The Tennessee Titans have survived with veteran QB Ryan Tannehill under center the last few seasons, and he’s just a game manager at best.
The Titans traded star wideout AJ Brown on draft night after the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on an extension. They quickly replaced Brown with wideout Treylon Burks from Arkansas, which was expected.
But adding Liberty quarterback Malik Willis wasn’t in the original plans, as the expectancy was the dual-threat signal caller would be off the board much earlier than the third round they selected him in. Willis slipped to the Titans, who couldn’t pass up on the gift and took him No. 86 overall.
He’s definitely not going to help develop his replacement, and he made that pretty clear.
— NFL (@NFL) April 30, 2022
In news conference Tuesday, here’s what Tannehill had to say about Willis.
“We’re competing against each other, we’re watching the same tape, we’re doing the same drills. I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him, but if he learns from me along the way, then that’s a great thing.”
Ryan Tannehill on Malik Willis: pic.twitter.com/FHNrNs3feY
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) May 3, 2022
Tannehill is a 10-year veteran, so why wouldn’t he think he should mentor Willis? Well maybe because he’s still caught up in the playoff loss to the Bengals and he’s been chomping at the bit to get another crack at Bayou Burrow and the crew.
“Every time I close my eyes, I was rewatching the game in my head. Didn’t get a whole lot of sleep for weeks and weeks after the game. I was in a dark place,” Tannehill told reporters on Tuesday.
“And it took me a while and a lot of work to get out of it. You know, it wasn’t something that went away easily. And it’s still a scar that I’ll carry with me throughout the rest of my life. But just like a cut on your arm, you know it starts off as a wound. You’re able to heal from it. And it turns into a scar. It never leaves you but it’s always there to remind you. And now, it’s fuel for me. It’s fuel for me to work and get ready with a passion to come into this season with fire, and a desire to win like I’ve never had before.”
“I’ve worked through it. But therapy, talking to people, time helped. It took a lot of work to get through it,” Tannehill added.
This type of attitude is reminiscent of Brett Favre when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers. Then Rodgers threw the same kind of juvenile territorial shade toward rookie Jordan Love as well when Green Bay drafted him.
A Certain Hall Of Famer Isn’t Buying That
As stated, Tannehill isn’t the first starting QB to feel threatened by a young, upstart rookie. Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner once had to ride pine so the New York Giants could develop rookie Eli Manning despite Warner still playing at an All-Pro level. He understood the business of football and moved on to the Cardinals, leading them to the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Warner says he’s tired of the selfish mentality that Tannehill is displaying, and he let it be known on Twitter.
I will never understand the “I’m not here to mentor the next guy” mentality… so for all you young QBs that need a mentor, DM me & Ill be that guy, happy to help in any way I can!
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) May 3, 2022
Warner knows what it’s like firsthand, as he’s been on both sides of that situation. When he broke into the league in 1999 after three seasons in Arena Football and one in NFL Europe, the Rams had Trent Green entrenched as the starter, but a horrific knee injury in the preseason thrust Warner into action. All he did was take what he’d learned as Green’s backup and lead the Rams to a Super Bowl win, while being named NFL and Super Bowl MVP.
Willis Starts In Tennessee Sooner Than Later: Steve McNair 2?
In 1995, the Oilers/Titans franchise drafted the late, great Steve McNair with the No. 3 overall selection out of Alcorn State. To this day, he’s still the highest drafted quarterback from an HBCU ever. With veteran Chris Chandler in the fold, McNair only started six games his first two seasons. Once fully entrenched as the starter, McNair’s dynamic playmaking ability became a staple in a run-first Titans offense.
His ability to play off-schedule and stand tall in the pocket is probably what the Titans brass envisioned when they took Willis. He possesses a lot of those traits that McNair had; strong arm, athletic, tough and good with his legs.
With Tannehill due $56 million over the next two seasons, the Titans have to be thinking one year of tutelage and clipboard holding for Willis and then cut bait with Tannehill. While Willis will only cost them $5.1 million over the next four seasons.
Build Through The Draft
GM Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel know that the easiest way to build your roster is by paying a QB on a rookie deal or trading one of your key assets. They did both by drafting MW and trading AJ Brown.
With the offense centered on workhorse running back Derek Henry, playing Willis will happen a lot sooner than folks think. Remember, a guy named Russell Wilson was selected in the third round as well. Willis’ arm strength and escapability is perfect in the play-action game, and very complementary to the running game.
Tannehill’s days are numbered in Tennessee. It’s a numbers game, and his salary and unwillingness to be a team player is just too big for his production.