Once a first-round pick and apparent face of the franchise, Tannehill was headed out of Miami via trade after seven seasons that included a playoff appearance but also plenty of disappointment under two different head coaches. Miami sent him packing to Tennessee in a trade that also required the Dolphins to give up a sixth-round pick to the Titans in exchange for a fourth-round selection.
Fast forward to Sunday, where Tannehill found himself playing for and ultimately falling short of a trip to the Super Bowl.
If it sounds like an unlikely tale, it's true. Tannehill went from castoff quarterback to signal-caller of one of the AFC's finalists. He spent the moments immediately after Sunday's 35-24 loss attempting to see through a cloud of painful defeat, unable to accurately view his unlikely accomplishment in its totality.
"It's tough," Tannehill said. "Honestly, I'm kind of in shock a little bit. You don't prepare yourself for this outcome. Everything in your preparation, in your mind is we're gonna win this game. You don't really even think of the other side.
"When it hits, it hits hard. I love this team, I love these guys. I love the way we competed this year. I love playing with them, week in and week out. It hurts. It hurts. You feel the pain across the locker room. Think how far we've come and then to really come up short from what our end goal was, it hurts. It's sudden. It hurts. It's gonna take a while to get over."
Tannehill doesn't know this pain as a professional. Prior to 2019, his only previous playoff appearance came in 2016, a wild-card berth that ended in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He didn't even get to suit up in that contest, forced out of action by an ACL tear suffered nearly a month earlier.
He landed in Tennessee three years later as a presumed backup to Marcus Mariota, but that status didn't last too long. Titans coach Mike Vrabel made the switch to Tannehill in Week 7, sparking Tennessee's turnaround from a 2-4 team to a wild-card contender and stunning foil to the favored New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.
Tannehill compiled a career year in less than a full season, leading the NFL in passer rating and posting a career-high in yards per completion en route to earning Comeback and Most Improved Player honors from the Pro Football Writers of America. His play solidified a position that was largely uncertain with Mariota at the controls, and the Titans followed suit, rattling off seven wins in their final 10 games to reach the playoffs. Tannehill cashed in on multiple incentives along the way, earning nearly $3.5 million in additional money as a result of his play.
As he heads to unrestricted free agency in March, Tannehill is now likely just weeks away from a larger payday. When and where that comes remains to be determined.
Tennessee has $60.1 million in projected cap space in 2020, per Over The Cap, but has a number of key players on the brink of free agency. Along with Tannehill, the Titans will also have to make decisions on Ryan, Mariota, right tackle Jack Conklin, linebacker Wesley Woodyard and swing tackle Dennis Kelly. There's also the impending free agency of NFL rushing king Derrick Henry.
"You know, I'll take a step back and look at things here in the offseason," Tannehill said after the loss. "Obviously, I love this team and I love what this team is able to accomplish. Lot of love for the guys on this team and love playing with them. I will take a step back and look at that, but right now just really can't think about anything but how close we were in this loss."
It's more difficult to repeat success in the NFL than any other league, an intended product of the league's salary cap. We'll know by mid-March how different these Titans might look in 2020, starting with their situation under center.