Last week, a sports debate broke out that wasn’t as much about sports as it was about human beings begin human beings.

The player at the center of it drew immediate criticism from some, and was immediately defended by others.

That player is Ryan Tannehill, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans drafted Liberty University quarterback Malik Willis in the third round of the NFL Draft. He was very highly regarded going into the draft, but the closer we got to the Jags being officially on the clock for the first overall selection, the more it felt like none of the teams who needed a quarterback were that excited about the crop available this spring.

That turned out to be true.

The Titans chose Willis, who has a lot of physical skill but is clearly a long-term project for an organization that has the pieces to win, and win big, with their current roster. They don’t need Willis to get good fast, but they are really hoping he gets good three or four years from now.

So at a post-draft media availability, a member of the Nashville media asked the obvious question of Tannehill and he gave a surprisingly honest answer.

The question: “What’s your reaction to the Titans selecting Malik Willis? What’s been your conversations with him and with the (front office) since then?”

The answer: “That’s part of being in a quarterback room, in the same room — we’re competing against each other, we’re watching the same tape, we’re doing the same drills,” Tannehill explained, “I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him. But if he learns from me along the way, then that’s a great thing.”

And that set off a firestorm.

Former pro quarterback Kurt Warner was quick to be critical. Warner remembers being with the Giants when Eli Manning joined that team. Warner has always said he felt he was better than Eli, and he was right. He also knew that it wouldn’t be a long time before that wasn’t true anymore.

And he openly worked with the younger Manning to teach him things he had learned in his time in the league and then let Eli figure out how to apply those things in his own way to his own game.

It seemed to work out pretty well.

Tannehill says he’s not interested in being part of that.

Should he be?

Athletes have spoken out since the original press conference and the split in opinion seems to be about 50-50.

Those in support of him say “it’s not his job to train his replacement.”

Those who are chastising him are saying “Yes, it is his job to teach the next generation.”

Normally, I can be found on pretty firm ground on one side or the other on most issues. But on this particular subject, I can see it from both sides and I don’t have a strong opinion either way.

Let me lay it out for you.

Tannehill’s approach is “what he learns from me he will learn by paying attention in the classroom, film room and by what I do.”

He doesn’t feel like it’s his job to teach the new guy whose goal is to replace him on the field.

We can all understand that, can’t we? He wants to hold on to what he’s got—to what he’s earned— and he doesn’t feel like it serves his own best interest to help the new guy.

Makes sense to me.  

The argument to that is, of course, that when you are on a team you have a responsibility to help the other members on your team get better so the overall team gets better. That make sense too, right?

Here is what I do know about this: right now, this is not a big deal. Later, it will be huge deal.

What I mean by that is that every GM made a mental note that they have filed away in the warehouse of their mind that says “Tannehill is not a player we want on our roster if he’s not going to be the starter.”

By what he said last week, he’s not going to be a guy that teams would bring in as a veteran backup behind a younger player. If he’s not interested in helping mentor younger players as the starter, he certainly isn’t going to want to help a player he’s trying to beat out for playing time.

A player who takes Warner’s approach is more likely to get a pay check in the league longer by showing a willingness and an ability to help the next generation.

If Tannehill doesn’t want to do that, he really doesn’t have to.

But if he doesn’t, he has to understand the consequences of that long-term. He has to realize that Tennessee is likely his last stop.

That’s the choice he made.