Tom Brady or Ryan Tannehill? Using 2019 to judge Titans' best QB target

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee could be an attractive landing spot for quarterback Tom Brady if he decides to move on as a free agent after 20 seasons with the New England Patriots. When considering his résumé -- six Super Bowl titles, four Super Bowl MVPs and three NFL MVPs -- signing Brady seems like a slam dunk for the Titans.

However, the Titans would not be adding the Brady of 2017 (his most recent MVP season). They would be adding the quarterback who turns 43 in August and is coming off one of his worst seasons. A closer look at his 2019 numbers shows the choice between Brady and Ryan Tannehill isn't as clear-cut as many think.

Over the course of his career, Brady has proven he is more than capable of processing what defenses are doing and making decisions with the football that lead to touchdowns. The timing and rhythmic passing game Brady utilized over the years is well-documented. Tannehill began to exhibit the same decision-making and execution in his first season with the Titans.

Red-zone efficiency (how often teams score when within the opponent's 20-yard line) is one of the areas that improved for the Titans' offense after Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota in Week 7 last season. The Titans went from 58% (19th in the NFL) to a league-best 72% after four starts from Tannehill. Tennessee remained on top of the NFL for the duration of the season, finishing with a 75.5% red-zone scoring percentage.

NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry certainly contributed to that success, but Tannehill pulled his share of the weight. Tannehill's 70% completion percentage and 4.9 yards per attempt in the red zone were the best in the NFL. Conversely, Brady finished with a 55% completion percentage (17th) in the red zone and averaged 3.2 yards per attempt (24th) in the red zone.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, among players with at least 300 attempts each season, Brady is the only quarterback to see his yards per attempt decrease in each of the past three seasons. The most recent two quarterbacks to see this happen (Eli Manning and Joe Flacco) lost their jobs within two seasons of that slump. Tannehill's yards per attempt jumped from 7.2 in 274 attempts in the 2018 season to an NFL-best 9.7-yard average in 286 attempts last season.

Tannehill also did better than Brady on third down last season. His 65% third-down completion rate placed him sixth among quarterbacks, compared to Brady's 22nd-best 56%. Tannehill averaged more than two more yards per attempt than Brady on third downs.

In many ways statistically, Tannehill had a better season than Brady. Defenses stacking eight in the box to slow Henry created one-on-one matchups for Tannehill and his receivers. Rookie A.J. Brown proved to be one of the best at gaining yards after the catch. Tannehill took advantage by posting a 117.2 quarterback rating while completing 70.3% of his passes for an average 9.6 yards.

Brady's "down season" last year was still pretty good, despite his lack of weapons. Barring a loss to the Miami Dolphins in the season finale, Brady and the Patriots would have been the No. 2 seed in the AFC and would've had a first-round bye. Instead, they hosted the Titans in the wild-card round, in which one of Tannehill's eight completions was a touchdown, and Brady's fate was sealed by an interception return for a touchdown by Logan Ryan.

The mystique of adding arguably the best quarterback ever is enticing, and it would make the Titans a much more marketable team. Imagining what the results would be for Brady with a supporting cast similar to what Tannehill had last season is intriguing. But keep in mind that while Brady has made his living from the pocket, Tannehill is a more mobile quarterback when it comes to escaping would-be sacks and extending plays. Tannehill is also able to pick up first downs by running with the ball when all passing options are covered; last season, he rushed for 14 first downs, which ranked sixth in the league after he took over the starting job.

But considering Tannehill's uneven track record and Brady's age, it might be that neither option is the long-term answer. The Titans would be wise to add a quarterback in this year’s draft.