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Even though the season isn’t over for the Tennessee Titans, it is, essentially, over for Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill’s season was cut short due to injuries to both ankles and while he did opt for a surgery with a relatively quick turnaround the Titans ended up putting Tannehill on IR.
Now, technically, if through some use of dark magic, the Titans were able to make it to the AFC Championship Game, and still have their IR call-up spot left, Tannehill could be brought back just in time to throw a back-breaking interception in the final minutes of the game, and ending the magical, improbable Super Bowl run. However, we have to live in reality and he isn’t coming back.
With that, Tannehill’s future with the Titans was always going to be a little murky, but what waters got a little dirtier with recent comments made by Peter King on a December 30th episode of ProFootballTalk Live.
Now take the word “guess” how you want it, but as Braden and I discussed on A Football Show on Tuesday, when a reporter like Peter King uses the word guess and issues a pretty big statement, its because he has heard it from someone with knowledge or insight of the situation.
If you want to choose to ignore it, that’s on you, but it does make sense that the Titans would want to move on from Tannehill if the right situation presents itself. It made sense they’d think that way before King’s statement, and it will continue to make sense until they decide what path they’re going to take with him.
When Tannehill was signed to his new contract heading into the 2020 season, it was a good deal. He had the 9th highest cap hit in 2020 among quarterbacks, 12th highest in 2021, and then Jon Robinson restructured it to make room for Julio Jones, and in doing so he screwed up the value of the contract.
Thus, the Titans find themselves at a weird crossroads with a quarterback who was the furthest thing from a problem in the 2022 season, but has yet to prove anything in the playoffs. So, when the idea of trading Tannehill has been brought up, people say: “Who would want him? He sucks and his cap hit is too high!” So I am going to lay out how and why he would be traded this year.
Let’s be clear. The Titans should not, and likely will not, cut Ryan Tannehill. It would be silly to not get something in return (draft picks) when his market would command it, leaving yourself open to not maintain or improve your quarterback situation. So, in my logical/fiscal mind, it only makes sense that Tannehill is gone via trade.
I have no clue where this sudden concern of “dead cap money” has come from, but the league as a whole operates as it doesn’t matter as long as there is enough positive equity to gain to absorb the sunken cost.
Every year I write Free Agency 101 articles explaining terms, calculations, etc, so people can educate themselves on what matters and when it matters. Tannehill’s contract situation is a case where it doesn’t matter. Here’s what Tannehill’s contract looks like when broken down:
- 2023 Base Salary: $27m (non-guaranteed)
- 2023 Signing Bonus: $5m (guaranteed)
- 2023 Restructure Bonus: $4.6m (guaranteed)
- 2023 Cap Hit: $36.6m ($27m + $5m + $4.6m)
These aren’t all the numbers we have to take into account just yet, but this to show you where the Titans are at with his contract just for 2023. Now, because of restructuring his contract, the Titans added two void years to the contract to spread out his restructure bonus to minimize expenses. So in addition to the numbers above Tannehill has the following cap hits even though he isn’t on the team:
- 2024 Cap Hit: $4.6m (guaranteed)
- 2025 Cap Hit: $4.6m (guaranteed)
So Tannehill’s contract is going to cost the Titans $45.8 million if they keep him for 2023, as the contract stands now, and then let him hit free agency after the 2023 season. That’s a big chunk of change. Now, the Titans can extend Tannehill to help mitigate this, but that’s a different article for another time.
Like I said, big chunk of change, however the way you mitigate that is trading a player to gain positive equity. Looking at it from the perspective of trading your current car with a loan in for a new model.
The Titans essentially took out a car loan for $91 million at 0% interest. This is what they owe the bank from the date of purchase. Now they’ve made payments on the car every year:
- 2020: $22.5m
- 2021: $11.1m
- 2022: $38.6m
So add that all up they have made payments in total of $72.2 million on their $91 million original loan amount they guaranteed to the bank they would pay. This leaves a balance of $18.8 million they still have to pay for. They know if they keep the car this year in full, the total amount they have to pay is $36.6 million, but because they only owe $18.8 million left, they decide to get out of the deal early by trading. Thus:
$36.6m value – $18.8m payoff = $17.8m positive equity.
It’s an imperfect analogy for sure, but its the closest one to show, that trading Tannehill yields positive equity. On top of that you gain draft picks in a trade, which helps improve the value of the overall transaction.
