The Tennessee Titans are working off one of the most surprising NFL seasons in recent memory. They entered the year as an afterthought, a team that might flirt with a wild card playoff berth but wouldn’t do much else. They ended up being something so much more.
A midseason quarterback switch to Ryan Tannehill, along with an MVP-caliber year from running back Derrick Henry, helped galvanize their playoff chances. And once there, they did some serious damage.
Not only did they upset the New England Patriots on the road in the wild card round, but they edged out the Baltimore Ravens and MVP Lamar Jackson in the divisional showdown. From there, they pushed the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs to the brink in the AFC Conference Championship, keeping them on the ropes for more than three-quarters of the game.
All this success begs the question: What’s next?
Head coach Mike Vrabel and company were a surprise last year—a feel-good story. But after getting so far in the playoffs, they’re up against actual stakes now. Expectations are elevated, even if unfairly. The issue now is whether these Titans are equipped to meet them.
To put it plainly, they’re absolutely not. Nor should they expect to be. They cannot let a Cinderella postseason push distract them from the fact that they were still just 9-7 during the regular season, with an offense that relied too much on Henry and dictating the terms of play. If they run it back next year, they’re unlikely to be nearly as good.
To that end, the Titans cannot be afraid to make changes—big changes. They still need a franchise quarterback. They’re clearly done waiting on Marcus Mariota to develop into a cornerstone, and they have no business riding Tannehill for another year simply because he was the guy under center during their most recent playoff push.
Anyone who watched them knows he wasn’t responsible for their success. Sure, he did a solid job protecting the ball. But the bulk of the work was done by Henry and the defense. The Titans aren’t taking that next step, the step their conference championship appearance implies they already made, without acquiring a stronger playmaker to put under center.
If the Titans are hoping to parlay these good vibes into an actual contention window, they’ll need to get busy in free agency. A number of quarterbacks will be available. From Andy Dalton to Tom Brady, they will have options. And yes, you better believe they need to explore them.