It’s unclear how the Tennessee Titans will approach the off-season, there’s still a lot of football left this season, but one thing is almost certain — quarterback Marcus Mariota won’t be back in Nashville next year.
But while Mariota might not be playing for the Titans in 2020, he still has a lot of years in the NFL ahead of him.
The former second overall pick is only three years removed from a season where he passed for over 3,400 yards, rushed for 349 yards and threw 26 touchdowns (with only nine interceptions).
Mariota, who turned 26 in October, still has plenty of potential. It’s just unclear if that potential will ever be fully unlocked.
Someone will sign Mariota next season, though it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be signed as a starter. Rebuilding teams will probably want to either go with a young “quarterback of the future” or a cheaper veteran option like Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Mariota will likely have to go the Nick Foles route — prove his worth as a backup and parlay that into a starting gig down the road.
Here are five landing spots that I think would make sense for Mariota.
This seems like the most obvious fit for Mariota.
Mark Helfrich, Mariota’s former head coach at Oregon, is the Bears’ offensive coordinator. It would certainly make a lot of sense for Mariota and Helfrich to reunite.
There’s also a possible path to playing time in Chicago. Mitch Trubisky, the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. If Trubisky is eventually sent to the bench, perhaps Mariota and Helfrich could relive their glory days.
The Bears have former Vol Tyler Bray on the roster, but they don’t seem inclined to give him much of a shot.
Kansas City Chiefs
I think we’re seeing more and more lately how important it is to have a quality backup quarterback. No one is unseating Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, but in the event of an injury, the Chiefs need a capable backup (Matt Moore is a free agent after this season).
Mariota is obviously more than capable. He’d also probably be a good fit in Andy Reid’s offense.
There’s also a loose connection between Mariota and Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka.
Kafka spent a week on the Titans’ roster in late 2015. It’s not much of a connection, but it’s a connection nonetheless.
New Orleans Saints
I tend to think Drew Brees will be back in New Orleans next year. But I don’t think Teddy Bridgewater will return as Brees’ backup.
If the Saints are going to bring Brees back, then they’ll need some insurance. Mariota would be the best insurance policy they could buy.
Spending a year or two in the Big Easy, learning from one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, could be extremely beneficial for Mariota.
There’s also a reasonable chance Mariota could see some significant action with the Saints. Brees missed five games this season due to a thumb injury.
The quarterback situation in Pittsburgh is a mess. They probably should’ve never traded Josh Dobbs.
Mason Rudolph isn’t very good. And Ben Roethlisberger’s career is nearing its end.
The Steelers have a potential out on Roethlisberger’s contract after the 2020 season, which means Big Ben will be in Pittsburgh for at least one more season.
But at this point, I’m not sure the Steelers can count on getting much from Roethlisberger.
Signing Mariota as a backup would be wise. Mariota could fill in the gaps for the Steelers either when Roethlisberger inevitably gets injured again, or when he retires or gets cut.
Mariota staying in the AFC South just feels like something that’s going to happen.
So why not Houston?
AJ McCarron, Deshaun Watson’s backup, is a free agent after this season. Why not grab Mariota if you’re the Texans? Mariota has plenty of intel on the Titans. And he’d give Houston plenty of insurance in the event that Watson suffers an injury.
Plus there’s the fact that Houston head coach Bill O’Brien and former Oregon coach Chip Kelly are good friends (former Kelly assistant John Perry, from their New Hampshire days, is also on Houston’s staff as O’Brien’s wide receivers coach). I’m sure Kelly would put in a good word for Mariota.
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