Sure, you have a sunk cost of $18.8m sitting in a dark corner of the accounting, but if you were to add up the dead cap of highly probably transactions to this one here is what it looks like:
- Current 2023 Dead Cap: $8.7m
- Tannehill Dead Cap: $18.8m
- Dupree Dead Cap: 10.8m
- Lewan Dead Cap: $0
- Woods Dead Cap: $2.6m
- Cunningham Dead Cap: $4.5m
Now that adds up to $45.4 million in dead cap. That sounds astronomical off the cuff, right? Well in 2022 the league average was $35.6 million in dead cap. The $45.6 million would rank ninth in the NFL in 2022. However, if all the transactions above are performed before June 1st, then all of that comes off the books for 2024, when free agency will be better than what it its in 2023.
Not only that, while that’s a lot of dead cap to carry, the cap savings have a net gain of $63.3 million which earns the team $45.7 million in spending money for 2023, and then they gain the $45.6 million of dead money, theoretically, back in 2024. It’s a win/win scenario. In the end, the net gain of trading away Tannehill is $17.8 million + draft pick(s), and that is a good thing.
Reminder: For those that say the Titans could cut Tannehill post June 1st and split the dead cap money over two years, thus letting them save a full $27 million, they wouldn’t have access to that $27 million dollars until after June 1st.
Okay, that was the Titans side of things, but why would a team trade for a quarterback with a cap hit of $36.6 million in 2023? Well that’s easy, cause the Titans have to pay the fully guaranteed portion of the contract, and the guaranteed money in the years after 2023 don’t go to the new team, unless negotiated.
So the acquiring team would only be on the hook for the $27 million of base salary for Tannehill’s contract. That $27 million cap hit would be 12th in the NFL in 2022 as it stands now. However, what a team would do is take that $27 million and work out an extension, lowering his cap hit, and turning Tannehill’s one year contract into a possible three year with an easy out after the second year.
It’s a no brainer for a bunch of teams that I will be talking about here shortly. You get an above average starter that will cost you very little and you will only be tied to him for a short term period of time. This still allows you time to try and find your quarterback of the future.
So who are these teams that are in the quarterback market?
New York Jets/Atlanta Falcons
If Tannehill were to be traded, The Jets and Falcons are the two most likely landing spots for him. They both have very grim outlooks on their quarterback futures, and they both run similar systems that Tannehill has thrived in.
The Falcons currently sit at $68.9 million in cap space and could easily take on Tannehill’s contract as is, but then turn around and cut Marcus Mariota, who quit on the team to get a minor surgery, and save an additional $12 million in cap space.
Arthur Smith obviously knows how to get the most out of Tannehill, as evidence by Tannehill’s 2019/2020 campaigns with Art Smith has his OC, and bringing him in, as it sits with his current contract or extension, let’s you still have enough money to build up this young roster.
The main hold up with this would be how much faith do the Falcons actually have in Desmond Ridder. While Ridder has shown some flashes, he’s far from a quarterback that’s ready to take the team to that next level. He is, after all, a third round quarterback, so how beholden does this team feel to giving Ridder more chances to prove himself.
Ridder is a guy that all offseason reports talk about how much hard work he puts in, but sometimes, unfortunately, hard work doesn’t pay dividends on Sunday, and this was a Falcons team that was contending in a really bad division for a short time. They’re really set up to grab a quarterback and build the roster and contend in 2023 almost immediately.
if they have given up on Ridder, you could argue with the 7th overall pick in the draft they could take Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. What that would essentially be doing is taking two high risk prospects in the first round that may or may not pan out, and the HC and GM are confident enough they have enough time, more than one season, to develop them.
I am just not sure that is the route to go when you’re about to conclude your second losing season in a row with no definitive answer, either short-term or long-term, at quarterback. With Brady leaving the Bucs, the Panthers in cap hell, and the Saints in a similar boat, the Falcons could easily trade for Tannehill and be considered the favorites to win their division. All the while spending that 7th overall pick on a position that improves the team in the short and long term at another position of need.
The New York Jets are the best 7-9 team in the NFL by a wide margin. Their defense is outstanding, and the young core of offensive weapons are fantastic. Tannehill and the Jets would absolutely thrive and flourish together as a tandem. The Zach Wilsons, Mike Whites, and Joe Flaccos of the NFL cannot take this team where it needs to go and quickly.
If the Jets had Tannehill for the entirety of the 2022 season, they would be 11-5 at worst. That’s how much better Tannehill is than the Jets current roster of quarterbacks and how elite this defense has been playing. Also, Mike LaFleur can open up the playbook full steam with a quarterback like Tannehill.
