Ryan Tannehill isn't wrong, but should Tennessee Titans want him to be a QB mentor? | Opinion
Mentoring the next generation is not in an NFL quarterback’s job description. Some veterans take rookies under their wing, and some choose to just lead by example.
In the Tennessee Titans’ case, they are probably better off if Ryan Tannehill does the latter.
"I don't think it's my job to mentor him,” Tannehill said Tuesday during his first interview since the Titans drafted Liberty product Malik Willis in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft. “But if he learns from me along the way, then that's a great thing."
Tannehill said the Titans didn’t warn him they were going to draft a quarterback this year, but he did send Willis a congratulatory text.
Is it Tannehill’s responsibility as a 10-year veteran to mentor Willis?
We’ve seen this situation play out throughout NFL history.
When San Francisco 49ers traded for Steve Young in 1987, Joe Montana wasn’t welcoming him with open arms. Montana and Young had a business-type relationship.
“It’s a team game, but it all starts with individual efforts. So, my job with Steve was basically to make sure he stayed behind me,” Montana told The Mercury News after he retired. “We had a working relationship… It was my job that I felt I had to make sure they stayed over there watching me as long as possible.”
The Green Bay Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Shortly after, Brett Favre infamously said, during an ESPN interview, his contract didn’t state he had to get Rodgers ready to play.
Both of those situations turned out fine. Young won Super Bowl XXIX as the 49ers starter and enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in San Francisco. Rodgers won Super Bowl XLV as Green Bay’s starter and is well on his way to being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
And there are plenty of instances where a starting quarterback graciously accepts being a mentor.
Alex Smith saw the writing on the wall when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft. Smith was the Chiefs’ starting quarterback and a mentor to Mahomes during his final year in Kansas City.
“It was a really cool experience, from my perspective, all the way around. We were natural friends from the get-go,” Smith said on the Chiefs official website. “From the day he was drafted, we got along. We rooted for each other even while we competed against each other. I think that is incredibly unique.”
Smith was instrumental in Mahomes’ development into a Super Bowl winning quarterback — regarded by many as the best QB in the league. He often compliments Smith for his rapid rise.
“He taught me a lot in the one year that I got to be with him,” Mahomes said. “He helped me a ton in being a professional and being a person.”
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert similarly credits Tyrod Taylor. During the 2020 season, Taylor assisted Herbert after he was replaced as starter because a team doctor inadvertently punctured Taylor’s lung while attempting to administer a pain-killing injection.
Herbert went on to win 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and concluded his sophomore campaign as the AFC’s starter in the Pro Bowl.
Still, Tannehill isn’t wrong for what he said. And it’s probably a better idea to let the Titans coaching staff teach Willis.
The last time we saw Tannehill perform, he tossed three interceptions to the Cincinnati Bengals and consequently lost the No. 1 seed Titans’ chance at representing the AFC in Super Bowl LIV.
The quarterback later called the game a "deep scar," admitting he struggled after the loss.
"You prepare so long and so hard to put yourself in a position to go chase your dreams and to play beneath the standard I have for myself: It stung, it hurt,” Tannehill told reporters Tuesday. "Didn’t get a whole lot of sleep for weeks and weeks after the game. Was in a dark place. 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 a scar I’ll carry with me throughout the rest of my life, you know?"
Tannehill, 33, has had a volatile career on the field. The Titans could see more production and consistency from Willis whenever he’s ready to take over.
Just don’t wait around for Tannehill to get him there.
Follow USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insider Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.