The Tennessee Titans are reportedly contemplating making Ryan Tannehill their long-term starting quarterback, and here’s why it would be a good move for the organization.
Ryan Tannehill is a former top-10 overall pick who had some successful seasons with the Miami Dolphins, but he was never available to consistently instill confidence as a franchise quarterback. He had the physical tools and could make all the throws, but his decision-making and leadership was called into question in a lacking Dolphins organization.
In 2019, Tannehill was dealt to the Tennessee Titans. Since becoming the starter, he has looked like a quarterback capable of lifting a team to the postseason. He’s toned down his playing style, committing fewer turnovers and throwing the ball more accurately among a variety of targets. Through eight games with the Titans, Tannehill has a 72.7 completion percentage with over nine yards per pass attempt, 12 touchdowns, and four interceptions.
Most importantly, the Titans are 7-5 and in a position to potentially make the playoffs. Since Tannehill became the starter over former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota, Tennessee has been 5-1, including wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.
According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, Tennessee is “internally discussing” a contract for Tannehill after the season which would make him their starting quarterback beyond 2019.
A new contract would be more ideal than a bloated franchise tag, but it could involve more risk as a multi-year deal. Even if Tannehill is signed as a lower-tier starting quarterback, any quarterback signed as a starter will command a significant amount of money. Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins, and Nick Foles are all recent examples of how an ill-advised contract to a quarterback can burden a team, so the Titans will have to be careful.
But the results are hard to ignore. The Titans have looked like a legitimately good football team under Tannehill, who even carried the team to a last-gasp victory over an on-fire Patrick Mahomes. While Tannehill has mostly been a game-manager for a Titans team built on strong defense and even more forceful running behind Derrick Henry, he’s shown he has the athleticism to make plays on his own. Tannehill is a good runner of the football and has enough arm strength to get more out of promising young receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis than Mariota did.
After all, Tannehill was a top-10 pick when he came into the league and had a string of quality statistical seasons in Miami from 2014-16. He briefly looked like a franchise quarterback there with 27 passing touchdowns in one season, but, again, it was tough for him to be consistent in an organization mired by dysfunction over the past decade.
Tennessee has recently taken steps toward righting the ship, creating an identity around Henry at running back and stars on defense like Jurrell Casey and Kevin Byard. They always had the talent to be dangerous in the AFC, but they were simply missing the quarterback. Mariota briefly looked like “the guy”, but his confidence has waned.
Unlike Mariota, Tannehill has shown he has the physical tools to move the ball forward for an offense, and while he has fulfilled the Titans preferred “game manager” strategy at quarterback, he’s stepped up with big-time throws when needed.
Tabbing Tannehill as the team’s franchise quarterback may seem like settling, but the Titans have shown they can win with him at quarterback. They are 5-1 with him as a starter. If they go back to the drawing board next year with a rookie quarterback, they won’t be nearly as successful. They could easily end up in a situation like with Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, or Mariota where it takes them time to be competitive.
The risk with Tannehill lies in the contract, but that’s easier for the Titans to deal with than taking steps back from playoff contention to figuring things out with a young quarterback of uncertain quality. Tennessee has years of film on Tannehill, who has matured and seems to finally be fulfilling his potential as a smarter quarterback who has fully embraced his strengths and weaknesses under center.
With Tannehill at quarterback, the Titans can be contenders, and if they feel he can’t take them to the next level, they can reevaluate after 2020. For now, they have to take the available upgrade at quarterback and be content with the progress their offense has made.