Titans’ Ryan Tannehill ‘shocked’ by A.J. Brown trade, doesn’t think it’s his job to mentor Malik Willis

It’s been quite a week for Ryan Tannehill.

The quarterback of the Tennessee Titans watched the team trade away his No. 1 receiver, A.J. Brown, then select Brown’s replacement in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The next day, Tennessee chose a potential replacement for Tannehill.

With the 86th-overall pick, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis became a Titan, and the clock started ticking on Tannehill’s time in Nashville. Well, that’s at least the logic with Tennessee’s decision to select a QB with a high ceiling and a need for some time to develop.

Don’t expect Tannehill to bend over backward to speed up the process for Willis.

“We’re competing against each other,” Tannehill said of Willis on Tuesday. “We’re watching the same tape, we’re doing the same drills. I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him, but if he learns from me along the way then that’s a great thing.”

Let’s not jump to conclusions here: Tannehill isn’t giving Willis the cold shoulder. But it’s understandable if Tannehill also isn’t eager to help Willis take his job.

“I texted Malik right after we drafted him,” Tannehill said. “I wasn’t informed of that beforehand, but it’s the same thing with A.J. right? The team is going to do the best thing that they think is in the best interest of the team. I have no problems with Malik. We’re looking to add talent and guys that can help us. We’ll add him to the room and go from there.”

The move that will resonate more in the immediate future is the trade that sent Brown to Philadelphia. It’s an instant upgrade for the Eagles and leaves both a huge void and massive shoes for Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks to fill in Nashville.

It also stunned Tannehill, who has now watched his top two receivers depart in one offseason and will have to spend the next few months getting to know a receiving corps headlined by veteran Robert Woods, Burks, fellow rookie Kyle Philips and returning pass-catcher Nick Westbrook-Ikhine.

“I was shocked. When I first found out, I’m like, ‘This isn’t real, this isn’t happening, it’s a rumor,'” Tannehill said. “And then, I talked to A.J. and found out it was real. I slept terrible that night and kept thinking it was just a bad dream, but that’s where we’re at.”

As our own Gregg Rosenthal explained, the Brown trade will have a ripple effect that extends well beyond Tennessee. The deal essentially established precedent for receivers playing under rookie deals anticipating big pay days, arming them with a simple stance: You won’t be able to afford me, so trade me before we reach the negotiating table.

Tannehill, meanwhile, has no secondary option. The starting quarterback job is still his, but suddenly there’s a new figure in his rearview mirror and the persistent ticking of his career clock.

Tannehill couldn’t be completely blindsided, at least not when considering how the 2021 season ended. Throwing three interceptions in a Divisional Round loss as the conference’s top seed certainly didn’t help his standing entering the offseason, nor did it make the arrival of the offseason any easier to bear.

“It’s a scar. It’s a deep scar,” Tannehill said of the loss. “It was a lot of sleepless nights. Every time I closed my eyes I was rewatching the game in my head. Didn’t get a whole lot of sleep for weeks and weeks after the game. I was in a dark place and it took me a while and a lot of work to get out of it. It wasn’t something that went away easily. It’s still a scar that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life. Just like a cut on your arm, it starts off as a wound, you’re able to heal from it and it turns into a scar. It never leaves you, but it’s always there and it can remind you.

“Now it’s fuel for me. It’s fuel for me to work and get ready with a passion and coming into the season with a fire, and a desire to win like I’ve never had before.”

Tannehill will need to fill up his tank before returning to Nashville to start preparations for the 2022 season. He’s not about to be pushed out the door, but with just two seasons left on his existing contract (which runs through 2023 and includes void years for 2024 and 2025), he doesn’t have the longest leash in the league, either.

It’s time to put the disappointment of 2021 and the shock of last week behind him.

“I have the utmost confidence in myself and have everything it takes,” Tannehill said. “I will come this year with a fire and a passion and I have to play my best football in January.”

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