Two Titans quarterbacks are in development behind Ryan Tannehill. After the organization has attempted to back-burner the training of Malik Willis and Will Levis, one of the two will likely need to start when the team comes off its bye in Week 8.
The Titans are bracing to be without Tannehill due to the high ankle sprain he suffered Sunday in London, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler notes. Tannehill injured the same right ankle on which he underwent surgery. The 12th-year quarterback suffered multiple injuries to this ankle last season, the first costing him midseason time and the second leading to the season-ending procedure.
Tannehill’s latest injury is not believed to be as serious as the one that shut down the five-year Titans starter, per Fowler, though a multi-game absence is in play. But Mike Vrabel compared it to the malady that sidelined his starter in October 2022. Even with the Titans in their bye week, it appears likely Tannehill will not be ready to go after an extra stretch of rest.
Tennessee moved Willis into its lineup against Baltimore. While the 2022 third-round pick completed four of five passes, much his 80 yards came on a Tyjae Spears catch-and-run. The Liberty alum took four sacks in two drives against the Ravens. Willis looked incredibly raw when called upon as a rookie, almost definitely costing the Titans a win in Kansas City and then seeing the team use Josh Dobbs to close out the season despite the latter being signed off the Lions’ practice squad days before. Levis has not taken any regular-season snaps, with Willis having beaten out the second-round pick for the QB2 job during the preseason.
The Titans are giving each young QB extra work during the bye week, per Jim Wyatt of the team website. Developing two QBs has introduced an interesting dynamic, one pass-game coordinator Charles London called “unusual.” Vrabel was present when the Titans stopped Willis’ slide last year, while GM Ran Carthon had no hand in the Willis pick. Carthon engineered a trade-up for Levis at No. 34 — coming after steady buzz the Titans would trade up in Round 1 for a Tannehill heir apparent. Once the Texans chose C.J. Stroud at No. 2 overall, the Titans were believed to have ended their effort to climb up the board in Round 1.
Tannehill’s four-year, $118MM contract expires at season’s end, making a midseason audition from one or both of the backups pertinent to the team’s future. The Titans were believed to have dangled their starter in trades before the draft, and it is no secret the former top-10 pick’s Titans future is cloudy as a lame duck. Tannehill, 35, will need to bounce back upon return from this injury to solidify a 2024 free agent market. Although injuries led Tannehill out of Miami, he stayed healthy from 2019-21 to lead Tennessee to three playoff berths. But ankle trouble has intervened regularly over the past year.
With Tennessee at 2-4 and likely needing to start one of its unseasoned reserves, the prospect of a late-season audition — along the lines of what the Falcons provided Desmond Ridder last year — could be in play should the team drift off the contention radar. The Titans have qualified for the playoffs or been in that mix since 2017, but they made several cost-cutting moves this offseason — a few of which coming on the offensive line. Should losses pile up, the retooling team will face decisions at the trade deadline (regarding non-QB pieces) and down the stretch (at quarterback).