The Jets are currently 6th in Pass Attempts, but only yielding 6.0 yards per attempt. Tannehill is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. So let’s extrapolate some data, Tannehill’s 2022 data is in bold:
- Jets QBs Now: 594 attempts | 6.0 Y/A | 3,574 yds | 2.5% TD Rate | 15 TDs
- If Tannehill was Jets QB: 594 attempts | 7.8 Y/A | 4,633 yds | 4.0% TD Rate | 24 TDs
That difference in stats alone is worth the Jets seriously considering trading for Tannehill this year, and seeing immediate success. They’ve clearly given up on Wilson, as they should, and White is just a flash in the pan quarterback, that can’t sustain success all season long. It’s very obvious this team wants to be a high powered offense, and have the tools to do so, they just don’t have the quarterback to unlock it.
Tannehill would have Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson, and possibly, Corey Davis, along with CJ Ozumah, Michael Carter, Breece Hall. It’s a match made in heaven. Cause the Jets have been so good, they’ve essentially put themselves just outside of a high probability to move up to grab a quarterback in this draft.
This team is also so good, without a viable quarterback, that they will be hard pressed to find themselves a young quarterback in the 2024 as well. So in this case, trading for a relatively young quarterback like Tannehill, and getting him on a more manageable deal for a team with $15.9m in cap space currently, seems like a no brainer.
You may be asking yourself, but what about Derek Carr and Tom Brady? Couldn’t those guys be just as good? Sure. However, with Carr, you’re going to be battling for his services with other teams, and he is going to be a more expensive option than Tannehill.
Like I said above the Jets currently have limited cap space, and the league has seen Tannehill work in this offensive system. This would be a very new offensive system for Carr, who is more expensive, and arguably not much better.
Brady is interesting, because if he were to goto the Jets, remember it’s going to be his choice, he would get to play the Patriots twice, and he would almost doing the same exact thing as he did when he chose Tampa Bay. Going to a team that has an elite defense, above average offensive weapons, that is only a quarterback away. He’d also be close to his family.
But could other teams who have stronger relationships with Brady, persuade him to come to their team? Titans and Raiders technically could secure Brady’s talents due to the relationships with Vrabel and McDaniels respectively. Though I don’t think Brady and McDaniels have that strong of a relationship, but I could see where the offensive talent, plus Gronk hanging in Vegas, could be enough to overlook that.
In the end, if you want to secure your team a chance at post-season play, and do it fairly on the cheap, the Jets trading for Tannehill would be the safest route they could go.
San Francisco 49ers/Las Vegas Raiders
These two teams are kind of the same to me. They’re both teams who have questions at quarterback, but have options or had options that are of similar talent level to Tannehill with varying degrees of success. I also think both are unlikely, but always good to talk about the likely, and unlikely spots.
The Raiders have $33.1 million in cap space, so a trade, and extension could work out financially. They currently have no quarterback, and will be looking to trade or cut Carr before the three days are up after the Super Bowl. the question becomes does McDaniels think Tannehill is that big of an upgrade, think he can lure Brady to Vegas, or with the 8th overall pick, can he get a quarterback he feels he can develop.
McDaniels is a coach that I think over inflates his own self worth. We saw it in Denver, and I think in the end you will see it there in Vegas. So, I could absolutely see a scenario where McDaniels thinks he has a better version of Tebow in Will Levis, and drafts him instead of signing or trading for one of the better veteran QB options.
The weapons that would be surrounding Tannehill would be great, but is her a good enough fit for the Raiders more than Carr was? Well, in one game Stidham was on fire, though I am sure this week that will come crashing down, but Tannehill is better than Stidham, so you’d think that Tannehill could run the offense as needed. I don’t think this is likely trading partner. I think they sign Jimmy G.
Kyle Shanahan is pretty much QB proof. Brock Purdy, so far, has proven, unlike CJ Beathard and Nick Mullens, that he has long term sustainability. Now, we still have several games left, so maybe the story comes crashing down, and the weapons, Shanahan are hiding a lot of his flaws, but this leaves the 49ers with two, young, cheap option at quarterback next year: Trey Lance and Purdy.
Tannehill is better than both, and he’s better than Jimmy G. I think Shanahan would kill to have Tannehill on this team, but they don’t have the goods. They are sitting at $14.8 million, which that part is manageable, its the draft picks. In the 2023 draft they have two third round picks, two fifth round picks, and two events round picks.
Now, while they have the ammo to probably grab Tannehill (a 3rd and a 5th seems fair), they probably won’t want to part with that. Tannehill is better than their options, but is he worth punting on a whole draft and spending money on him? Probably not better enough.
