While Ryan Tannehill had been attempting to find a way to come back from his nagging ankle injury this season, the Titans are effectively shutting that effort down.
Tennessee placed Tannehill on IR on Thursday, and linebackers Bud Dupree and Zach Cunningham will join him on the league’s most populated IR list. All three players must miss a minimum of four games. Given the direction of Tennessee’s season, each is almost certainly done.
Mike Vrabel had attempted to go week to week with his starting quarterback, but a report last week indicated the ankle aggravation Tannehill suffered in Los Angeles was set to end his season. Tannehill, who missed two games with the ankle ailment earlier this year, went down again against the Chargers in Week 15 and needed to be carted off the field. He somehow managed to come back against the Bolts, scoring a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Tannehill, 34, underwent ankle surgery last week but had maintained efforts to potentially come back again. Instead, it will be Joshua Dobbs — signed last week off the Lions’ practice squad — taking the reins against the Cowboys tonight. It is uncertain if the Titans are merely going to Dobbs because of a conservation effort for a do-or-die Week 18 matchup against the Jaguars or if Malik Willis has indeed been benched. Willis has made three starts in relief of Tannehill but has struggled throughout his rookie year.
The Titans have Tannehill signed to a four-year, $118MM extension that runs through next season. The former Dolphins top-10 pick is due a $27MM base salary and is set to count more than $36MM against Tennessee’s cap. Tannehill is attached to a $38.6MM 2022 cap hit and has played with a far worse receiving situation compared to his previous Titans slates. Over the past two offseasons, the Titans have let Corey Davis walk and traded A.J. Brown. Ready replacements — a concern at this season’s outset — have not emerged, playing a major role in the team’s five-game losing streak.
Tennessee would save nearly $19MM by trading or releasing Tannehill next year, with that number rising with a post-June 1 release designation. Then again, the Titans have not exactly seen much from Willis — a third-round pick this year — to indicate he would be ready to take over. This season has marked Tannehill’s first injury-marred campaign with Tennessee. Knee injuries hounded the Texas A&M product in Miami, but since replacing Marcus Mariota in October 2019, Tannehill did not miss a game as a Titan until this season.
Dupree has been unable to escape injuries as a Titan. Signed to a lucrative deal despite coming off a November 2020 ACL tear, Dupree has missed 10 games with Tennessee. The former first-round pick has totaled just seven sacks in two seasons with the Titans, who needed more from the ex-Steeler after Harold Landry went down with an ACL tear just before the season. A chest injury will lead Dupree to IR this time.
The Titans just activated Cunningham from IR last week, bringing him back after he missed time with an elbow injury. He will head back to the injured list with an elbow injury. Tennessee claimed Dupree off waivers from Houston late last season and has used him exclusively as a starter. Injuries, however, will limit Cunningham to six games this season. The former second-round pick will likely become a cap-casualty candidate; the Titans could save more than $9MM by releasing the 28-year-old defender next year.
In addition to Tannehill, Dupree and Cunningham, Tennessee’s IR contingent includes the following players: Landry, Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Nate Davis, David Long, Elijah Molden, Caleb Farley, Dillon Radunz and Terrance Mitchell. Amy Adams Strunk cited the team’s recent injury problems as a reason for GM Jon Robinson‘s ouster months after his extension. After using an NFL-record 91 players last season, the Titans will end this one approaching that mark.