Year 4: The Struggle Intensifies
The Tennessee Titans faced some critical decisions heading into the 2022 offseason. They had no choice but to try and compete, as Tannehill was still here and for his flaws, they were not finishing anywhere near the bottom with him in town.
They absolutely had to replace Quessenberry at right tackle, and also had to replace Saffold, who was one of the first players the Titans released. There was also a question of what to do with Lewan, and while he was the franchise left tackle, there were major questions about his health and effectiveness and was a prime candidate to be replaced.
Another big question was what to do with Julio Jones, but that one was answered pretty early on, as he was released near the beginning of free agency. Even for designating him as a post-June 1 cut, it was understandable on the Titans' part, as Jones was not healthy enough in his time in Tennessee, and could not be relied on to contribute even slightly.
His replacement was actually found just days later, as Jon Robinson would take advantage of a cap-strapped Los Angeles Rams team and acquire Robert Woods for a sixth-round pick. He was coming off of a torn ACL and was known to not be able to be a top receiver, but for that low of a price, how could Robinson say no?
The Titans had another receiver for Tannehill, but he would not get much more help on the offensive line. Lewan stayed put, Saffold was internally replaced by an undersized Aaron Brewer, and the right tackle spot was going to be a battle between two youngsters in Dillon Radunz and recently drafted Nicholas Petit-Frere.
That situation on the offensive line was far from ideal, but all of that was overshadowed by possibly the most regrettable decision in Titans history. AJ Brown, the stud wide receiver the Titans never previously had but needed to pay soon, was traded on draft night for a first and third-round pick.
It was at that point that Tannehill and the rest of the offense did not stand a chance anymore. Robinson drafted Treylon Burks with the 18th overall pick to fill that void, but for a team that was in win-now mode, with a quarterback who needed every bit of quality help to succeed, it was a huge and irresponsible gamble to take.
Even if Burks' eventual conditioning issues were not a thing, it was a very tall order for a rookie receiver to be anywhere on Brown's level. With the questionable personnel on offense and a suspect offensive coordinator in Todd Downing, literally, everything would have to go right for this offense and team to be a threat.
That did not even come close to happening, but it is not like Tannehill himself was actually bad at all. He was a mixed bag in 2022, as his overall production was nothing amazing, but the way he was actually playing games was good.
He only completed 13 touchdowns, threw for 2536 yards, and ran for two touchdowns, but he protected the football with only six interceptions and had a solid 94.6 passer rating. He was still an efficient quarterback as usual, and note that it was an improvement on last year's passer rating.
But with the group around him, Tannehill had to be elite and not just efficient, and of course, he clearly was not. It was ugly, and it was reflected in that his most productive receiver could only muster 527 yards for the entire season.
The receivers were injured and ineffective, the same exact issues were magnified on the offensive line, including with Lewan, and the less said about Todd Downing's play calling the better. Derrick Henry was still great, as he was the league's second-leading rusher at 1538 yards, and he had a career year receiving with 398 yards.
It was of course a step back from what he was at his very best, but with that offensive line, plus his age, plus all the other problems on offense, it was simply unattainable. Henry was Tannehill's only reliable weapon to work with, but that is not even getting into his biggest issue in 2022: his ankle injuries.
He suffered a high ankle sprain in late October that knocked him out for two games. He would come back from that one, but in mid-December suffered an even worse one that put him on season-ending IR.
Through everything, the Titans would start out 7-3, mostly due to their defense, but it would quickly fall apart. The injuries piled up on a team that did not have top-end talent to begin with, and the white flag on the season was essentially waived in the form of a decision that sent shockwaves throughout the NFL, let alone just the Titans organization.
On December 6, two days after AJ Brown and the Philadelphia Eagles dominated the Titans 35-10, Jon Robinson took the fall for his many brash moves. He was fired with five whole weeks remaining in the season, and once that happened and Tannehill suffered his second injury, the Titans were finished.
They lost seven consecutive games to end the year at 7-10, as the all-but-decided AFC South was eventually taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars. They missed the playoffs, and it would start a series of rumors of which players could be on the way out, including Tannehill, Henry, and even Kevin Byard.
The 2022 season just felt like the end of everything for this version of the Titans, and newly hired GM Ran Carthon appeared to have a lot of unpopular decisions ahead of him. The talk was loud and clear, but it proved to be largely premature, at least for the moment in time.