With Ryan Tannehill’s future uncertain, how should Titans proceed at QB?
The Titans have taken a close look at the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft.
Coach Mike Vrabel and new general manager Ran Carthon attended pro days at Ohio State (C.J. Stroud) and Kentucky (Will Levis) last week. Carthon went to Alabama Pro Day (Bryce Young), too, and plans to attend Florida‘s (Anthony Richardson) on Thursday.
Of course, these schools have many other draftable players, including ones who could go high in the draft. But with long-term quarterback uncertainty and the franchise’s highest pick in six years, Tennessee can’t rule out taking a quarterback in the first round.
“Because of the nature of the position, I think you go into every year making sure you know that class from top to bottom,” Carthon said at the NFL Combine.
So how should the Titans proceed at football’s most important position, one that can set up — or break — a franchise for years?
Complicating Tennessee’s efforts to grab one of this draft’s blue-chip quarterbacks are its positioning at No. 11 — there’s a strong likelihood the top four will be gone by then — and limited draft capital to trade up. The Titans currently have just six selections: Nos. 11 (first round), 41 (second round), 72 (third round), 147 (fifth round), 186 (sixth round) and 228 (seventh round).
Moving up is certainly possible — the Titans could use future picks in a deal — but it would compromise the team’s ability to add talent around that quarterback and to an offense that already needs help everywhere. Tennessee needs more weapons at receiver and depth at tight end, while the offensive line is under construction. There will be at least three new starters upfront, with right guard Nate Davis walking in free agency and left tackle Taylor Lewan and center Ben Jones cut as cap casualties.
The Titans haven’t publicly ruled out Lamar Jackson, but a pursuit of the Ravens star quarterback looks unlikely. With limited draft capital and the state of the Tennessee roster, with the futures of several core veterans up in the air, giving up two first-round picks to take on Jackson and a massive contract close to if not 100% fully guaranteed might be bad business.
Based on need and draft positioning, Tennessee Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker could be a strong possibility for the Titans. Carthon has said he’s open for business with the 11th pick, and trading back in the first round would not only give Tennessee more capital to better maximize talent out of the draft, but also place the team in a spot more reasonable to take Hooker.
The former Vols star was a Heisman candidate before tearing his ACL in November, ending his college career and dropping his draft stock. He completed 69.2% of his passes for 3,135 yards and 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions last season, adding 104 carries for 403 yards and five scores.
But Hooker’s ACL injury, plus his age (he turned 25 in January), might turn off the Titans. Failed gambles on players with injury histories were one of the downfalls of former general manager Jon Robinson and a reason why Tennessee couldn’t seize what it believed to be a Super Bowl window. Outside linebacker Bud Dupree, signed to a monstrous five-year deal worth $82.5 million in March 2021 despite a torn ACL, lasted just two seasons in Tennessee. Receivers Julio Jones (hamstring) and Robert Woods (ACL) lasted one season. Former first-round cornerback Caleb Farley — who has battled back, knee and shoulder injuries since his days at Virginia Tech — has been a failed investment through two years.
While Carthon on Wednesday said that the team is not shopping star running back Derrick Henry, QB Ryan Tannehill‘s future remains under the microscope. Heading into the final year of his contract, Tannehill appears to be the Titans’ best option at quarterback for 2023. An extension would even make sense — to lower his 2023 cap hit of $36.6 million, second-highest in the NFL behind that of Patrick Mahomes, according to SpoTrac.
Tannehill, who’s 36-19 as a starter for Tennessee, gives the Titans a dependable signal-caller for what’s shaping to be a step-back 2023 season. After building up the roster over the next year, the Titans can aggressively pursue a long-term quarterback next offseason for 2024 and beyond.
At the NFL owners meetings this week, Vrabel said Tannehill is “getting healthy” after missing five games last season with an ankle injury. But the coach wouldn’t predict who will be under center for the Titans come September.
“I think I went through this last year,” Vrabel said. “I’m not going to commit to anyone being on our roster in September. I’ve seen it change too quickly.
“Of course, we want Ryan as our quarterback and everybody else that’s helped us win,” he added. “That’s what we want.”
Another year with Tannehill would give the Titans more time to see what they have in Malik Willis, their third-round pick last year who has dual-threat upside but struggled in three starts when Tannehill was sidelined. In eight total appearances, the former Liberty star completed just 50.8% of his throws for 276 yards and zero touchdowns with three interceptions, not exceeding 100 passing yards in any game. He also rushed 27 times for 123 yards and a score.
“He’s communicated with us about where he’s been and working with different coaches with a group in Jacksonville and reporting back,” Vrabel said of Willis’ offseason. “He understands what it’s supposed to look like being a starting quarterback or being a quarterback in this league. You have to be on when you come in the building. It’s just a certain presence that you have to have.”
The Titans are still looking for a quarterback who can provide that presence long-term.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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