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Levis has ‘inside track’ to be future of Titans

Mike Florio and Chris Simms analyze what Ryan Tannehill’s future holds in Tennessee, after the Titans traded up to draft Will Levis No. 33 overall, and assess if this is a bad sign for Malik Willis.

Video Transcript

MIKE FLORIO: He now enters Tennessee as the bottom-- this always happens. I remember when Ryan Tannehill was a top-eight pick by the Dolphins. He was the number-three guy. They like to give the young guy an opportunity to work his way up. They don't want to create the impression that anybody's being handed anything. So he's number three behind Malik Willis, who all of a sudden has been forgotten, at number two, and number one Ryan Tannehill.

Here's both Ran Carthon and head coach Mike Vrabel talking about Will Levis coexisting with the incumbent starter, Ryan Tannehill.

RAN CARTHON: Again, he's a player that, you know, had we wanted to choose him at 11, we most certainly could have. Like we talked about last night, didn't expect for, you know, Peter to be there.

MIKE VRABEL: Ryan will be the starting quarterback on Monday. Malik will be the backup. Will will be the third quarterback. And what I've told them is whatever happens after that will be up to the players. That's what it's always been here. That's what we always want it to be.

Reached out to Ryan. Those things happen pretty fast. Would say that was able to reach out to him and then ultimately have a conversation with him and explain to him what I told you and some other things that obviously will be remain between Ran and myself and Ryan. And expect him to compete, you know, just like Ryan has done every day since he's been here.

MIKE FLORIO: And Ryan Tannehill had to deal with it last year when Malik Willis was a surprise third-round pick. Willis didn't develop. I think Willis an example of the disconnect that existed between former GM John Robinson--

CHRIS SIMMS: Agreed, Mike. Agreed.

MIKE FLORIO: --and head coach Mike Vrabel, and Willis just not a Vrabel guy. When Willis got benched for Josh Dobbs week 17 for the Thursday night game against the Cowboys--

CHRIS SIMMS: Three days to prepare--

MIKE FLORIO: --my first thought was--

CHRIS SIMMS: --or barely a little more than that.

MIKE FLORIO: Yeah. Yeah. My thought-- my thought was maybe he's a little banged up. They're saving him for the de facto AFC South championship game the next weekend. I had no idea that it was based on merit or the perception that they had a better chance of winning games with Dobbs. But then when Dobbs started week 18, it's like, well, they're out on Malik Willis after only one year, so that doesn't surprise me.

And it doesn't surprise me they went quarterback. Ryan Tannehill entering the last year of his contract. He's been around for a while. Injuries pop up from time to time, and he's not going to get fewer injuries as he gets older.

It just felt like they're in that Alex Smith phase where we have a guy who's taken us as far as he can-- Kirk Cousins as well. He's taken us as far as he can. We know what we are with him. If we ever want to be anything more than that, we've got to reach a little bit higher, and that's what they're doing with Will Levis.

And Ran Carthon kind of tiptoed around it. The idea that if Peter Skowronski doesn't fall to them at 11, that he's the pick-- I think their preference one, get CJ Stroud at three, and I think they would have traded up to three to get CJ Stroud if he'd been there after the Texans picked at two, or at least they would have tried to.

CHRIS SIMMS: Right. Right.

MIKE FLORIO: And then I think their fallback became get Will Levis, and they ended up getting him in round two when they quite possibly would have taken him with the 11th pick if Peter Skowronski had already been gone.

CHRIS SIMMS: Yeah. I mean, it's amazing it worked out for them. Really, it's a little draft weekend gift they got there to get a franchise quarterback at pick 33 with that kind of talent. Yeah, usually guys are never on the board at that position at that pick.

The Titans, like you said, yeah, they're in a little bit of a transition all together. Listen, I think you can go to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl with Ryan Tannehill. Yeah, he's one of those guys like you talked about. He needs a certain team or help around him. He does 100%.

You know, but yeah, this is a team too that its shelf life is over. They're kind of like in the process of, hey, we want to be competitive, but we're also kind of flipping the roster over here a little bit in the process of that. They're all in the process in the South now of chasing the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence. They're the kings of the South, and it's only going upwards in that direction there.

But to your point, Mike, about the quarterback situation there in Tennessee, yeah, this is not a good sign for Malik Willis, and I would agree with you. There was a disconnect there with that pick anyways. The way Vrabel seemed on the phone the other day when he was calling and talking to Will Levis-- you know, I think I even heard him say this is the perfect situation, right? So all of that matches up.

And, you know, he could sit behind a Ryan Tannehill, work on some of the mechanics he's got to do, and has a very similar skill set but, like you said, has, you know, greater ability in his arm and the ability to push the ball down the field.

But yes, I would think ultimately this is a bad sign for Malik Willis. He's out of the trust tree. We knew that last year, you know, and there obviously was some issues or whatever else that he needs to fix there. But yeah, Will Levis I think has the inside track to be the future in Tennessee.

MIKE FLORIO: I know what you're talking about with Vrabel. He was much happier--

CHRIS SIMMS: Right, right?

MIKE FLORIO: --on the phone--

CHRIS SIMMS: He had a--

MIKE FLORIO: --talking to--

CHRIS SIMMS: He had a smile and--

MIKE FLORIO: Because we didn't know who he was talking to.

CHRIS SIMMS: Yeah. Yeah, I know.

MIKE FLORIO: A far a far cry from last year when they traded AJ Brown--

CHRIS SIMMS: The crick of the neck.

MIKE FLORIO: --and he's walking around.

CHRIS SIMMS: Did we just trade our best player away?

MIKE FLORIO: He's, you know, serenity now. Serenity now. Insanity later.

CHRIS SIMMS: Right.

MIKE FLORIO: Serenity now. Yes, very happy with the outcome because they got the guy they would have taken at 11. They got both guys.

The only loser in all this, short term, is Will Levis, who literally lost more than $24 million by falling from 4 to 33. And someone pointed out to me last night the higher you are that you're picked, you actually unlock more money through the NFLPA's licensing stuff, another half million.

CHRIS SIMMS: Right.

MIKE FLORIO: Who cares when you've already lost 24? What's another $500,000?

And look, the only good news is he's on a four-year contract like Dak Prescott was, like Jalen Hurts was. It puts pressure on the Titans if he pans out to take care of him because you're going to be in the franchise-tag dance a year earlier because you don't have access to the fifth-year option. That's why the Titans were trying to get back into the bottom of round one to get that fifth-year option, to have longer control over Will Levis.

And really, by the time you get to the last few picks or round one, you're better off just going in round two. The financial difference--

CHRIS SIMMS: Yeah.

MIKE FLORIO: --isn't nearly as much as it would be. Look at Daniel Jones when they didn't pick up the fifth-year option and the difference there financially. That fifth-year option--

CHRIS SIMMS: Right. Right.

MIKE FLORIO: --even though it's not an insignificant amount of money, you're better off getting the team in the position where they have to make the franchise-tag decision or pay you or let you hit the open market.