The Tennessee Titans have set the offseason blueprint for the Bears. Their 20-13 wild-card victory over the New England Patriots was due in large part to the incredible performance of running back Derrick Henry, but the main reason why they were even playing in the game was because of the remarkable season from quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
While Tannehill attempted only 15 passes against the Patriots, he managed a playoff win in a seemingly unwinnable scenario: At New England against Tom Brady. Should we be all that surprised that he pulled out the victory, though? He was, after all, 7-3 this season and completed a remarkable 70.3% of his passes for 2,742 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in just 10 games.
Tannehill has been playing like an MVP for a Titans team that began the year hoping they'd never have to use him.
Tennessee’s success in 2019 should give Bears fans confidence that Chicago can get back to contender status in 2020. In order to get there, general manager Ryan Pace has to make calculated and strategic decisions with one objective in mind: Protect the Bears from another Trubisky letdown and make sure they have their own version of Tannehill in place who’s capable of ascending into a leadership role if Trubisky fails.
Pace will have a few options in the veteran quarterback market, some of whom have career resumes similar to Tannehill’s tenure as a Dolphin.
Take Andy Dalton (Bengals) as a prime example. Dalton has a career 62% completion percentage since entering the league in 2011. He's thrown 204 touchdowns and 118 interceptions over the last nine seasons. Tannehill, who played in Miami from 2012-18, completed 62.8% of his passes as a Dolphin while tossing 123 touchdowns to 75 interceptions.
Very similar numbers.
It cost the Titans a seventh-round pick in 2019 and a fourth-round pick in 2020 to acquire Tannehill (and a 2019 sixth-rounder) from the Dolphins, and with Dalton under contract with the Bengals through 2020, it could take a similar deal (although it’s likely the Bengals would part ways with Dalton for less), for Pace to land a somewhat proven veteran.
The similarities between the Titans' quarterback situation entering 2019 and what the Bears face entering this offseason are obvious. Marcus Mariota was an underachieving former second overall pick who after 55 starts didn’t inspire enough confidence for Tennessee to hang championship hopes on his right arm. Trubisky, after 41 starts, has arguably created more doubt about his future as a franchise quarterback than even Mariota did.
Instead of another wait-and-see season, Tennessee pulled the trigger on a trade that changed the fortunes of their franchise.
Tannehill is great evidence of how a quarterback sometimes needs a change of scenery to reach his ceiling. Matt Nagy has firsthand experience with this type of player development after having coached Alex Smith during his breakout years with the Kansas City Chiefs following some underwhelming years as a former first overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers.
Maybe instead of Dalton, it’s Mariota who needs that change of scenery. An unexpected result of Tannehill's success will be Mariota's availability on the unrestricted free agency market. He has the pedigree; he's just lacking the production.
No matter who Pace targets as that backup with savior’s upside, the Titans’ playoff success has erased any doubt that the Bears should follow a similar plan to make sure they take full advantage of a rare championship window.