Is This The End Of Ryan Tannehill And Derrick Henry As Titans?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This could be it.

As a pair, Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry have been the core of the Titans’ offense since the sixth game of the 2019 season, a stretch during which the Titans have posted a 37-23 regular season record (.612), won the division twice, gone to the playoffs three times and played in the AFC Championship Game once.

Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry
Ryan Tannehill piches to Derrick Henry

Sunday in New Orleans, they each begin their final season under contract with a franchise that has positioned itself with potential replacements. The Titans have drafted quarterbacks in successive years, trading up to take Malik Willis in the third round in 2022 and Will Levis in the second round in 2023 and they chose versatile running back Tyjae Spears in the third round this spring as well. [Unlocked]

It’s probably the most popular question I get: What would it take for one or the other or both to be back in 2024.

But 18 games, and perhaps a playoff appearance, away from that, it’s too difficult to put some sort of individual success connected to team accomplishment into an equation and spit out an answer, because there is so much other context that will factor in.

If Tannehill thrives in the Titans’ new offense, plays all the meaningful snaps and is the efficient passer Mike Vrabel and Tim Kelly want, does it compel the franchise to want him for a bit longer?

The Paul Kuharsky Podcast discusses how the Titans didn't touch Tannehill's or Henry's contract while dealing with serious cap issues. Check it out

Well, what have Willis, and in particular, Levis, done behind the scenes? The team will only have two more years of Willis and three more years of Levis under contract, and it will need to find out what those guys can do. Willis was drafted as a value, but Levis was drafted as a fit for what the Titans want to do, and having a quarterback on a rookie contract as the starter gives a franchise financial freedom to make a lot of other moves.

Spotrac calculates that Tannehill will command a two-year deal worth $71.4 million, so that would average $35.7 million. Such a deal could be manipulated but would still present big cap costs over the course of two or three years.

He could be an attractive option to quarterback-needy teams, particularly as a bridge.

“I’m excited to go attack this season," Tannehill said. "We have an opportunity to get this thing going the right way so that’s my mindset right now."

But he’s conscious of what’s at stake…

“I mean obviously it matters, right? It matters no matter where you are in your career. So you’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities when they come.”

Presuming Henry continues to produce, the Titans will still face questions about when an inevitable drop will arrive, and they will want to be proactive, not reactive. He’s been at the forefront of conversations about the struggle for aging running backs to get what they see as fair pay.

But he will turn 30 on Jan. 4. While he wasn’t used heavily in his first three seasons, he’s been used in excess since then. He’s got a cap number of over $16 million this year with a base of $10.5 million.

Spotrac projects a two-year deal worth a bit over $20 million contract. I think that’s high. Taking into account his own argument, success this year will count as more wear and tear and hurt his future value.

I expect he will come in at more like $6 or $8 million in 2024. The Titans will have all the leverage, as his play style and need for volume may continue to suit them but not many other teams in the league.

Kuharsky megaphoneWill the Titans want him? How does Spears fare in a rookie year as a third-down back plus and how does the Tennessee offense evolve under Kelly? How does Henry hold up and how is his speed a year after he started to get caught from behind a bit? What is the franchise’s sense of what he has left?

The Titans were done with Eddie George after eight seasons, but he had clearly slowed. They moved on from Chris Johnson after just six, when he averaged only 3.9 yards in his last year with the team.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time and not getting too caught up in it,” Henry said. “Thankful that I am able to make it to Year Eight, to be playing for this organization as long as I have. I try to be the best player I can be each and every week and come out here and be a great leader for this team and try to help everybody get better in any way possible."

“...I’m not trying to get too caught up in that and just be thankful for what I have right now.”

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