Ryan Tannehill

South Notes: Texans, Titans, Bucs, Terrell

Bill O’Brien‘s final weeks with the Texans were trying, with the team going 0-4 and the former head coach-GM’s near-universally panned DeAndre Hopkins trade benefitting the Cardinals early. But the since-fired HC also was involved in some internal turmoil, with Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reporting O’Brien engaged in heated disputes with J.J. Watt and first-year defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver at a recent practice (Twitter link). O’Brien also verbally sparred with other staffers in his final weeks, per Wilson. That can be expected given the Texans’ start, but the Watt argument may have been a tipping point. The dispute with Watt — arguably the defining player in Texans history — resulted in O’Brien losing the team, in the view of one source (via ESPN.com’s Dianna Russini). The O’Brien-Watt argument took place days before the Texans’ loss to the Steelers.

Here is the latest from the South divisions, moving first to more Titans news:

  • At least three separate Titans offsite workouts took place last week over a multiday period, veteran NFL reporter Paul Kuharsky notes. A group that included Ryan Tannehill was spotted working out Sept. 30 at Montgomery Bell Academy, an area high school, while Kuharsky reports a different group — comprised of defensive backs — worked out at a park near Belmont University that day. Multiple workouts took place at the park near Belmont, per Kuharsky, who adds that Mike Vrabel said during an Oct. 1 Zoom call he told players not to conduct offsite workouts. The NFL is now investigating the Titans for this, and punishment for the coronavirus-stricken team could be severe. Tight end MyCole Pruitt, one of the Titans’ positive testers, was not at the offsite workouts, per Titaninsider.com’s Terry McCormick (on Twitter).
  • Prior to the Titans being barred from their headquarters, the NFL showed images of players and staffers walking around the team’s facility without masks, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Aside from players during workouts, team personnel are required to wear masks inside team facilities. Twenty-three Titans players and staffers have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Good news for the Falcons on the virus front. First-round cornerback A.J. Terrell returned to practice this week, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com tweets. Terrell missed Atlanta’s past two games after being placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list just before the Falcons’ Week 3 game.
  • For the sect of non-Chris Godwin fantasy managers who might have missed this (and the narrower swath of LeSean McCoy deep-league GMs), both Buccaneers will miss Thursday night’s game against the Bears. The Bucs declared Godwin and Shady out. This marks Godwin’s third missed game this season; he is battling a hamstring injury. Mike Evans, however, will play, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter). Evans was a game-time decision because of an ankle injury.
  • Eli Apple is set to miss more time. After successfully rehabbing one hamstring injury, the Panthers cornerback has encountered another. Matt Rhule said the recent acquisition pulled his other hamstring, per Joe Person of The Athletic (on Twitter). Apple missed Carolina’s first three games because of his initial hamstring injury. He has played just six snaps (all on special teams) this season.

Ryan Tannehill Agrees To Extension With Titans

The Titans have agreed to terms on a contract extension with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. A source informed Jeff Darlington of ESPN that the contract extension spans four years and worth a maximum of $118MM. The deal reportedly includes $62MM in fully guaranteed money and $91MM in partial guarantees.

This extension not only frees up Tennessee to use the Titans on another free agent (like running back Derrick Henry), it also takes them out of the running for impending free agent Tom Brady. Obviously, Brady’s free agency has been the largest storyline of the offseason and the many ties between the Titans regime and the Patriots only furthered those rumors.

Per Darlington’s report, Tannehill’s new contract makes for the sixth-highest full guarantee of any quarterback and would rank as the seventh most valuable contract for a quarterback by average per year value (slotting behind Matt Ryan and ahead of Kirk Cousins). Darlington added in a later tweet that Tannehill’s contract includes $17.5MM in full guarantees in 2020, $24.5MM in full guarantees in 2021, $29MM guaranteed for injury (that converts to full guarantees on the fifth day of the previous league year), and a $27.5MM base salary in 2022.

