The Tennessee Titans’ decision to start Ryan Tannehill against the Los Angeles Chargers this weekend likely means that Marcus Mariota’s time in Nashville is coming to an end.
For now, Mariota is still a Titan. And there’s over half a season of football that’s yet to be played. No one knows what will transpire over the final 11 weeks of the 2019 season.
If Tannehill falters as the Titans’ starting quarterback, it would take away some of the blame for Mariota’s poor play this season. Bad offensive line play and an offensive coordinator that maybe wasn’t the best hire would be reasonable excuses for Mariota’s struggles if Tannehill proves to be ineffective in the same situation.
A potential resurgence?
It’s a bit of a stretch to think that Mariota is suddenly going to flip a switch and become a dominant quarterback if he gets another chance in the event that Tannehill is benched.
But it’s certainly possible that Mariota’s benching could inspire him to play better football in the second half of the season (if he gets another chance).
Is it possible that Mariota could show enough in the second half of the season to warrant the front office bringing him back in 2020? It doesn’t seem likely, but I don’t think it’s a scenario that fans (or Tennessee’s front office) should rule out.
Look, there’s no doubt Mariota hasn’t lived up to his potential. It’s why he’s going to be the No. 2 quarterback this week. But Mariota is also the same player that’s helped lead the Titans to three straight winning seasons. He’s also still extremely young (he turns 26 on October 30) and only three years removed from a season that saw him throw for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The talent is there. It’s always been there. Unlocking it is the key.
Four offensive coordinators in five years isn’t an ideal way to unlock talent — especially if none of those coaches have exactly been “stars” (the jury is out on Matt LaFleur, he’s doing well in Green Bay, but he also has a hall of fame quarterback).
A great coach can work wonders for a quarterback. Jared Goff’s career turned around when Sean McVay started working with him. Baker Mayfield looked much better last year with Freddie Kitchens working as his offensive coordinator after Todd Haley’s firing (though it hasn’t worked out well with Kitchens as the head coach). Every situation is different. But I think it’s clear that the right coach at the right time makes a big difference.
If the Titans move on from Mariota after this season, there will be a lot of unknowns. They could end up searching for a franchise quarterback for another four or five years. They might go from 9-7 every year to 4-12 every year. It’s impossible to know what will await them.
At this point, however, I think we know that Mariota’s floor is somewhere around a .500 record.
What if the Titans move on from offensive coordinator Arthur Smith after this season and hire an established offensive coordinator that can actually help Mariota progress?
(Perhaps Kitchens gets fired from Cleveland and heads to Nashville….)
Mariota isn’t going to get a big contract from another NFL team after getting benched this year. And he clearly isn’t getting franchise tagged or extended by Tennessee. But maybe if the Titans don’t give up on him, he’ll sign a smaller deal to get another chance to be a starter in Nashville. It might be his only chance to be a starting quarterback without sitting on another team’s bench for a year or two.
Of course, this is all predicated on Tannehill failing. And that’s certainly possible, given that Tannehill was viewed as “not good enough” by the woeful Miami Dolphins.
I don’t think even the Titans know right now what direction they’re heading in. It would be wise for them to keep all their options open. And I certainly think this an option they shouldn’t close the door on just yet.
Featured image via Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports