From Moon to McNair, the QB transition from the Oilers to Titans

I was recently asked to take a look at the transition the Oilers made from Warren Moon to Chris Chandler. While we normally focus primarily on the Titans, I thought this would be an opportunity to expand upon that request by including Steve McNair, given that Chandler was with the Oilers for only two seasons and the team moved from Houston to Nashville, becoming the Titans in the decade’s final year.
 
Moon to McNair, Houston to Tennessee, Oilers to Titans. The transitions all tied in together, making a certain kind of sense.

 
While I first intended to limit the analysis to the decade of the 1990s, I succumbed to the temptation to begin the analysis in 1987 for two reasons. 1) Moon earned Pro Bowl honors his final six seasons with the Oilers, 1988-1993. 2) Not coincidentally, the Oilers made seven consecutive postseason appearances, from 1987-1993.
 
Those streaks both ended in 1994, the same year the Oilers traded the 37-year old Moon to Minnesota. The trade is somewhat understandable, given his age. QBs Cody Carlson (2-0 as a starter in 1993) and Bucky Richardson were on the roster and the Oilers would add Billy Joe Tolliver. 
 
The change didn’t quite work out. The team’s record went from 12-4 to 2-14. The offense went from fourth in the league to 28th (dead last) in points scored and from third to 26th in yards. Football Outsiders ranked the Oilers’ three QBs 41st (Richardson), 43rd (Tolliver) and 44th (Carlson) out of the 45 QBs who passed 100 times or more that season. Head coach Jack Pardee (1-9), who had a 42-22 (65.6%) record in the previous four seasons was the scapegoat and was replaced by DC Jeff Fisher (1-5).
 
The following table gives the rankings for Moon during his last seven years in Houston, followed by his replacements’ rankings. FO ranks QBs according to DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and also measures them by DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). Unfortunately, these are not available before 1993. The FO rankings are for QBs with a minimum of 100 passes. The table also provides annual rankings for win percent, yards per attempt and passer rating (minimum of eight starts for each category.)  
 
Year QB Record Win % Rank Y/A Rank Rate Rank
1987 Moon   7-5 58.3% 7 7.6 6 74.2 17
1988 Moon* 7-4 63.6% 9 7.9 3 88.4 5
1989 Moon* 9-7 56.3% 9 7.8 6 88.9 4
1990 Moon* 8-7 53.3% 14 8.0 3 96.8 2
1991 Moon* 11-5 68.8% 8 7.2 12 81.7 9
1992 Moon* 6-4 60.0% 13 7.3 9 89.3 4 DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
1993 Moon* 10-4 71.4% 4 6.7 12 75.2 15 80 26 -8.9% 26
1994 three  2-14 12.5% 28 5.8 26 62.5 25 -277 42/43 -34.5% 42/43
1995 Chandler 5-8 38.5% 24 6.9 17 87.8 10 316 17 2.1% 19
1996 Chandler 6-6 50.0% 17 6.6 17 79.7 13 110 25 -6.1% 27
1997 McNair 8-8 50.0% 14 6.4 20 70.4 26 156 25 -5.5% 27
1998 McNair 8-8 50.0% 15 6.6 16 80.1 17 757 8 12.3% 13
1999 McNair 9-2 81.8% 2 6.6 22 78.6 14 458 11 9.6% 10
* denotes Pro Bowl selection
  
After leaving Houston, Moon continued his Pro Bowl streak with three more appearances in the next four years, extending his streak to eight years in a row and nine Pro Bowls in ten seasons. FO ranked him seventh, ninth, 34th and ninth best in the league in those four seasons. (In his only sub-par year, Moon missed half the 1996 season with a broken collarbone.) 
 
The following table breaks down the 1994 season, comparing Moon to the three Oiler QBs (minimum of 8 starts does not apply in this table.)
 
Year QB Record Win % Rank Y/A Rank Rate Rank DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
1994 Tolliver 0-7  0.0% 66 5.4 65 62.6 58 -286 43/45 -28.1% 40/45
1994 Richardson 1-3 25.0% 39 6.6 42 70.3 48 -224 41/45 -29.0% 41/45
1994 Carlson 1-4 20.0% 42 5.5 62 52.2 66 -322 44/45 -46.3% 44/45
1994 Average of ^ 3 0.7-4.7 12.5% 49 5.8 56 62.5 57 -277 42/43 -34.5% 42/43
1994 Moon* 9-6 60.0% 3 7.1 11 79.9 13 695 7 6.3% 14
 
Next are comparisons of Moon to the Oilers’ starters from 1995 through 1998, which was Moon’s final season as a regular starter.
 
Year QB Record Win % Rank Y/A Rank Rate Rank DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
1995 Moon* 8-8 50.0% 18 7.0 14 91.5 7 1068 9 14.6% 15
1995 Chandler 5-8 38.5% 24 6.9 17 87.8 10 316 17 2.1% 19
 
Year QB Record Win % Rank Y/A Rank Rate Rank DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
1996 Moon 4-4 50.0% 17 6.5 22 68.7 27 -59 34 -14.6% 34
1996 Chandler 6-6 50.0% 17 6.6 17 79.7 13 110 25 -6.1 27
 
Year QB Record Win % Rank Y/A Rank Rate Rank DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
1997 Moon* 7-7 50.0% 14 7.0 9 83.7 10 719 9 9.3% 12
1997 McNair 8-8 50.0% 14 6.4 20 70.4 26 156 25 -5.5% 27
 
Year QB Record Win % Rank Y/A Rank Rate Rank DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
1998 Moon 4-6 40.0% 20 6.3 23 76.6 19 63 27 -7.4% 26
1998 McNair 8-8 50.0% 15 6.6 16 80.1 17 757 8 12.3% 13
 
In hindsight, it’s easy to say the Oilers should have kept Moon for four more years, through the 1997 season, based on his individual value. As noted earlier, FO ranked him as # 7, 9, 34 and 9 for those years. (His record as a starter was no better than .500 though, after the 1994 season.)
 
If the Oilers had kept him just one year longer, however, they would undoubtedly have finished better than 2-14 in 1994 and would not have had the opportunity to select McNair with the third overall pick in the 1995 draft.
 
The 1996 and 1997 drafts did not produce any great QBs — Jake Plummer, #42 overall in 1997 was the best of the lot — so if the franchise was looking for its QB of the future, it couldn’t have done any better than it did by drafting McNair in 1995. FO ranked McNair as the eighth-best QB in just his second season (1997) as the starter and we’re well aware of what happened in the years since then.
 
If you’re curious, the Oilers traded Moon to the Vikings for a 1994 fourth-round pick (#119, CB Michael Davis, a wasted pick) and a 1995 third-round pick (#89, RB Rodney Thomas, who started 10 games that year and was then Eddie George’s backup the next five years.) I’d say Minnesota got the best of that trade. 
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