Tannehill followed a unique path to his nine-figure contract. After stalling out in Miami the Dolphins traded him to the Titans last offseason alongside a 2019 sixth-round pick for a 2019 seventh-round pick and 2020 fourth-round pick in a relatively underreported move. Tannehill entered the season as the team’s backup to Marcus Mariota, but as Mariota failed to take another step forward, Tannehill stepped in and led Tennessee on a late-season charge into the postseason where they upset the Patriots and nearly upset the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

In just 12 regular-season games (10 starts), Tannehill completed 70.3 percent of his passes and led the league in quarterback rating and nearly every yards per attempt statistic. Most valuably for Tennessee, his strong play out of play-action paired perfectly with their bruising running game (led by Henry). While Henry is still set for free agency, the Titans have gained new leverage now that their franchise tag is no longer necesarry for their quarterback.

Titans Not Interested In Tom Brady

Scratch the Titans off the list of Tom Brady suitors. Per Dianna Russini of ESPN.com, Tennessee is no longer interested in Brady and is focused on getting a deal done with incumbent Ryan Tannehill (Twitter link). Indeed, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com hears that Tannehill and the Titans are “on the verge” of a multi-year extension (Twitter link).

Earlier this month, there were reports that the Titans were confident they could beat out the Patriots for Brady’s services. Tennessee made a surprising run to the AFC Championship Game thanks in large part to Tannehill’s 2019 renaissance, but his uneven track record and the high price tag that goes hand-in-hand with his performance last season made it a possibility that the Titans could go in another direction.

The Titans were one of a handful of clubs that had a legitimate chance to use a franchise and transition tag this offseason, as Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry, and RT Jack Conklin are all eligible for free agency and would be at or near the top of the market for their respective positions. But now that a new CBA is in place and teams can only use one tag, the need to get at least one of those players under contract immediately is magnified.

After all, if the Titans had put all their eggs in the Brady basket, Tannehill could have gotten away and Tennessee could have been left scrambling for a replacement signal-caller. Henry will almost certainly be tagged, and it seems as if Conklin will hit the open market.

Meanwhile, the new CBA does allow for more flexibility for teams like the Patriots, who can spread out dead money hits for cut players and cap charges for free agent signees over multiple years. As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com notes, that could help New England in a competitive-bidding situation for Brady, and having one major competitor bow out of the race obviously increases the chances that Brady will return to Foxborough.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans Prioritizing Ryan Tannehill Deal?

Probably the non-Patriots team most closely linked to Tom Brady, the Titans may be aiming to run it back with the formula that carried them to the AFC championship game.

The Titans area focused on extending Ryan Tannehill, with Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reporting the sides continue to negotiate a deal (video link). Tannehill would like to stay with the Titans, per Rapoport.

Tannehill talks have picked back up since the Combine, Rapoport adds, but the sides have been talking since before the regular season concluded. The Titans now have four extra days to try and hammer out a deal, with the NFL moving the franchise-transition tag deadline back to March 16 after previously moving it to the 12th.

Recently, the Titans were trying to extend Tannehill and hope the CBA will not be ratified. That would allow them to use their franchise and transition tags on Jack Conklin and Derrick Henry, respectively. This remains a complex process for the resurgent team. Tennessee currently holds just more than $50MM in cap space.

Last week, a report emerged indicating the Titans were bullish on luring Brady away from the Patriots. But Tannehill talks have unfolded during this will-they/won’t-they Brady pursuit. While no door appears closed on Brady, the Titans may be intent on bringing back his longtime AFC East rival. This would certainly narrow the Brady sweepstakes, potentially helping the Patriots’ chances of retaining the all-time great.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Tom Brady: Kraft, Bolts, Titans

We still have more than a week remaining until the legal tampering period opens. That means the Tom Brady rumors still have plenty of news cycles to fill. Here is the latest from the Brady free agency front:

