Ryan Tannehill got a big new contract from the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, in a deal that was based almost entirely on what he did during the 2019 season. The problem for the Titans is that the eye-popping numbers Tannehill posted in 2019 are wildly-unsustainable given his history. This could wind up being a terrible deal for the franchise.
The Titans paid Tannehill like a franchise quarterback, giving him a four-year, $118 million contract with $62 million fully guaranteed and $91 million in total guarantees. When you consider that Tannehill made just 10 regular season starts in 2019 and barely threw the ball in the postseason, it really is a puzzling deal. When you go deeper inside Tannehill's numbers, things get even more worrisome.
Tannehill's stats in 2019 were remarkable. He led the NFL in passer rating (117.5) and yards per attempt (9.6), was third in completion percentage (70.3) and ninth in QBR (62.2). He threw for 2,742 yards in the 11 games in which he attempted a pass (249.3 yards per game), and had 22 passing touchdowns against just six interceptions. His completion percentage, passer rating and yards per attempt were each career highs by a lot.
It's clear he was great for the Titans in 2019, so why am I so pessimistic on this deal? Because we already know who Tannehill is, and the 2019 version of him is a mirage.
During six seasons as the franchise quarterback in Miami, Tannehill played his way out of a starting role. He had two seasons with completion percentages higher than 65.0 (2014 and 2016) and only topped 7.2 yards per attempt once (2016). If you average his entire tenure with the Dolphins, he had a completion percentage of 62.8, averaged 7.0 yards per attempt and had a passer rating of 87.0. Those numbers are far below what they should be for a franchise quarterback.
Tannehill will turn 32 in July, which means he's unlikely to improve during the life of this deal. Given the six previous full seasons of knowledge we have about him (he missed the 2017 season), it's clear to any observer that 2019 was an aberration.
On top of everything, the Titans proved they didn't need Tannehill all that much during the postseason. In wins over New England and Baltimore, Tannehill combined to complete just 15 passes on 29 attempts for 160 yards. He failed to top 100 yards passing in either game. In the one postseason game he had to throw the ball, the Titans couldn't get much going during the final half of the AFC Championship Game. The offense was mostly stalled after a hot start.
Tennessee needs running back Derrick Henry far more than it needs Tannehill, yet the franchise opted to lock up its quarterback long-term and will likely place the franchise tag on its running back.
The bottom line on this deal is the Titans overpaid for an quarterback on the wrong side of 30 coming off a career-year. Tannehill never would have gotten this much money on the open-market, so the team was bidding against itself for a guy the rest of the league views as an average passer who had a nice 10-game run.
Tennessee has to hope this isn't the kind of short-sighted deal that cripples the franchise like the Jacksonville Jaguars' investment in Nick Foles.