Having moved on from several starters this offseason, new Titans GM Ran Carthon is now in charge of a roster carrying two contract-year cornerstones. The deals Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry signed back in 2020 expire after this coming season.
Rumblings about the Titans shopping Henry circulated just before free agency, and while the two-time rushing champion remains on Tennessee’s roster, the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora notes the team is indeed open to moving him. Tannehill should also be monitored as a trade candidate, La Canfora adds.
The Titans have been connected to quarterbacks in this draft for weeks; they hosted Will Levis on Tuesday and will meet with Anthony Richardson. Though, trade-up scenarios also may involve Tannehill staying put and serving as a bridge player ahead of a 2024 separation. The team cutting the cord now would obviously intensify its need at the position and raise the stakes for Carthon’s first draft as a GM. Tannehill is due a $27MM base salary, and his $36.6MM cap number tops the Titans’ payroll by more than $15MM.
Tannehill’s run of health as a Titan came to an end last season; Tennessee’s starter finished the season on IR after ankle surgery. Tannehill’s unavailability was among the Titans’ top issues in 2022. While Tannehill’s 2019 resurgence elevated the Titans and began a stretch of three consecutive playoff berths for the AFC South franchise, the QB’s high paragraph 5 salary and age (35 in July) will not give the Titans a strong trade market. It would also cost the Titans $18.8MM in dead money to trade Tannehill before June 1.
Teams have already made moves to bring in veteran options as well. The Titans, who acquired Tannehill for just fourth- and seventh-round picks back in 2019, can bolster their draft capital by dealing their four-year starter in the next two weeks. The team could also eat some of Tannehill’s salary to prompt a better offer. Absent many logical suitors, however, it would surprise if a major trade package became available — barring an unexpected injury affecting a team’s depth chart. Waiting on an injury would put the Titans in the same place the 49ers resided with Jimmy Garoppolo last year, but as of now, the team does not have another starter-caliber option on the roster. The new Titans regime does not appear too intrigued by Malik Willis, La Canfora adds, given the 2022 third-rounder’s rookie-year struggles.
Even as Henry missed half the 2021 season with a foot fracture, his 6,042 rushing yards since 2019 lead all rushers in that span by nearly 700. The Titans also authorized a raise for their dominant back last year, but the GM who signed off on that — Jon Robinson — was fired months later. Henry is tied to a $10.5MM base salary this season. The eighth-year back rebounded from his foot injury to amass 1,538 rushing yards — two shy of the total he won the 2019 rushing title with — but he logged an NFL-high 349 carries.
Henry, 28, is undoubtedly near the end of his run, and the Titans would be unlikely to obtain too much in a trade. The team did experience issues finding a Henry backup, but D’Onta Foreman ran effectively in the Alabama alum’s absence in 2021. Henry’s unique presence in the modern game aside, the Titans would have a more difficult time replacing Tannehill. Austin Ekeler‘s struggle finding a trade partner also shows what might await the Titans if they were to insist on trading Henry.
Tennessee extracted considerable value from Tannehill’s $29.5MM-per-year deal and Henry’s $12.5MM-AAV pact. Whether the Titans trade up for a quarterback and how they navigate a running back-rich draft will be telling, but for now, their offense still centers around Robinson-era investments.