  • Robert Kraft‘s potential intervention in the Patriots‘ effort to retain Brady has loomed over the franchise’s process, to some degree, and NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran helped set some parameters for the owner’s role here. If the financial gap between Brady and the Pats is considerable, Curran notes Kraft will not intervene and force Bill Belichick to retain the 20-year veteran quarterback. However, if a small gap exists between Brady and Belichick, Curran adds that Kraft will encourage both to bridge it and keep the future Hall of Famer in New England. Brady and Belichick spoke recently, and with nine days remaining until the tampering period opens, the size of the chasm between the two parties should be known by now.
  • While the Titans seem to have emerged as the most serious threat to the Patriots for Brady, one NFL source does not believe they would cast off Ryan Tannehill after he piloted Tennessee’s 2019 iteration to the AFC title game. “They’re not going to do Ryan Tannehill like that,” a source close to the Titans’ coaching staff told the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin. The Titans have been discussing a deal with Tannehill for months but are now plotting a Brady plan as well, and the team may be quite confident in said plan.
  • The Chargers have gone quiet on the Brady front, but Volin notes a source indicated the 42-year-old passer’s only realistic option outside of the Patriots would be going to Los Angeles. That is an interesting description of Brady’s market, pointing to some of these suitors not being as high on the legendary quarterback as other reports would indicate. The Bolts’ lack of history regarding these types of moves in free agency, however, leads the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer to question how serious the Chargers’ pursuit of Brady will be.
  • In case you missed the latest team to move into the Brady rumors, the 49ers are now connected to the Bay Area native.

Titans Confident They Can Beat Out Patriots For Tom Brady?

The Titans have moved into another level in one of the most complex free agency processes in recent NFL history. Not only are they one of the central teams navigating the CBA-related uncertainty, they are now juggling multiple quarterback plans.

Two months after beating the Patriots in a wild-card game, the Titans are confident that if it comes down to a head-to-head matchup between they and the Pats, they will be able to lure Tom Brady away from New England, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com said during an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up! (video link).

The Titans are simultaneously negotiating with Ryan Tannehill, Fowler adds. The latter is believed to be seeking a contract in the $30MM-per-year range, per Fowler, who notes a mystery team is in play here as well. Several other teams have been mentioned as Brady suitors — from the Buccaneers to the 49ers, Chargers and Raiders — so it is unclear if there is a true mystery team in the mix or if one of the previously mentioned franchises is competing with the Titans and Patriots.

Tennessee has Tannehill, Derrick Henry and Jack Conklin as free agents. If the new CBA is ratified by March 12 at 11pm CT, teams that have used multiple tags must rescind one. The Titans are hoping to use both their franchise and transition tags, in order to keep all three of their marquee UFAs, but have not used one yet.

If Brady is truly in play for Tennessee, which has a Patriots alumni power structure of Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel, then it would appear Henry is the better bet to be tagged. But the Titans also run the risk of not tagging Tannehill and losing both he and Brady on the market. The Bucs are also investigating Tannehill. With nothing major coming from the initial Brady suitors — the Chargers and Raiders — this situation may be trending toward the Titans as the top threat to battle the Patriots once the tampering period begins. Tennessee and New England are projected to hold $50MM and $41MM in cap space, respectively.

Brady and Bill Belichick spoke about the quarterback’s contract for the first time this offseason. While that conversation produced conflicting reports, the Pats and their all-time great do not appear much closer to a resolution. The legal tampering period begins March 16. The Pats are still the Las Vegas favorites to sign Brady, but the future first-ballot Hall of Famer is certainly making this interesting.

From a Titans perspective, this marks familiar territory. They finished second in 2012’s Peyton Manning pursuit and saw Brady’s top rival thrive with the Broncos. While Brady is seven years older now than Manning was then, and the Titans feature a better quarterback option in Tannehill compared to Jake Locker in 2012, the organization nevertheless appears to be strongly considering a run at another high-profile starter.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bucs Monitoring Ryan Tannehill

The Buccaneers are monitoring soon-to-be free agent Ryan Tannehill, according to Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. Teams are not permitted to talk to pending FAs until the legal tampering period begins, but Tannehill is among the quarterbacks on their radar. 

