We all understand the competitive nature of the sport. There are plenty of people who can tell you about the testiness that erupted between aging quarterbacks and potential successors back in the day. Joe Montana wasn’t the kindest soul to Steve Young when the 49ers were figuring out who could best lead that team in the early 1990s. Green Bay also turned into a battleground when Brett Favre realized the Packers were prepared to give Aaron Rodgers his job in 2008. Hell, Rodgers just spent last offseason feuding with management over a litany of issues, one of which included being blindsided by the team’s decision to use a first-round pick in the 2020 draft on quarterback Jordan Love.
Replacing a legend is an entirely different beast when it comes to this position. Being in a situation like Tannehill faces with Willis should be more about paying it forward.
“The incumbent is always going to be upset,” Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian told me last winter. “There is no way to do it and not have that happen. But as a general manager, you have a responsibility to the franchise. If a guy is moving towards the end of his career, you always have to look at other options. But you also have to realize that in some cases, it’s going to be unpopular. “
It’s highly unlikely that the drafting of Willis created a rift in the Titans fan base. As much as Tannehill has succeeded with that franchise – Tennessee has won the last two AFC South championships – he admitted that the pain of January’s Divisional Round loss to Cincinnati haunted him for weeks. Tannehill threw three interceptions, including one on his first attempt and one on his last, the latter of which set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal. Given that Tennessee entered the postseason as the top seed in the AFC, Tannehill has never come up shorter for the franchise.
Maybe that heartbreak had something to do with Tannehill’s initial reaction to Willis being drafted. Maybe the veteran quarterback is simply hungrier than ever – that, as he said earlier this week, “We’re going to continue to push each other, to learn from each other in the QB room, encourage each other as this thing goes forward We’re all here for one goal. “
Whatever the motivation, Tannehill can still help Willis grow while also winning games in the process. After all, he rebuilt himself in Tennessee by recognizing a simple truth: How you finish in this league means a hell of a lot more than how you start.