz, and Tony Pollard on the field. Even if they have another losing season, the pieces would be there on offense and defense to be a great team again very soon, but it all comes down to whether this team is committed to winning this year or if they want to build the best team for the future.