With the NFL offseason still moving forward at this point, initial dominoes are beginning to fall as free agency is scheduled to officially open on Wednesday.
One of the first of those dominoes was with the Tennessee Titans announcing the agreement to a new four-year contract with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Ryan Tannehill has agreed to terms on a new four-year contract with the Titans, per source. Here’s the numbers:
$29.5m average per year
$62m full guarantee
$91m total guarantee
BIG deal for Tannehill!
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) March 15, 2020
Last offseason, Tennessee traded a fourth-round pick to Miami for Tannehill and then signed him to a one-year, $7M deal for the 2019 season to back up Marcus Mariota. After a 2-4 start to the season, Tannehill supplanted Mariota as the starter and the Titan caught fire, posting a 9-4 record over their remaining 13 games and their first trip to the AFC Title Game since the 2002 season.
Ryan Tannehill Career Statistics
In a new environment — and free from the shackles of Adam Gase — Tannehill had a career breakout in terms of passing performance. Taking over as the starter in Week 7, Tannehill was the QB3 in overall fantasy scoring from Weeks 7-16 through fantasy championships. He was pivotal for fantasy postseason success, ranking as the QB6 (27.5 points), QB4 (24.2), and the QB6 (23.7) Weeks 14-16, and if you happened to play in a league that used Week 17, he was also the QB10 (17.9 points) in the regular-season finale.
It’s not often a 31-year-old quarterback breaks out. The question that remains is whether or not Tannehill’s career has truly taking a turn and paying off on the allure that made him the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, or if the 2019 spike in performance was only a small sample hot streak.
After throwing for 7.0 yards per pass attempt and a 4.2% touchdown rate prior to this season, Tannehill’s 9.59 yards per pass attempt ranked fourth all-time for a season in which a quarterback attempted at least 100 passes. His 7.69% touchdown rate trailed only Lamar Jackson (8.98%) among quarterbacks in 2019.
We’ll get to Lamar Jackson’s pending passing touchdown regression at a later date, but we’re here right now for Tannehill. There have been 53 other quarterback seasons since the 1970 merger in which a passer hit a 7.0% touchdown rate on 100-plus attempts and then came back and hit that threshold for pass attempts the following season. Just one of those passers (Dave Krieg in 1987-1988) increased his previous season touchdown rate and just one other passer (Aaron Rodgers 2011-2012) hit that 7.0% mark again in the next season.
The average touchdown rate loss for those passers was a 2.9% decline the following season with just 15 of those passers even hitting a 6.0% touchdown rate. The question isn’t going to be will Tannehill regress in 2020 pass efficiency, but how much?
Tannehill will very much likely need to sustain passing efficiency above the base rate since the Titans brand of offensive football is centered around low volume passing. Tannehill attempted just 25.4 pass attempts per game over his 13 starts last season, with just four games reaching 30 attempts. That mark ranked 35th in the league in passing volume per game. In Titan wins, that mark was just 21.9 pass attempts per game while averaging 33.3 attempts per game in losses, which would’ve ranked 22nd.
By locking up Tannehill prior to the start of free agency, this move allows the Titans the flexibility to potentially use the franchise tag on running back Derrick Henry, keeping the same offensive philosophy and approach intact for the Titans. With Tannehill expected to carry nearly a $22.5M cap number in 2020 and the franchise tag for running backs expected to be in the $12.5M range this season, that would place the Titans allocating nearly 18% of their 2020 cap to the quarterback and running back positions. That’s a point of concern for the Titans overcoming the perils of salary cap imbalance at those positions as highlighted by Warren Sharp last week.
Tannehill doesn’t have to revert back into a fantasy pumpkin this season, but I am proceeding with caution on him early this offseason in early rankings. He has room to climb above that mark as the offseason progresses, but after factoring in his anticipated regression in terms of passing efficiency, while also having a career-high four rushing touchdowns and a schedule bump after facing seventh-easiest passing schedule Weeks 7-17, he’ll have a long road climbing all the way into QB1 status.