March 16, we’ll have a lot more clarity,” general manager Jason Licht said recently. “You hear things on the street, but you just wait for the dominoes to fall a little bit and you’re prepared for every scenario.”

A refresher on the 2020 NFL offseason calendar: March 16 is the start of the “legal tampering” period in which teams are allowed to engage in conversations with free agents before they officially become available on March 18, when the league year begins (Of course, teams tend to chat with agents well before those dates to get a sense for where the market stands).

The March 12th deadline to franchise tag players will also be a factor for the Bucs as they consider Tannehill as a potential replacement for Jameis Winston. The Titans are aiming to lock up Tannehill before that date and use the tag on running back Derrick Henry. There’s mutual interest in a new deal between Tannehill and Tennessee, but nothing is certain around this time of year.

As previously reported, Laine also notes that the Bucs are also keeping tabs on Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Teddy Bridgewater. Few expect Brady to land in Tampa and there’s increasing chatter about Rivers going to the Colts. Even if those two aren’t on the table, Bridgewater would be an intriguing pickup for the Bucs, should they choose to part with Winston.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Rumors: Titans, Luck, Jags, Falcons

Perhaps no team’s free agency plan hinges on the CBA more than the Titans‘. They have three marquee free agents, and the previously reported goal of extending Ryan Tannehill soon looks to have an auxiliary purpose. The Titans’ hopes of extending Tannehill before the franchise-transition tag window closes March 12 doubles as a way to keep Tannehill, Derrick Henry and Jack Conklin. Tennessee would then like to use both its tags on Henry and Conklin, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. The Conklin component here is interesting, as little has emerged on a possible reunion between the tackle and the Titans. It will almost certainly require a tag to keep the former first-round lineman off the market. Conklin has generated immense interest thus far.

This Titans plan might not be viable, leading to some frenetic extension talks in order to prevent them from losing two members of this trio. Teams may not be permitted to use both tags. While a ruling has yet to emerge, the possibility of a CBA ratification forcing a team to vacate one of its tags remains in play.

Here is the latest from the South divisions:

  • No surprise here, but the Jaguars are prepared to use their franchise tag on Yannick Ngakoue, La Canfora adds. The standout defensive end held out from Jags offseason activities last year and will not be pleased the team will prevent him from hitting the market, per JLC. The Jaguars not picking up Marcell Dareus‘ option freed up $20MM in cap space, giving them just more than $21MM — just enough for an approximately $18MM Ngakoue tag. GM Dave Caldwell called Ngakoue the team’s top priority at the end of last season.
  • Jim Irsay appears to be hoping Andrew Luck will change his mind, but Frank Reich does not expect him to. The Colts HC continues to talk to the team’s former franchise quarterback, but those discussions apparently do not progress to the subject of a comeback. “I talk to him; we communicate. I sense none of that. We don’t talk about that,” Reich said, during an appearance on PFT Live, about an NFL return for the 30-year-old passer. “I think he’s retired. He’s like any other ex-player. You’re always going to miss your buddies in the locker room. That’s normal. I don’t read into that a clue that he wants to come back. He’s just a good friend.”
  • A Falcons cog for seven seasons, Kemal Ishmael will likely have to find another team in order to continue his career. The seven-year veteran linebacker-safety will not be brought back, according to Ishmael’s agent (via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The Falcons have shuttled the 28-year-old defender/special-teamer between safety and linebacker and have re-signed him to one-year deals in each of the past three offseasons.

Titans Hope To Extend Ryan Tannehill Before Tag Deadline

With the next CBA now up for a vote, the Titans face the prospect of only being able to use one tag. The team has Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and Jack Conklin set for free agency. Some clarity may be emerging on the Titans’ navigation plan.

Tennessee brass is planning to ramp up Tannehill extension discussions, in hopes of finalizing a deal before the March 12 deadline to apply franchise and transition tags, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link).

