Tuesday, May 24, 2022

NFL insider notebook: Ryan Tannehill taking undue flak over Malik Willis comments, plus Panthers shakeup, more

Ryan Tannehill wants to play quarterback of the Tennessee Titans and not be the private coach to rookie Malik Willis? The nerve!

I found a lot of the reaction to Tannehill’s Tuesday comments to be over the top. Not that reasonable people can’t disagree on the fundamental issue here, but rather the drama that was created when Tannehill simply uttered the truth.

“That’s part of being in a quarterback room, in the same room. We’re competing against each other, we’re watching the same tape, we’re doing the same drills,” Tannehill said. “I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him. But if he learns from me along the way, then that’s a great thing.”

What’s the problem?

Tannehill is a capable, 33-year-old starter in the league who’s quarterbacked this Titans franchise to three consecutive postseasons. He’s had two early, disappointing exits the last two seasons, but that’s beside the point. He’s not the physically diminished, near-40-year-old who signed a one-year deal in the offseason as the veteran bridge to the future of the franchise.

He signed a four-year, $118 million deal in 2020. He’s the guy for the Titans this season, and if he wants to avoid another collapse in the playoffs like that three-interception game against the Bengals in January, he needs to focus on being the guy. If not, the Titans can easily move on before 2023 free agency and before the final year of non-guaranteed money kicks in.

Could he have handled the question better? Perhaps. Look no further than how Cam Newton handled a similar question three years ago.

But I also appreciate Tannehill’s honesty. He didn’t say anything that different from Brett Favre or Joe Flacco or others before him.

I first saw the reaction to Tannehill’s comments, and then I went back and watched the press conference. It began with questions about the optics of Tannehill spending time in Florida on a boat while the team reported to voluntary OTAs. It continued with Tannehill being open and honest about being in a “dark space” after the Bengals playoff loss and how therapy helped him through it. It then went to how he felt about the team trading his top receiver away. And then we arrive to the Titans drafting Willis without giving Tannehill a heads up (which they didn’t have to do anyway.)

So, the way I see it, Tannehill was in an honest mood and didn’t feel the need to church up his comments for anyone. As a journalist hoping to get the truth out of interview subjects, I’ll never complain about that.

Willis, whom the Titans took with the 86th overall pick last week, has an incredible support system around him. He had nearly 100 friends and family at his Day 2 draft party at a Las Vegas bowling alley. He’s worked with top-of-the-line private QBs coach Quincy Avery for some time now. He’s known the aforementioned Newton since he played on his 7-on-7 team in high school. He’ll get world-class coaching from OC Todd Downing, QBs coach Pat O’Hara and passing game coordinator Tim Kelly.

Willis has the highest ceiling of all the quarterbacks in this year’s class. By virtue of his draft weekend fall, it’s obvious the league views him as a developmental quarterback that needs time to grow into a full-time starter. And he’ll get those opportunities plenty this upcoming season.

I have no issue with what Tannehill said, or at least his intention. He wants to win games and get over the hump. There was nothing in what he said that indicates he’s going to shun Willis or not answer any of his questions. At this point in his career, mentorship isn’t the thing for Tannehill. And that’s OK.

Panthers shakeup

Under David Tepper’s stewardship so far, the Carolina Panthers have been a franchise in desperate need of stability. Further instability showed Wednesday morning when the team announced newly appointed CEO of Tepper Sports & Entertainment Nick Kelly would be stepping down.

Kelly had just been appointed to the new position in February, one that oversaw both the Panthers and Charlotte FC of MLS. He previously had been the president of the soccer team. Tepper will now be in search of his second CEO just less than four months after creating the position.

This comes after Tom Glick, who had been with the team since 2018 and president of business operations, “stepp[ed] aside to pursue other opportunities.” That move was bundled with Kelly’s promotion, Kristi Coleman being named president of the Panthers, Joe LaBue being named president of Charlotte FC and Tepper naming his wife, Nicole, as chief administrative officer of TSE.

It also comes a month after the $800 million practice facility that was being built across the South Carolina border in Rock Hill has been paused indefinitely. And Tepper has offered very little in the way of explanation.

“We released a statement already, and we will respect the City of Rock Hill’s request not to have a back-and-forth about it,” Tepper said last week.

All of this as Tepper enters his fifth season as owner of the Panthers. In the previous four seasons, his Panthers have gone 22-43. It’s the first time in the franchise’s history that it’s had four consecutive losing seasons.

Not for nothing, the Charlotte Observer took a look in February at the lack of ethnic diversity hiring done by Tepper at senior management roles.

Waiting game

If you’re waiting on your team to sign a big-name free agent now that the draft is over, you may be waiting a while.

Teams may want to sign players like Odell Beckham Jr. or Jadeveon Clowney now that they won’t count against the compensatory pick formula for 2023, but those players have little motivation to sign with a team right now.

In OBJ’s case, he’s still recovering from ACL surgery and enjoying being a dad. In Clowney’s case, he probably won’t sign until at least OTAs are finished and maybe even after mandatory minicamp in mid-June. If Rob Gronkowski decides to play another year with the Bucs, count on that taking place after minicamp, too.

Eagles brain drain?

I respect what Howie Roseman has (re)built in Philadelphia. I loved the Eagles draft. I’m even happy to pencil Philly into the NFC playoffs again right now.

But the Eagles front office is experiencing a brain drain that could ultimately hurt the team sooner or later. Just this offseason alone, the Eagles have lost director of player personnel Brandon Brown to the Giants as assistant GM, co-director of player personnel Ian Cunningham to the Bears as assistant GM and just saw VP of football ops Catherine Raîche take a new job in Cleveland. Furthermore, there seems to be several firings taking place this week in Philly.

In previous years Roseman’s had national scout Patrick Stewart take a front office role with the Panthers and right hands Joe Douglas and Andrew Berry take GM jobs.

I’d expect Roseman to be active in the coming weeks to replenish the cupboard, if you will.

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