The subject of mentorship among veteran quarterbacks is a divisive one. There can only be one starter and there’s no more conspicuous rite of passage than an old vet buried six feet under on the depth chart by a young gun. Egos are fragile though. Kurt Warner has expressed his preference for showing the ropes to “the next guy up”, and at one time, he did just that for Eli Manning. However, when the reaper came for Eli, he rejected mentoring as one of his unwritten job descriptions.
Two years ago, Tannehill roped the Titans into a four-year extension worth $118 million, including $62 million in fully guaranteed money and $91 million in total guarantees. Tannehill was fresh off leading the Titans to the AFC Championship Game after tossing 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Two years later, the Titans appear ready for the “next guy up.” Tannehill is essentially a handsomely paid independent contractor in 2022 while hoping he is brought back for 2023 as well.
During Day 2 of the NFL Draft, Tennessee selected Liberty quarterback Malik Willis with the 86th overall pick. Willis was a first-round-caliber, dual-threat quarterback with mechanical and mental blemishes that will presumably keep him redshirting for 2022. Now that the dust has settled from Willis’ plummeting stock and crash landing in Tennessee, Tannehill hears the ominous ticking on the time bomb that is his dwindling existence as a starter.
Willis is a group project the Titans QB coach and offensive coordinator will work on. But Tannehill is sitting this one out as he told the Nashville media Tuesday.
“That’s part of being in a quarterback room, in the same room — we’re competing against each other, we’re watching the same tape, we’re doing the same drills,” Tannehill explained to the media. “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.”
If it takes a village to raise a quarterback, 33-year-old Ryan Tannehill wants no part of that endeavor. The NFL is a business in which each player is looking out for themselves before their limited earning window slams shut. Tannehill’s got a nice little nest egg waiting for him in 2023. The longer it takes for Willis to bloom, the longer Tannehill remains the AFC’s Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s difficult, unrewarding work, but someone’s gotta do it. If Willis improves too quickly, Tannehill is out of a job.
Tannehill’s growing curmudgeonly in his twilight years and beginning to show some rust, but he can still sling it well enough to keep Titans fans from grabbing their pitchforks. Tannehill did a cromulent job in 2021 that Baker Mayfield probably could do for half the price. However, the parameters of Tannehill’s contract prevent the Titans from waiving or trading him without incurring a significant financial hit for 2023. Per Spotrac, a pre-June 1 trade of Tannehill would leave the Titans with $28.4 million in dead cap. A post-June 1 trade would split that dead cap charge between 2022 ($9.6 million) and 2023 ($18.8 million).
In 2021, Tannehill managed the game well enough for Tennessee to stumble into the AFC’s No. 1 seed without Derrick Henry in the backfield for nine games. However, Henry’s absence was noticeable in Tannehill’s production. Tannehill threw a career-high 14 interceptions, fewer touchdowns than he did in his 12-game debut season in Tennessee and his yards gained per attempt plummeted for the second-straight hit season.
The uneasiness over Tannehill Mayfielding it up and his Molotov cocktails game against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round convinced Tennessee that drafting a rookie signal-caller they could mold into a potential franchise quarterback would be in their best interests. Tannehill desperately wants to avoid the inescapable NFL clipboard-holding senior home for as long as possible.
If Tannehill goes down and Willis isn’t ready. Tough luck, Tennessee. It takes a village to raise a quarterback. Just don’t ask Tannehill to help.
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