Ultimately, neither of these teams will make the move, but if they did they would be in a better quarterback situation in 2023.
Seattle Seahawks/Washington Commanders
The Seahawks and Commanders have no clear long term answers at quarterback. The Commanders tried to be the third team to revitalize Carson Wentz and that failed, and they benched their better, albeit still subpar, quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Unless my guy, Sam Howell, goes off, the Commanders don’t have anything going in their favor. They’re kind of like the Jets but in a much more competitive division, and until they bring in a quality quarterback that’s how they always will be.
Tannehill is obviously better than any quarterback the Washington franchise has had since Kirk Cousins. So this would make sense for them, especially considering they draft in the middle of the first round. The Commanders sit at $19.4 million in cap space, and can cut Wentz, with no penalty, and gain $26.2 million extra in cap space. More than enough to account for Tannehill’s monies.
What does the future hold for this staff? If Ron Rivera gets to keep his job, he has a strong relationship with Vrabel, so it would make sense the negotiations would be open and smooth. If there is a new head coach and/or GM, then you they would be wanting to bring in their guy or at least a stop-gap quarterback. Tannehill could be both of those.
The Seahawks have a quarterback option they’re familiar with in-house already. Geno Smith has proven cable, yet inconsistent. However, I am not entirely sure what his market is going to look like as he has come back down to earth these last several games.
The talk around the league is that Geno Smith is a franchise tag candidate who gets a multi-year deal negotiated. If he is tagged he would be paid roughly $31.5 million, which is a lot, but you know who he is, how he fits in your offense, and you can always get a new deal together.
They can afford the tag too. The Seahawks currently sit at $49.4 million in cap space. They could afford Tannehill or they could afford Smith and still be fine to make moves in free agency to get the roster up another level. It just all hinges on their belief of Smith.
However, if the Seahawks get a call and hear Tannehill is available, you may have to pay a tad bit more (multi-year deal + draft picks), but Tannehill is absolutely better than Smith. A team that was competing for their division title, until Smith hit the wall, Tannehill could have this team competing for the division all the way to the end of the season.
Waldron runs a similar offense and gets Smith out on the move, which he could do the same with Tannehill. I think Tannehill, Lockett, and Metcalf would be a fun trio of a passing attack, and if you can get the points and offensive output with Smith, you’ll get more with Tannehill.
I think this is a fit that makes sense dependent on how they feel about Smith as a long term quarterback.
These teams are in terrible position both financially and quarterback wise. These are going to be deal thats are tough to get done for both sides without some major cap magic being conducted. Here is the cap space and all of quarterbacks on their roster for 2023 as it sits right now:
- Panthers: $1.7m | Matt Corral
- Buccaneers: ($43.1m) | Kyle Trask
- Saints: ($57.8m) | Jameis Winston
These are some insane predicaments these teams find themselves in. So you’re talking about three teams that have a lot of tough decisions to make in terms of cuts, and restructures, to try and turn around their franchise’s outlook for the future.
I don’t know what cap gymnastics these teams could truly pull off to try and trade for Tannehill, but they all could use him in their current state.
The Saints are probably the least likely, because they can get by with Winston for another year. However, there are rumors that Payton may still want to come back to the Saints, and if he did, would he be willing pull off some magic to try and upgrade that position?
Another rumored Payton destination is Carolina. Who would have to trade for Payton (like all NFL teams would), and that would reportedly take them sending multiple firsts to a division rival for his rights. So the likelihood of them doing that + trading for Tannehill would make no sense.
However, if the Panthers end up luring Harbaugh away from Michigan, all they have to do is make a few moves and be in the clear enough to send mid round picks to the Titans and be able to afford Tannehill. However, Harbaugh probably knows that they are in a rebuild mode, and thus spending that amount of money for a bridge quarterback wouldn’t make too much sense.
Tom Brady is leaving behind a nice parting gift for the Buccaneers in the amount of a $35.1 million cap hit in 2023. The Bucs also have over $67 million tied up in Godwin, Evans, and Barrett. So obviously those contracts are either going to be reworked or in Godwin’s case, traded, because cutting them does nothing to help mitigate the cap.
So unless Brady decides to come back because he forced the Bucs to get a new coaching staff, they’re sunk for at least a year and while they have a major void at the quarterback position, they’re gonna have to head into the 2023 season with a skeleton crew of nobodies in the quarterback room. So I think Tampa Bay will not, and cannot trade for Tannehill, but they have an open spot and worth talking about.
