NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Bringing back quarterback Ryan Tannehill shows the Tennessee Titans want to maximize their Super Bowl window instead of taking a short-term shot with a free-agent quarterback nearing the end of his career. Signing Tom Brady or Philip Rivers would have put the Titans in a “win now” situation.
Instead, the Titans can work on becoming playoff contenders for the next several seasons after signing Tannehill, 31, to a four-year deal worth $118 million. After washing out in Miami, Tannehill found success with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith in Tennessee.
“I love Art and have a ton of respect for what he’s done this year as a first-year playcaller, his consistency throughout this process,” Tannehill said after Tennessee’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. “Our communication is great. We spend a lot of time together going over the game plan and talking through things. I’m really proud of how he progressed and have a lot of confidence in him going forward. The more time we spent together, the closer we got and the more we were on the same page with how synergistic we were."
Tannehill took over in Week 6 last season when the Titans benched a struggling Marcus Mariota. Tannehill helped spark the Titans' playoff run that ended in the AFC title game.
The offense was 26th in efficiency before Tannehill took over. In Weeks 7-17, the Titans ranked first in yards per play (6.9) and third with 406.2 yards per game. Smith’s offense scored 30.4 points per game in that stretch (third best) and scored touchdowns on 34% of their drives (second best).
Obviously winning is fun, but QB Ryan Tannehill shares what else he likes about playing for the #Titans as well as why he feels Arthur Smith is one of the most open-minded OCs he's played for pic.twitter.com/ezM1TftRA0— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) November 27, 2019
One of the biggest challenges ahead for Tannehill is proving his success in Smith’s offense last season was not a fluke. That shouldn't be too hard considering the weapons in place and how they shined in Smith's scheme last season.
“What I didn’t know was the type of leader that he is. He has done a nice job of tying everybody together. A coach’s message can only go so far,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “He’s been a confident player since he’s been here. He’s operating and doing things decisively. He has a good grasp of what we try to do in all phases.”
Tannehill is the third quarterback in NFL history to complete 70% of his passes for 9.0 yards per attempt in a season (minimum of 100 attempts), along with Joe Montana (1989) and Sammy Baugh (1945). With Tannehill firmly in place at quarterback, Smith keeps one of the major parts of an offense that finished among the league leaders in a number of categories.
As a defensive-minded coach, Vrabel wants a quarterback who’s efficient and limits turnovers. Essentially what he is looking for is a game manager. Tannehill fits that role. But the Titans will give Tannehill opportunities to make longer throws off of play-action.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Tannehill's 76.5 completion percentage and a 13.6 yards-per-attempt average on play-action passes last season were both the highest among any QB with 75-plus play-action pass attempts. Tannehill’s average per completion using play-action gained an NFL-high 17.8 yards.
Tannehill’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Kalif Raymond in the divisional round of the playoffs is a good example of his ability to make the big throw when called upon.
Another dimension Tannehill brings is his scrambling and ability to escape pass-rushers and extend plays. Tannehill is able to pick up first downs by running with the ball when all passing options are covered; last season he rushed for 14 first downs, which ranked sixth in the league after he took over the starting job.
For a team that could lose free-agent offensive tackle Jack Conklin, that mobility could be important. And it’s another reason why re-signing Tannehill made more sense for the Titans than bringing in an older quarterback with a bigger name -- like Brady.
Instead, the Titans chose continuity, a theme they will try to stick with as they turn their attention to signing rushing champ Derrick Henry.