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Front Page - Friday, August 25, 2023

Tannehill playing for future with Titans

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be so good this season that it would force the Titans to extend his expiring contract. A new offensive scheme could help him do just that. - Photo by Mark Zaleski | AP

In some ways, Ryan Tannehill spent a good part of the offseason twisting in the wind.

Sure, head coach Mike Vrabel said at the end of last season that Tannehill, if healthy, would be his starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.

And new general manager Ran Carthon, after initially saying he would evaluate the quarterback position, seemed to give Tannehill his vote of confidence.

But with the way the 2022 season ended – the Titans losing seven consecutive games to fall out of the playoffs and Tannehill on injured reserve after having surgery to correct a high ankle sprain – there was much speculation at the time about just how committed the Titans were to their 35-year-old quarterback.

It didn’t slow the speculation one bit when Tennessee traded up for the second consecutive season to draft a quarterback, snagging Kentucky’s Will Levis with the 33rd overall pick after the heralded prospect slipped out of the draft’s first round.

That came on the heels of Malik Willis being selected in the third round of Jon Robinson’s final draft, even though most knew and those who didn’t soon found out Willis was a long-term project at the position.

With the Titans cap situation tenuous for a good part of the offseason, too, there were some who speculated Tannehill and his $36 million cap hit, if released, would be a post-June 1 cap casualty and that the drafting of Levis and the revamping of the offensive line signaled that a full-on rebuild was about to happen in Nashville.

What those people – fans and so-called NFL experts alike – didn’t figure was that the word “rebuild” is not in Mike Vrabel’s vocabulary. And if the Titans were going to have any chance to bounce back into contention in the AFC South, it would come behind a healthy Tannehill at quarterback.

As far back as May, Tannehill, who stayed in Nashville for the offseason work and to learn Tim Kelly’s new offense, was able to compartmentalize all the questions surrounding him and the Titans.

“Mike and Ran make those decisions, and as players you got to control what you can control and that’s doing the best you can. Prepping yourself mentally and physically each and every day to go win football games,” Tannehill said at the time.

It’s telling that while Tannehill has a firm grasp on the starting quarterback job, he is in the final year of his current contract with the Titans and, as far as anyone has reported, there have been no negotiations regarding an extension.

With Derrick Henry in that same situation, it surely does appear that the Titans are going to “run it back” one last time with the Tannehill/Henry tandem and then reevaluate in the offseason with the likelihood that a change could be made.

But that also begs this question: If DeAndre Hopkins pans out and Treylon Burks takes a step forward – allowing Tannehill to get back to playing the type of football he did in 2019 and 2020 – will he force their hand, especially if it results in a division championship?

And if the defense stays healthy and performs to the level the Titans believe it will, maybe this Tennessee team could be better than most people think – even in a crowded AFC with Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati as top contenders.

If the Titans do make some noise this season and the current window still is open, can they afford to just move on from a guy who has arguably been the most successful quarterback the franchise has had since it moved to Tennessee? And, yes, that includes Steve McNair.

What probably can’t be underestimated in Tannehill’s potential last go-round as a Titan is just how much he wants to prove the doubters wrong.

The poor playoff performance against Cincinnati after the 2021 season no doubt still stings, and Tannehill is likely still smarting from his contract situation – though he would never say so publicly.

So as Tannehill enters 2023 with a chip on his shoulder, he has the added advantage of a new offensive system that seemingly fits his style of play?

Gone is Todd Downing’s deep drop, vertical game that often served to get Tannehill hit too many times the last couple of years. Now in place is Tim Kelly’s quick, faster-tempo system that should get the ball into the Titans playmakers’ hands and keep Tannehill out of harm’s way more often.

Tannehill has proved to be a quick study in the new system, Kelly says.

“I think he’s doing a really good job of playing on time,” Kelly says. “He’s been on the money with his decisions. He’s missed a throw or two, but other than that he’s been playing pretty good for us.”

One thing is for certain: After all the questions surrounding Tannehill’s future with the Titans, there is no doubt that he is still this team’s present. And if this team is going to bounce back, it will be because a healthy Tannehill led the way.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com