Important part of what Tennessee Titans' Ryan Tannehill said isn't getting enough attention | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean
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Ryan Tannehill has been good for the Tennessee Titans.

In three seasons, he has won them a lot of games. They have been much better with him than without him. He's essential to this team’s continued success.

Feels like such a reminder is needed today. Maybe not for you. Perhaps as you read this, you’ve already made up your mind on Tannehill. He has, after all, become polarizing without intending to be.

No, the person that I believe needs the reminder is Tannehill himself.

That wasn’t something I’d have thought before Tuesday’s news conference in Nashville. Over the course of about 17 minutes, Tannehill was exceptionally forthright with Titans reporters, who grilled him on a number of tricky topics. Tannehill stood in the pocket and answered, at times coming across as a sympathetic figure because of what he revealed in the process.

And that part isn’t getting enough attention.

What jumped out to me were lines like “I was in a dark place” after throwing three interceptions in the Titans' playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Or that the game has become “a scar that I'll carry with me throughout the rest of my life.”

It’s admirable that Tannehill spoke openly, too, about seeking therapy to get over the defeat, saying, “This is the first time that probably I absolutely needed it to pull me out of a dark space.”

You shouldn’t gloss over mental-health statements like those from anyone, even a millionaire quarterback.

To me, they explained why Tannehill had largely vanished from the public eye since the Bengals game. And they were another sign of how much that defeat has taken out of the Titans as a whole. Imagine being the quarterback blaming himself for a loss so painful that your general manager teared up when talking about it weeks later.

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“It's a deep scar,” Tannehill said. “It was a lot of sleepless nights. Every time I closed my eyes, I was rewatching the game in my head. … I was in a dark place, and it took me a while and a lot of work to get out of it. I wasn't something that went away easily.”

When Tannehill was absent at the start of voluntary workouts, it could have been construed as pouting. Sounds instead like Tannehill was in a bad way. He was genuinely having a tough time. He might still be.

Yet that’s not what the general footballing public took away from Tannehill’s news conference. Because Tannehill messed up near the end when he said it’s not his job to mentor newly drafted quarterback Malik Wills.

He’s not wrong. It’s not his job. It would also be presumptive of Tannehill – and perhaps even a bit patronizing – to portray himself as teacher and Willis as student without yet knowing if that’s how Willis envisions their relationship as competitors for playing time.

Do I think Tannehill would help Willis if asked? Absolutely. Tannehill added in the same answer that it’s “a great thing” if Willis learns from him. I don’t believe Tannehill meant it like it was portrayed.

But Tannehill still shouldn’t have said it the way he did.

“I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him” sounds salty and defensive. The NFL adores its offseason soap operas, and that line fits perfectly in the league’s pre-existing narrative of a starting quarterback being irked when another quarterback is drafted.

Tannehill isn’t like that. I’ve never heard of him being a selfish teammate. Nonetheless, this has grown into something he’ll have to diffuse in the locker room, especially with newer players like Willis who don’t know him well. Otherwise, it could turn into a larger problem that the Titans do not need right now.

For the first time in years, the vibe with the Titans has started to sour. It's not good. There are indications of a stable operation that’s beginning to unravel in the wake of a bitter playoff loss that is threatening to become a turning point for the franchise if it can’t move on from it.

As Tannehill has been struggling to recover, the Titans seemingly have been, too, in this gloomy offseason that is advancing the ludicrous notion of a rebuild for a team that just won a dozen games and was AFC’s top seed.

Trading A.J. Brown was something Jon Robinson never wanted to do in the first place. He felt compelled as a last resort in negotiations gone awry. It made the Titans’ roster worse, without question, but it also preempted what could have been a major distraction had it lingered. 

Brown's former teammates didn’t like losing one of the Titans' best players, naturally, including Tannehill. He said of the Brown trade that he “slept terrible that night” and “kept thinking, 'It's just a bad dream.’”

That’s not normal verbiage from Tannehill. It was twice he’d brought up not sleeping well in the same news conference, if you’re counting.

And the Titans should be counting – and listening.

Because the Titans are going to need their quarterback more now than ever. And in a fashion that appeared more concerning as it became clearer Tuesday, Tannehill might need some supportive mentoring from them, too. 

Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes. 

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