The Tennesse Titans offseason was both chaotic and unpredictable, with constant change of direction, key additions, and huge losses.
Heading into the 2022 season, it can even be hard to gauge where the Titans are in comparison to last year’s team, let alone the AFC South.
While the Titans made moves to acquire offensive veterans Austin Hooper and Robert Woods, and made a splash during the draft, most of their free agent money this spring was spent on retaining or extending players (Jones, Landry).
Amidst all the chaos, Pro Football Focus seems to have identified the one move that will be the best move for the Titans in the long term, and surprisingly, it may have been the most unexpected one.
A recent article from PFF’s Brad Spielberger tagged drafting Malik Willis as the Titans best move of the offseason:
DRAFTING QB MALIK WILLIS
After a trip to the AFC Championship game in 2019 followed by back-to-back division titles — earning the No. 1 seed this past season despite a staggering number of injuries — Tennessee is smart to take a small step back to regroup before pushing in once again.
Former Packers executive Andrew Brandt, when discussing the team’s controversial decision to draft Aaron Rodgers in 2005 with Brett Favre on the roster, likes to say that the worst time to find a quarterback is when you need one. This adage is undoubtedly true, and the Titans were smart to get ahead on finding quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s eventual successor.
Tannehill only has one year of guarantees remaining on his contract, with his entire $29 million salary fully guaranteed for this upcoming season and then just one non-guaranteed year remaining in 2023 when he’ll be 35 years old. Willis should have at least the entire 2022 season to learn the NFL game and can take over under center when he’s ready.
I think the Malik Willis pick can be fairly polarizing subject depending on your opinions of the Titans roster and how competitive you expect them to be.
On the one hand, the Titans were able to get ahead of the Tannehill contract situation and bring in their successor without spending big or tanking for a draft pick and doing a full rebuild.
On the other hand, the Titans are still in what they believe to be a “competitive window” with an elite pass rush, up and coming secondary, and the best running back in football on their roster. Drafting a backup quarterback (or probably third string in 2022) with one of your top draft choices lacks to fill a need that can help you win now.
Turron Davenport of ESPN recently predicted that Willis wouldn’t start his first NFL game until week 15 of 2023, meaning the Titans, who have Tannehill under contract for at least two more seasons, used a 3rd round draft choice on a player who may not see the field for almost two years.
I’m not sure Willis was the best move of the offseason, but I’ll give Jon Robinson this…this was probably the best value he got out of all his transactions.
Willis, who many believed had the goods to be the first quarterback off the board in the 2022 Draft, fell to the Titans in the 3rd round. That’s inarguably good value, and a low risk play given the potential payoff if Willis develops correctly.
A quarterback with Malik Willis’ physical tools has never been available at the draft discount the Titans just received.— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) April 30, 2022
Huge arm. Big-time athlete. Great kid. Atrium ceiling. Just needs a year.
What an incredible steal — there is zero downside here.pic.twitter.com/xWcZamyeXI
I really see this going down one of two ways:
1.) Ryan Tannehill returns to his Pro-Bowl form, clearly giving the Titans the best chance to win in 2022 and beyond, and Willis hardly plays for Tennessee in his first two seasons.
2.) Or Tannehill fades earlier than the Titans hoped, and Robinson looks like a genius for nabbing his toolsy replacement in the third round without rebuilding in the process.
Only time will tell, and eyes will be all over Willis’ development as his rookie season plays out.
Image via George Walker IV / Tennessean.com-USA TODAY NETWORK