This could point to a franchise tag for Henry, the reigning rushing champion. Nothing has emerged regarding Conklin on this front, so the Titans’ four-year right tackle looks headed to free agency. The Titans, who have been linked to a Henry tag, are set to have just more than $50MM in cap space.

The Titans and Tannehill began negotiating back in November, but the sides remain apart. The quarterback’s former agent said in December that his then-client would give the Titans “every opportunity” to work out a deal, but Tannehill changed agents earlier this month. He’s now working with CAA.

It would make sense for the 31-year-old passer to stay in Tennessee, given his belated breakout that helped lift the Titans to their first AFC championship game in 17 years. But the former first-round pick is a key part of this complex quarterback market. During an appearance on PFT Live, Mike Vrabel was tight-lipped about a Tannehill re-up. This comes after a January report indicated the team was not certain about Tannehill’s viability as a long-term answer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Who Is The Best Unrestricted Free Agent QB This Offseason?

As teams gear up for an offseason of roster maneuvering, teams are beginning to the arduous process of lining up their salary caps to retain key players on expiring contracts, sign free agents, and their draft picks. Teams are forced to make especially difficult salary-cap decisions when they have a chance at an elite player through free agency.

While many of the top players currently set for free agency will surely sign an extension with their current team or receive either the franchise or transition tag, it is always a fun exercise to examine who is currently the best player set to be available through unrestricted free agency.

It’s no secret that this year’s offseason will be dominated by quarterback storylines. Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston, and Teddy Bridgewater are all set to be unrestricted free agents and had success as starters last season. Yet, none of them have the pedigree of future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Tom Brady, the combination of youth and sustained success like Dak Prescott, or match the recent performance of Ryan Tannehill.

Brady has obviously asserted himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time over his Patriots career, but he will be 43 before the start of next season and looked abnormally average at the close of this season. New England finished the season with back-to-back losses to finish out the regular season (against the 5-11 Dolphins) and in the first round of the playoffs (at home against the Titans).

Brady played a role in both losses, completing just 36 of his 66 attempts (good for a 54.5% completion percentage) for 430 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. At the same time, Brady amassed over 4,000 passing yards for the third consecutive season and produced his best touchdown-to-interception ratio (24 to 8) since 2017.

Brees is in a similar boat. He’ll be 41 next season, but just led the league in completion percentage for the third consecutive season and posted the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career. With that said, the Saints did not look much different in the 5 games Brees missed early in the season with backup Teddy Bridgewater in his place.

Prescott has been surrounded by the hoopla of quarterbacking America’s Team, but the Cowboys signal-caller has taken consistent strides under the bright lights. At just 26 last season, Prescott fell just 98 yards shy of reaching the 5000-yard mark. He set a career-high with 30 touchdown throws and even while throwing a career-high 596 attempts, was sacked a career-low 23 times.

Of course, unlike Brees and Brady, Prescott has yet to reach the historic status they both already have. In fact, Prescott has yet to play in a conference championship game. Furthermore, his career year this season came while Dallas struggled to an 8-8 record in a wide-open NFC East. Does he deserve credit for performing despite a difficult surrounding, or was he responsible for the team’s struggles?

Finally, one of the most interesting stories of the season surrounded the quarterback position in Tennessee. Many around the league scoffed when the Titans benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. It seemed like they were just replacing one disappointing quarterback with another. However, the once highly regarded prospect led the Titans to a 7-3 surge to close the regular season, upset the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs, and almost upset the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Tannehill threw for 2742 yards in just 10 regular season starts, throwing 22 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. He led the league in yards per attempt (9.6) and quarterback rating (117.5) while helping young wideout A.J. Brown emerge as one of the best receivers in football. However, it’s fair to wonder how much of Tannehill’s success was a side-effect of a fantastic run game (led by Derrick Henry) and his receivers (like Brown). With the shortest resume of the group, Tannehill surely represents the largest risk but may have one of the highest rewards.

With all that said, what do you think? Who is the best unrestricted free agent quarterback this offseason? Submit your answer in the poll below and voice in your opinion in the comments.