The winds of change have come to Nashville. On Tuesday, Titans coach Mike Vrabel announced that rookie Will Levis will be his starting quarterback moving forward. The second-rounder performed well over the past two games while playing in relief of Ryan Tannehill, who was dealing with an ankle sprain.
Vrabel’s decision wasn’t taken lightly. A decision of this magnitude can change the course of careers. Just ask Bill Belichick, who in 2001 made the then-controversial decision to name Tom Brady his starting quarterback over Drew Bledsoe, who had recently signed a mega contract with the franchise. It turned out to be a pretty good move, wouldn’t you say?
Tennessee’s brass surely hopes that something similar will happen now. But Vrabel, who was part of the Patriots‘ early 2000s dynasty, is a smart person who is probably keeping realistic expectations, especially when it comes to the rest of this season.
While Levis prepares to make this third career start, let’s take a look at the biggest impacts from Vrabel’s decision.
Why Levis was named QB1/what he will add to Titans offense
Levis obviously played well enough over the past two games to convince Vrabel to roll with him moving forward. The former Kentucky Wildcat quickly made history by becoming the first quarterback since the merger to throw for 225 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 65% completion percentage in his first start. Levis’ big day propelled the Titans to a 28-23 win over the Falcons.
He wasn’t as prolific four days later in Pittsburgh, but Levis still threw for more yards (262 to 238 in his debut) while nearly leading the Titans to a last-minute win. His last throw, however, was picked off by Steelers linebacker Kwon Alexander in the end zone to preserve Pittsburgh’s 20-16 win.
In defeat, Levis mostly played well while showcasing his arm strength and impressive athleticism. It’s easy to watch Levis and be reminded of Brett Favre, especially in his younger days. A fellow gunslinger, Levis is a fighter who can make plays others simply can’t or won’t dare to try.
Levis enjoyed a prolific career at Kentucky, but his penchant for turnovers was probably a reason why he wasn’t drafted until the second round. Levis, though, has only one turnover so far this season. He will undoubtedly turn the ball over some, and that will be tolerated by Vrabel as long as he learns from his mistakes while making more good plays than bad ones.
One player who may really benefit from Levis’ promotion is Kyle Phillips, a second-year wideout who caught seven of eight targets during Levis’ first two starts. Phillips caught eight passes during his entire rookie season and had just one catch this season prior to Levis’ first start.
Levis being the starter also opens up the possibility for more big plays, which is certainly good for DeAndre Hopkins, fellow wideout Treylon Burks and running back Derrick Henry, who would benefit by having a passing game that defenses are forced to respect.
What this means for 2023 Titans
Tennessee isn’t throwing away the rest of the season, but it’s clear that Vrabel wants to know for sure what he has in Levis. Vrabel is clearly hoping for the best, but he’s obviously willing to risk this season going sideways if things don’t go as planned.
Let’s be honest for a second. At 3-5, there’s a very good chance that the Titans will not be going to the playoffs. The AFC is absolutely stacked (every AFC North team has at least five wins) and the Jaguars have a three-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South. Really, Vrabel didn’t have anything to lose by making this switch.
Best case, the Titans realize that they have found their next franchise quarterback. The next best case is Levis doesn’t pan out and they have to go back to the drawing board. The worst-case scenario would be Levis being so-so and not giving the Titans a definitive answer.
Either way, the Titans will learn something during the final nine games of the season, which they wouldn’t have if they had kept Tannehill in the starting lineup.
What this means for Tannehill
This one’s pretty simple … right? Tannehill is in the final year of his contract and can test the market this offseason with zero restrictions.
It’s almost a guarantee that Tannehill will test the open market. The question is whether or not Tannehill will have many teams interested in his services as a starting quarterback.
Tannehill will be 36 before the start of the 2024 season. He hasn’t played a full season since 2021 and has only played in every regular-season game on two occasions since the start of the 2016 season. When he did play this season, Tannehill wasn’t very good, with three times as many picks than touchdown passes.
The situation could end up being very similar to the one Mitch Trubisky faced this past offseason. Instead of asking for either a trade or an outright release, Trubisky signed an extension to remain in Pittsburgh as Kenny Pickett’s backup. It’s possible that Tannehill may do the same in Tennessee.
That would require the Titans wanting him back, however. While they probably would (Tannehill would be one of the most experienced and accomplished backups in the league), the question is whether or not they would want Malik Willis to be their No. 2 moving forward. Willis is only in his second year and could still blossom into a good pro quarterback.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out in the coming months, as the Titans have decided to usher in a new era at quarterback.