NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was no secret the Tennessee Titans were looking to upgrade their depth at quarterback, and they did that by trading a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2019 seventh-rounder for former Miami Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill and a 2019 sixth-rounder on Friday.
But bringing Tannehill aboard could have further ramifications. A former first-round pick, Tannehill should be a better backup than Blaine Gabbert, who was released on Friday, and provide competition for starter Marcus Mariota at a modest price.
Titans GM Jon Robinson restructured Tannehill's contract, guaranteeing the quarterback $7 million for one year. The Dolphins are paying $5 million of that by way of a signing bonus. More important, Tannehill has an opportunity to make up to $12 million in 2019 from incentives, according to ESPN sources.
Robinson said he spoke with Tannehill and made it clear that he is the backup, while Mariota is the starter. He said Tannehill’s job is to help push Mariota.
Both quarterbacks are good athletes who can push the ball down the field. Their athleticism allows them to extend plays, go off schedule and come up with long completions.
“Stylistically, there are some things that are similar," Robinson said. "Tannehill runs pretty good. It’s not like we will have to throw a play out or install a play depending on who’s in. His skill set and Marcus’ skill set are similar.”
However, they both tend to be a little too cautious with the football. Seeing a receiver come open is rarely the issue. Believing the target is open and letting it rip is something both Tannehill and Mariota have struggled to do.
Mariota has shown signs of being more aggressive when his back is against the wall late, and Tannehill has led 13 game-winning drives in his six-season career. Mariota is the better deep passer of the two; Tannehill’s 27 percent completion percentage on throws that travel 20 or more yards is the third-worst in the NFL.
Last season with the Dolphins, Tannehill finished with the second-lowest Total QBR (35.4) in the NFL, ahead of only rookie Josh Rosen (25.9). Although he didn’t have an outstanding season, Mariota finished with a 55.6 Total QBR (ranked 19th).
Mariota is the more dynamic player running the football, and he makes more plays in the vertical passing game. It would take a monumental collapse for the Titans to install Tannehill as the quarterback over Mariota. But the team hasn’t fully committed to Mariota being the future franchise cornerstone.
Both Mariota and Tannehill could be free agents in 2020.
Injuries have been an issue for both quarterbacks. Tannehill missed 24 games over the past three seasons, including all of 2017 due to a torn ACL. He also missed five games in 2018 due to a shoulder injury.
As for Mariota, he has yet to complete a full season. Last season, nerve damage in his throwing arm caused him to miss two starts, and he was taken out of two others. Not dressing for the season finale due to nerve damage is cause for concern entering 2019, but Robinson seems to be confident that Mariota will be all right.
“He’s feeling good and working out. Marcus is moving around and throwing,” Robinson said. “He’ll be back before the appointed time and gets some work in. We are excited to have him back with our football team.”
But if Mariota goes down with another injury in 2019 and Tannehill plays well in his place, the Titans could have a difficult decision on their hands considering both are unsigned beyond next season.
This will be the first time Mariota faces a backup who can push him. For now, it’s not a competition, but The Titans will have to choose one of them or hit the reset button if neither proves himself worthy of a long-term commitment next season.