In the midst of a wild offseason, one NFL insider thinks there’s a clear frontrunner in the Tom Brady conversation.
“Jeff Darlington basically handicapped the Titans as the favorites [to land Brady] right now,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter told “The Rich Eisen Show” on Wednesday. “I knew Tennessee was an option, but he made it out to be more of an option than I realized it to be. In his mind, to rank the teams right now would be Tennessee, Las Vegas and New England.”
Schefter went on to say that Darlington is “a lot more connected to that particular situation than a lot of people realize.”
The Titans have a lot of decisions to make this offseason. The team is expected to move on from 2015 first-round pick Marcus Mariota, whose rookie contract is up. The former Heisman Trophy winner was benched in Week 6 last season during a 16-0 loss to the Broncos.
Ryan Tannehill was traded from Miami to Tennessee in 2019 and signed a one-year, $2 million contract with almost $4 million in incentives. The 31-year-old quarterback resuscitated the Titans’ season after taking over for Mariota and helped lead the team to a 9-7 record and two massive playoff upsets against the heavily-favored Patriots and Ravens.
After earning his first career trip to the Pro Bowl and the Associated Press’ NFL Comeback Player of the Year honor, it was reported before the Super Bowl that Tannehill “is not leaving the Titans,” quelling — briefly — some of the Brady chatter. Tennessee is seen as a possible landing spot for the six-time Super Bowl champion due to his connection to head coach Mike Vrabel, with whom Brady played from 2001 to 2009.
Brady, 42, is set to hit free agency for the first time in his 20-year career if he and the Patriots cannot agree on a new contract before March 18. The Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers are among the teams expected to make pitches, but as noted by Schefter, pursuing Brady carries risks for the Titans.
“The real interesting question on Tennessee is this: They have Ryan Tannehill, and if you franchise Ryan Tannehill, then it’s really hard to go out and get Tom Brady,” Schefter said. “I don’t think you do that. But do you take the risk of not franchising a guy that played like a franchise quarterback and try to get Tom Brady, running the risk that you could lose both? Or do you go ahead and franchise Tannehill and remove the Brady option off the table?”
The projected 2020 quarterback franchise tag tender is just shy of $27 million, according to Over The Cap. Brady stands to earn upwards of $30 million on the free-agent market and the Titans have around $47.4 million in cap space. The team will also have to negotiate with cornerback Logan Ryan, offensive lineman Jack Conklin and star running back Derrick Henry, who gave Tannehill a glowing endorsement this week.
“Ryan Tannehill is our quarterback, went to the AFC Championship. Why would we not want Ryan back?” Henry said on the “Bussin’ With The Boys” podcast.
Tannehill is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March. He finished the season completing 70.3 percent of his passes for 2,742 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I think we all need to pay a little bit more attention to Tennessee here than we thought, and Tennessee is more viable as a potential Tom Brady destination than we thought,” Schefter said. “Tennessee, I expect to be in the mix, Las Vegas, I expect to be in the mix. I think Chargers will try to be in the mix, I don’t know if they’ll be able to get it done, and of course, the question is, does he go back to New England.”