Beyond hiring a new general manager and a new offensive coordinator, one of the biggest questions the Tennessee Titans will have to answer this offseason is who will play quarterback.
Starter Ryan Tannehill, who ended the year on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain that required surgery, has one year remaining on his contract with a $27 million base salary that would count more than $36 million against the Titans salary cap in 2023.
Tennessee could soften the cap blow by waiting until after June 1 to release Tannehill in order to spread the cap hit out over two seasons.
Perhaps the biggest question regarding whether Tannehill returns to finish out his contract (and perhaps get an extension to help provide cap relief) is how the Titans view themselves for the coming season and perhaps the next.
Are they simply an offensive line overhaul and the addition of some speed on the outside away from returning to contender status in the AFC? Or has the ship piloted by Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry sailed, leaving a potential rebuild as the best option on the horizon for this club?
There are many reasons to believe Tannehill will be back in a Titans uniform next season to head up the offense. First, coach Mike Vrabel appreciates his toughness and has said so many times over Tannehill’s four years in Tennessee.
That toughness was on display in 2021 when Tannehill made it through an entire season despite poor pass protection. Tannehill’s toughness and courage were on display again this past season when he tried to play through the injury for as long as possible until he was finally shut down after reinjuring it against the Chargers.
“We have a lot of guys here that are under contract,” Vrabel says. “We have a lot of guys that want Ryan to get as healthy as he possibly can to go be our quarterback and figure out things that are going to help us win.
“He is our starting quarterback. If he’s healthy, he is our starting quarterback. That is all I can tell you,” Vrabel continues. “Right now, there are a lot of guys that are not healthy and that didn’t finish the game.”
Behind Tannehill, the Titans’ options on the roster are limited. Josh Dobbs filled in adequately as a late-season signing and could be brought back in 2023, but he is more suited to giving Tennessee a quality No. 2 quarterback than being the long-term answer as the starter.
As for rookie Malik Willis, the team’s lack of confidence in him down the stretch is proof enough that the 2022 third-round pick has light years to go to become an effective NFL starter.
Tannehill, who turns 35 next season, says he wants to be the Titans starter in 2023 but knows that he doesn’t necessarily hold the final say on that decision.
“I’d love to be back here. We’ll just have to see what happens,” he says. “I definitely have some good years left in me. I feel really good, even coming off this injury. I feel really good and I’m looking forward to some bright years ahead.”
Tannehill admits that there will be changes on the Titans roster. That much was evident in that just hours after the Titans packed it in for the 2022 season and said their goodbyes. Embattled offensive coordinator Todd Downing and offensive line coach Keith Carter were among four coaches shown the door.
“Obviously, there’s going to be some changes, like there is every year. That’s standard across the league,” Tannehill says. “They’re going to try to bring in players who are going to help us win and make plays, make an impact. But yeah, there’s definitely going to be changes.”
The Titans will soon have to show their hand to see just how deep those changes run, and if their starter quarterback will be a victim of those.
“It’s definitely not the fun part of the business, but you do get used to it over time,” Tannehill says. “You just have to take it as it comes and keep your mind in a good space and keep the people around you that support and care about you and just build on those relationships and lean on those relationships and take it how it comes.”