Our final set of possible suitors in a Tannehill trade are teams with young quarterbacks in situations where they should be brought back, but we need to keep in mind in the NFL anything is possible.
Entering week seventeen of the NFL season, the current reports are that the New York Giants would like to bring back both Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley back on multi-year deals. It makes sense, this team is in the playoffs, and both of those players have thrived under Brian Daboll and are the reason why they’ve gotten there.
However, keep in mind, is that news coming out just to keep people happy and focused on the playoffs? Do the Giants really want to give Jones, who could revert back into a pumpkin, a multi-year deal? I personally believe they will work it out with Jones, but I think that if they hit an impasse in negotiations, they could start kicking the tires on the trade market or free agency pool, and Tannehill would be a good option.
They have the cap space to take him on. In fact, the Giants currently have the third most cap space in the NFL with $56.9 million. They have the draft picks to make a move, but like I said logically, I find it unlikely they won’t run it back with Jones as their quarterback, and use that money to make a move for a Stefon Diggs quality wide receiver on the trade market instead. After all Tampa Bay has two they need off their books.
The Ravens are a real possibility if they feel things with Lamar Jackson will never get back on track. Not only has Jackson’s last two seasons ended with injury, there are now reports that Jackson is making a business decision and holding out. So how untenable is this situation? Only those two sides know, but the Ravens have the cap space to make three moves.
They sit at $42.9 million in salary cap space, so the first and obvious move, is sign Jackson to a long-term deal, these fully or mostly fully guaranteed deals that quarterbacks are wanting and getting are outrageous cap hits. Even in year one where those cap hits are modest, they’re generally around $39 million. That eats up a ton of the cap space, for Baltimore its doable though.
They could franchise tag Jackson forcing him to stay. Now these situations are tough, because right now there seems to be a bad working relationship. If that’s the case Jackson could end up being tagged and traded, being tagged or sit out, or just say screw it, I’ll play, and pull a Kirk Cousins and just continue to get tagged a high amount of money every year.
The other end, they could just let Jackson walk, avoid all this headache, and trade/sign a different quarterback. It would be an unpopular and widely panned move by a team that generally makes excellent ones, but this situation is trending towards nuclear at the moment. Again, unlikely, but it’s the NFL, so it’s possible, just improbable.
Out of the three, I have talked myself into possibly thinking the Patriots are done with the quarterbacks on their roster. This includes the Mike White of Boston, Bailey Zappe. Here is a quick glance at the ammo that Patriots would have:
- Cap Space: $49.8m
- 2023 Draft Picks: 11
- 4th x 3
- 6th x 4
- Trent Brown – LT
Think about it. The Patriots are still a well-coached competitive team, that has two young quarterbacks who just can’t get it done consistently. They have the trade ammo, they have the cap space, and they have a player at a Titans position of need. They wouldn’t even need to throw in Brown to get a deal like this done.
You may be thinking to yourself: “Self, why would the Patriots already give up on Jones and Zappe?” Well, this is a league that doesn’t have a lot of patience when it comes to developing quarterbacks anymore, and teams that are built to be competitive now, need quarterbacks that can produce now.
The Patriots have lost 4 games by 7 points or less and currently sit at 8-8, Tannehill would absolutely make a big difference for a team like this because, much like the Jets, he is so much better than the quarterbacks they have on their roster. No doubt about it.
So the Patriots are sneaky dark horse team I think in the upcoming quarterback market, not just speaking strictly Tannehill, because outside of a first round pick, they don’t have a lot invested or tying them down when it comes to Jones and Zappe. They have the money, the resources, the roster, and the coach that could make a considerable leap with the right quarterback.
While I personally think Tannehill will be here in 2023 and beyond, I do think there are some very realistic trade partners for him among NFL teams. A lot of people tend to downplay the performance that Tannehill has shown, and while he leaves a lot to be desired in the post-season, doesn’t mean that’s always going to be the case.
Matt Stafford is the biggest example of this. He never had post-season success, and was a known stat-padding specialist, but went to the right spot, and won a Super Bowl with the Rams. Team could definitely be thinking that, and saying to themselves they can do the same with a quarterback who is much more efficient than Stafford.
The contract numbers work out in the Titans favor too, and provides them, with additional draft picks, and cap maneuverability to make their retooling or rebuilding that much easier.
So while I don’t think it’s for sure going to happen, I do think Tannehill being rumored or speculated in trade talks is substantiated, and I think if the right offer came along the Titans would eagerly trade him away.