Now that the Carolina Panthers have moved into the No. 1 slot in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals seemingly control the top of the draft board. Arizona doesn’t need a quarterback, putting them in a prime position to deal away the No. 3 selection. And the Tennessee Titans are reportedly interested in landing that pick from the Cardinals.
Could the Titans Move to No. 3 in the NFL Draft?
Speaking on his Move the Sticks podcast last week, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah suggested the Titans could be looking to trade up in the draft.
“Can I give you the team that I have been told to keep an eye on that’s exploring this and looking into this?” said Jeremiah. “Again, this is just people around the league who said do not sleep on numero 11: the Tennessee Titans.”
Ryan Tannehill has been the Titans’ quarterback for the past four seasons, but he’s entering his age-35 campaign and coming off his worst campaign — by QBR — in Tennessee. Although Tannehill was viewed as a trade or release candidate, given his $36.6 cap charge for the upcoming season, first-year Titans general manager Ran Carthon said earlier this offseason that Tennessee is “excited to move forward” with its veteran passer.
Tannehill missed time with injuries in 2022, allowing the Titans to see what rookie third-round pick Malik Willis had to offer. However, Tennessee barely trusted Willis to run its offense, as he attempted just 57 passes in three starts while absorbing 10 sacks.
Willis looked so unprepared that the Titans turned to journeyman Joshua Dobbs for their final two regular-season games, including the de facto AFC South title game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 18. Dobbs has since signed a free agent deal with the Cleveland Browns to back up Deshaun Watson.
Titans Aren’t Ready To Drop a Rookie QB Into Their Offense
With only Tannehill and Willis on their roster, the Titans need to find a franchise quarterback at some point — but that point may not be the 2023 draft.
Tennessee’s roster isn’t currently built to support a rookie quarterback. The Titans have tried to add receiving weapons in recent years, but trades for aging veterans like Julio Jones and Robert Woods haven’t worked out, and neither player is still in Tennessee.
Treylon Burks, the Titans’ first-round pick in 2022, flashed during his rookie season but missed six games with injuries. Burks, fellow second-year pass catcher Kyle Philips, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine currently comprise Tennessee’s receiving corps. The Titans didn’t offer Westbrook-Ikhine a restricted free agent tender before re-signing him at half the price, an indication of how he’s valued around the NFL.
Derrick Henry is still going strong, but for how long? Henry is now 29 years old and has led the league in carries in three of the past four seasons. He’s clearly not built like other human beings, but the history of running backs with so much wear and tear on their bodies isn’t promising.
Henry and a new Titans quarterback would be forced to play behind a Tennessee offensive line that, while improved, still profiles as one of the least talented units in the NFL. Former undrafted free agent Aaron Brewer, a first-time starter in 2022, and Nicholas Petit-Frere, the club’s third-round pick a year ago, are Tennessee’s only returning offensive linemen.
The Titans parted ways with veterans Taylor Lewan and Ben Jones, signing Andre Dillard and Daniel Brunskill to help replace the defections up front. Dillard might be a useful player and a worthwhile flyer at left tackle, but the ex-first-rounder was never able to find a role with the Philadelphia Eagles.
This is hardly a roster prepared to support a rookie quarterback, especially for a potential project like Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. The Panthers have rebuilt their offensive line and revamped their pass-catching unit in an effort to prepare for a first-year passer — the Titans haven’t done anything similar.
Tennessee would likely have to give up at least three first-round picks — the same price the San Francisco 49ers paid to move from No. 12 to No. 3 in the 2021 draft — to swap selections with the Cardinals. Given where the Titans’ roster stands, they’d be putting the cart before the horse.
Cardinals Should Be Open To Trading Down
The Cardinals and first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort are in an enviable position at No. 3 overall. With quarterbacks almost assuredly set to come off the board at pick Nos. 1 and 2, and Arizona comfortable with Kyler Murray under center, the Cards should be able to land a bevy of picks in exchange for the third pick.
“We’re in a great position, and I would say the same for every pick of that round,” Ossenfort said in January. “There’s going to be action. The phone rings in the draft. The phone will ring. We’ll be ready to take a good player, and we’ll be ready to listen to offers, too, so we’re in a great position with that pick.”
Arizona fielded one of the oldest rosters in the league last season, and the 2023 draft will allow them to get younger. While they could theoretically sit at No. 3 and draft a stud defender like Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., the Cardinals are not an edge rusher away from contention.
Trading down and acquiring more picks to be used on pass catchers, offensive linemen, and cornerbacks makes more sense for the Cardinals than pinning their hopes on one player at the top of the board. Ossenfort spent years as a scout in New England, where Bill Belichick regularly ran laps around the rest of the NFL in terms of draft pick trades, so Arizona’s new decision-maker should be amenable to moving back.
Ossenfort only needs one team to get desperate. But if a club like the Las Vegas Raiders also jumps into the fray to compete with the Titans for the No. 3 pick, the Cardinals could benefit from a bidding war.
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