After spending years trying to find out whether Marcus Mariota could ever live up to expectations, the Tennessee Titans made a low-risk, high-reward move in the 2019 off-season that has dramatically changed the fortunes of the franchise. They traded two late-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for young veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
After 6 largely average seasons in Miami, Tannehill’s career in the NFL has really taken off since he landed in Tennessee. It’s not often that quarterbacks improve that much at age 31 in year 7, but the Titans have unlocked the former top 10 draft pick, and made him one of the most indispensable players on their roster.
A simple review of Tannehill’s career statistics shows how much better he’s been as a member of the Titans. His highest completion percentage, touchdown pass total and fewest interception seasons have come at Tennessee. Additionally, the two highest QBR seasons he’s had in his career have come with the Titans. He also set a career high in game-winning drives and 4th quarter comebacks last year, demonstrating that the best might still be yet to come.
However, very few players in the NFL are untouchable due to the nature of the league. We’ll take a closer look at whether Tennessee would seriously consider trading Tannehill for the next two seasons.
Reasons to keep Tannehill
Although last season didn’t quite end the way they hoped, the Tennessee Titans have been a factor in the AFC eve since Tannehill replaced Mariota in the 2019 season. It might be overly simplistic to say that this is a “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” scenario, but Tennessee is not that far away from going on another deep playoff run. Running back Derrick Henry is undoubtedly the key to their offense, and Tannehill benefits greatly from the rushing attack. Even though Tannehill isn’t asked to throw as often as other star quarterbacks, he’s still been effective when he has put the ball in the air.
It also isn’t like there are many directions the Titans can go in to upgrade their quarterback position. Any team with a superstar quarterback or a young ascending player under center wouldn’t dream of shipping the cornerstone of their franchise to Tennessee. The Titans are also just good enough as a team that their draft pick does not fall in the area in the first round where they could scoop up a top prospect. Due to the fact that they’re in this middle ground and have a player that has been highly effective for them, trading Tannehill would seem like a shortsighted move.
Reasons to trade Tannehill:
At the end of the day in the NFL, either you have a franchise quarterback, or you don’t have a quarterback at all. Franchise quarterbacks, by the strictest of definitions, are able to win games on their own without too much additional help. While the Titans have the perfect setup to accommodate Tannehill and not put too much pressure on him to win games on his own, it seems unlikely that Tennessee would be able to stay afloat on offense without the brilliance of Derrick Henry. If Henry’s production started to decline, or he suffered a serious injury, the Titans would not have made a difference in making quarterback to raise their level of play.
Tennessee is also tied to Tannehill contractually at a significant figure for the next three seasons. He’s set to make $29.5 million this year, $34 million in 2022 and $32 million in 2023. To be fair, that's the going rate to keep quarterbacks around these days, but it’s still a lot of cap space to attribute to a player who hasn’t shown the ability to carry a team on his own. The Titans could spread that money around to help improve other areas of the roster.
Verdict: Keep Tannehill
An honest assessment of the Titans franchise would lead to the conclusion that they are a win-now team. Tennessee’s playoff fortunes hinge on the production and legs of Derrick Henry, and they can’t assume that he’ll be able to shoulder the heavy load he’s been carrying for another three to five years. As such, they shouldn’t be looking to blow up the team in any drastic way. Tannehill’s familiarity with the offense and camaraderie with his teammates should be the determining factor in keeping him. The organization should not try to bring in an unproven quarterback during Henry’s prime years.