Ryan Tannehill Was Demoted to Backup Quarterback Permanently After His Injury

Alex West - Author

Dec. 18 2023, Published 9:11 a.m. ET

 Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans warms-up prior to a game against the Houston Texans
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Ryan Tannehill suffered an ankle injury in week six of the 2023 NFL season.
  • Tennessee Titans coaches appointed Will Levis to step up.
  • The team made the change permanent.
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Starting his professional NFL career in 2012 with the Miami Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill now plays for the Tennessee Titans. His impressive high school and collegiate careers (playing for Texas A&M) made him a no-brainer to be drafted into the league.

When the 2023 season rolled around, it seemed only natural that Ryan would assume his role as starting quarterback for the Titans and he did so with little resistance. However, an unfortunate injury would cause that to all change.

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 Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans warms up prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins
Source: Getty Images

What happened to Ryan Tannehill?

While Ryan safely secured his role as starting quarterback for the Titans at the beginning of the 2023 season, there was a bit of talent on the outskirts of the team that he needed to keep an eye on. Malik Willis and rookie Will Levis are both incredibly talented players. They were ready to swoop in at any sign of Ryan slipping up.

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By week six of the season, Ryan wasn't able to compete due to an ankle injury. He took some time off the field to rest and, hopefully, recover. In the interim, Will stepped up as the quarterback on the team.

“We are going to go with Will,” head coach Mike Vrabel told the NFL. “We think it’s the best opportunity for our football team right now. We’ll see where [Ryan] is at. We’ll progress through here this week. We think, [he’ll] be a backup for us and prepare as a starter. That’s where we are at right now. I shared that with the team and had a conversation with everyone involved. That’s how that will look like.”

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Unfortunately for Ryan, Will seemed to outperform him when given the opportunity to shine with a 28-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons. His work impressed the coaches so much that they tapped him to permanently replace Ryan. The pair swapped roles with Ryan now being the backup, according to ESPN.

Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans warms up before facing the Carolina Panthers
Source: Getty Images
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Ryan admitted he didn't know that his injury would lead to being ousted completely. He operated under the assumption he would be able to return to his position. Eventually, he began attempting to prepare himself for the possibility of replacement, so he wasn't completely caught off guard.

“It hits hard,” Ryan said during a press conference. “I’ve never been in this situation before, so it hits hard, and it’s never a situation anyone wants to be in. But it’s the situation I’m in, so I’ve got to walk through it. I want to handle the situation with class. It’s not a fun situation to be in, but I want to be a pro and handle it with class and still be a guy that people can look to.”

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As of right now, it's hard to say if Ryan will stick with the Titans moving forward. Will told the Bleacher Report that exchanges between himself and Ryan were amicable. Ryan took the news like a champ and told Will the "reps were his," which was essentially a passing of the baton.

Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans stands in the tunnel
Source: Getty Images
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With this in mind, Ryan's prospects of getting resigned are grim. He'll likely be out as a free agent afterwards, but no one knows what will happen for sure.

The public's reception to the news has been a bit shaky. Deadspin's Carron Phillips thought the decision was an example of racism in football, an example that started long before the injury. The writer pointed out that Ryan previously supported Will, who is white, over Malik, who is Black.

They argued that move influenced the coaches to give that opportunity to Will over Malik. "Ryan Tannehill knew what he was doing when he threw his support behind Will Levis and not Malik Willis," Carron wrote.

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