When Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel benched Marcus Mariota in the third quarter of the team’s week six loss to the Denver Broncos, it unofficially signaled the end of the Mariota era in Nashville.
There’s simply no way the Titans can bring Mariota back next season after benching him in 2019. Once it gets to this point, it’s done.
Mariota is still young (he turns 26 on October 30), so he still has time to develop into a productive starter in the NFL (a la Alex Smith or Nick Foles). But it won’t be as a Titan. It’s time for a fresh start for him (and maybe a couple of seasons as a backup).
So where the Titans go from here at the quarterback position?
Well, they obviously need to draft a quarterback in the first round this upcoming season (good thing they didn’t make an ill-advised deal for Antonio Brown). It’s still way too early to predict where the Titans will select in the 2020 NFL Draft, but it certainly feels like they will have a top 10-15 pick. They should be able to land a quality quarterback in that range (there will be plenty of time to dive into who the Titans should select during the off-season).
The problem for the Titans is that general manager Jon Robinson has assembled a win now defense, complete with a mix of tremendous young talent and experienced veterans. Tennessee certainly doesn’t want to waste this window of opportunity by waiting on a rookie quarterback to develop (the Titans have some expiring contracts, such as Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims and Derrick Henry, but they also have an estimated $63 million in cap space according to Spotrac).
This of course means that Tennessee needs a “bridge” quarterback in 2020.
There are several big name veterans who will be free agents (as of now) in 2020. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are the two names that jump out when you look at a list of 2020 free agents. But both of those players have built enough equity in their current situations to go out on their own terms. I don’t see either of them being an option for the Titans.
There are really only two realistic options that make sense for the Titans — Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater has played well for the New Orleans Saints this season while Brees has been recovering from a thumb injury, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he looks for a longterm deal (as Foles did last season). The former Louisville quarterback turns 27 in November, which makes it unlikely that he will want to serve as a “mentor” for a single season in Tennessee.
That pretty much leaves Tannehill as the Titans’ best option.
Tannehill obviously isn’t going to set the world on fire, it’s why the Miami Dolphins dumped him this past off-season. But he could play well enough to at least give the Titans a chance to make the playoffs. Tannehill also has a year of experience in the Titans’ system and locker room.
At 32 years old (next July), Tannehill probably isn’t going to receive any longterm offers. And he probably isn’t going to receive many starting opportunities (if any). It would make a lot of sense at this point for him to take the Ryan Fitzpatrick approach to his career and just go where his services are temporarily needed.
None of this is an ideal scenario for the Titans. The hope for the team was that Mariota would make a major leap forward in 2019 and prove himself as the team’s franchise quarterback. That clearly isn’t happening.
The Titans now have to make the best of the situation, while not wasting the window of opportunity Robinson created.
This plan might not excite fans, but it’s probably the smartest route for the Titans to take in 2020.
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