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Could Ryan Tannehill’s contract impact Titans return-to-play timeline?

Another layer to the Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis, and Will Levis conversation

Baltimore Ravens v Tennessee Titans Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

We’re still awaiting word on whether or not Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will take the field against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8. Tannehill suffered an ankle injury in a Week 6 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. The Titans are on a Week 7 bye, giving Tannehill extra time to heal from yet another multi-week ankle injury.

Head coach Mike Vrabel has said Tannehill would be the starting quarterback when healthy. Fans have been clamoring for rookie quarterback Will Levis. Sophomore signal-caller Malik Willis has remained ahead of Levis on the depth chart until now. It currently feels like each quarterback has an equal 33.3% chance to start against the Falcons.

Paul Kuharsky recently brought up an excellent point while discussing the Titans quarterback situation on Robby & Rexrode. Tannehill is currently in the final season of a previously signed four-year, $118 million extension. The rebuilding Titans aren’t expected to re-sign Tannehill this offseason. They’ll likely move forward with either Levis, Willis, or less likely, another rookie quarterback.

Could Tannehill’s return-to-play timeline be impacted by his pending contract status?

“I had a conversation with somebody that knows Ryan [Tannehill] and was familiar with the ankle stuff from last year,” Kuharsky said. “They wondered if it happened again this year, would he be all the way into fighting through it, to do everything he did last year to get all the way back with an offseason of free agency ahead? If this thing [injury] drags on, and I think Tannehill is an excellent teammate, but the circumstances do change when you’re heading towards free agency and your concern is March and a new contract as much as it is getting back to fight off a rookie quarterback,” Kuharsky concluded.

Tannehill returned from a similar ankle injury a year ago before eventually re-aggravating the injury, which led to surgery and placement on season-ending IR. If Tannehill were to suffer a similar fate this season, it would undeniably impact the leverage he possesses in unrestricted free agency.

Tannehill has been an excellent leader since joining the Titans in 2019. He’s been a selfless teammate that’s constantly put his needs last. But business is business, and Tannehill must consider his future security. Tannehill has struggled throughout 2023 thus far, but there’s no question regarding his status as a top-32 starting quarterback in the NFL.

A healthy Tannehill wins a starting job in training camp next season. Don’t believe me? Simply look around the league. Desmond Ridder, Josh Dobbs, and Zach Wilson are NFL starters. Tyson Bagent is starting this weekend. Tannehill will want to be as healthy as possible entering the offseason as he prepares for inevitable life after the Titans.

Perhaps there’s another layer to Tannehill’s status for Week 8 that had previously gone unexplored until Kuharsky mentioned the possibility on radio.