The Tennessee Titans have a franchise-defining decision to make in the next couple of weeks. After sending Marcus Mariota to the bench, Ryan Tannehill singlehandedly saved the 2019 season and brought Tennessee all the way to the AFC Championship Game. Under normal circumstances, a team would easily bring a quarterback like that back for another go. However, with Tom Brady set to hit free agency, should the Titans let Tannehill walk and pursue the six-time Super Bowl champion?
Should the Tennessee Titans Go After Ryan Tannehill or Tom Brady?
The Case for Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill was everything the Tennessee Titans could have ever hoped for last year. Taking over for an ineffective Marcus Mariota, Tannehill led the Titans to a 7-3 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. While the defense and Derrick Henry did most of the work in the playoffs, they wouldn’t have even been in the postseason if it weren’t for Tannehill. During his time under center, Tannehill completed 70.3% of his passes for 9.6 yards-per-attempt, 22 touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 117.5 passer rating.
Tannehill dominated in the conventional stats, and the advanced metrics tell a similar story. According to Football Outsiders, the former Dolphin ended the year ranked 9th in DYAR, 5th in DVOA, and 9th in ESPN’s QBR. Pro Football Focus had him as the NFL’s third-best quarterback, while his 8% completion percentage above expectation led the league.
By just about every measure, Ryan Tannehill was an elite quarterback in 2019. He probably won’t play up to that level moving forward, as there’s a large sample of pedestrian play from his time in Miami. However, Tennessee offers a better supporting cast than he ever had in Miami, and Mike Vrabel and company are better coaches than Tannehill ever had with the Dolphins. He won’t be a top-five quarterback in 2020, but there is reason to believe he can be an above-average starter moving forward.
The Case for Tom Brady
Tom Brady took a step back in 2019, but most of the blame for his relatively subpar season rests on his underwhelming supporting cast. Given nothing to work with outside of a critically-injured Julian Edelman, Brady posted just a 60.8% completion percentage for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and an 88.0 passer rating. The advanced metrics, once again, tell a similar story, as Brady finished 16th in DYAR, 17th in DVOA, and 16th in QBR.
Brady is no longer capable of singlehandedly carrying an offense, but he still has the tools to be one of the best passers in the league. Despite the statistical shortcomings, Pro Football Focus had Brady as the NFL’s 12th-best quarterback, ahead of guys like Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Carson Wentz.
Tom Brady – Still Great
A further dive into the numbers shows that Brady still has his patented accuracy. According to PFF charting, Brady finished the season as the third-best quarterback in Accuracy+, which essentially measures how accurate a quarterback is and then adjusts for the degree of difficulty on each throw. Brady might not have another 2007 in him, but he’s a long way from reaching 2015 Peyton Manning levels.
Brady’s elite accuracy couldn’t turn arguably the NFL’s worst group of skill-position players into a potent offense. Fortunately, he should have more help with the Titans. Even if Tennessee doesn’t bring back Derrick Henry, there are more than enough weapons for Brady to thrive. A.J. Brown is a genuine stud in the making, Adam Humphries fits the mold as a Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola/Wes Welker clone, and Corey Davis could even succeed as a perimeter weapon. PFF says Brady was one of the most accurate quarterbacks on vertical back shoulder and over shoulder passes, and Davis is capable of winning those types of routes.
Which Quarterback Should the Tennessee Titans Take?
Free agency officially kicks off on March 18th, and the deadline to use the franchise tag is March 12th. Tom Brady might not hit free agency and, even if he does, there’s no guarantee that the Titans sign him. The Las Vegas Raiders are rumored to be serious contenders for Brady’s services, and there’s always the chance he signs with a quarterback-needy team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Titans can’t afford to risk losing Tannehill and missing on Brady, so they should use the franchise tag to keep Tannehill around. However, that doesn’t mean the Titans should be out on Brady. Chances are, Tannehill won’t immediately sign his franchise tag. If he doesn’t, that means the Titans have the right to shop around and look for another quarterback. If the Titans can land Brady, then they can rescind the franchise tag and allow Tannehill to test the open market. Even if Tannehill signs right away, the Titans can still trade him if they land Brady. This wouldn’t be particularly great for Tannehill, but the NFL is a cold business.
No matter what happens, the Titans should have an above-average starter in 2020. Brady remains the better option, but Tannehill is more than capable of getting the job done. Neither guy is a long-term fix, so the Titans should still consider drafting a developmental prospect. That said, no matter which quarterback is under center, the Titans should remain serious contenders in the upcoming season.
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