Ryan Tannehill's stellar play since taking over as the Titans starting quarterback has put him in a position for a possible franchise tag in 2020, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, with the team increasingly interested in retaining him beyond this season.
Tannehill has been a top-five quarterback in virtually every key metric since replacing former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota under center, leading Tennessee to a 4-1 record and putting them in position to possibly win the AFC South. Since Tannehill took over, the Titans are averaging 50 more passing yards per game and 44 more rushing yards, with the quarterback pushing the ball deep downfield, getting multiple receivers involved and making it more difficult to load the box against star running back Derrick Henry.
The Titans have not approached Tannehill about a new contract yet, sources said, and it's unlikely any talks occur in the near term, with neither side wanting to do anything to distract the quarterback from the task at hand. Tannehill (making a base salary of $7 million) has become a huge fan favorite with the Titans and is grossly outperforming what Mariota (who makes $21 million this season but has been benched since September), with Tannehill averaging 9.22 yards per attempt and throwing a TD on 6.5 percent of passes, to Mariota's 7.42 YPA and 4.4 TD percentage.
The franchise tag for quarterbacks projects to be just under $27 million for 2020, assuming the cap goes up another $10 million or so as it has been doing; had Mariota evolved to the level the Titans had hoped, the team was very open to using that designation on him. If Tannehill continues at close to this pace, sources said the tag would be in play for him as well. With so many potential free agent quarterbacks slumping or injured this season, Tannehill is suddenly positioned to cash in and would have interest from multiple teams, making applying the tag in February as a trigger to a new contract more likely.
While $27 million is not cheap, the Titans have abundant cap flexibility in 2020, and it's worth noting the Jaguars just gave Nick Foles $25 million guaranteed in both 2019 and 2020; Tannehill has more athleticism and upside than Foles. Even with Tannehill at $27 million, the Titans would still likely have less money in total tied up in the quarterback position in 2020 than they do in 2019, and there are plenty of creative ways to construct a 2-3 year deal for Tannehill that would protect the team.