Marcus Mariota is the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback in 2019.
But beyond this year, no one knows who the Titans’ starting quarterback will be.
Mariota is scheduled to be a free agent after 2019. He’ll be trying to prove this season that he’s worthy of a contract extension.
It seems clear that Tennessee is hoping Mariota will be their franchise quarterback, but they’re not ready to make that commitment until they see how he fares this year (the biggest question is whether or not he can stay healthy).
Taking a wait and see approach is a smart move by the Titans. They don’t want to get stuck with a big contract for a guy who ends up getting hurt and barely seeing the field.
But if the Titans want to take a gamble and extend Mariota now, it could actually pay huge dividends.
There’s plenty of debate about where Mariota stacks up against the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFL. Some folks think he’s a top 15 quarterback, while others think he’s near the bottom half of NFL signal callers. There’s no correct answer, but I think it’s obvious that Mariota is, at the very least, one of the top 25 quarterbacks on the planet.
Finding a quality quarterback is difficult. In fact, it might be the hardest position in professional sports to evaluate. We’ve seen franchises search for years for a starting quarterback and fail to find one. Wasted draft picks on quarterbacks have littered the NFL for decades.
The message is essentially: If you have a decent quarterback, lock him up.
When healthy, Mariota is better than decent — he’s good. He proved it last year against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota can be a game changer when he needs to be.
No QB had a higher passer rating on 3rd & long situations than Titans QB Marcus Mariota did in 2018 pic.twitter.com/jIi91tOoVA
— PFF (@PFF) May 3, 2019
If the Titans don’t bring Mariota back in 2020, they’re basically hitting the reset button on their franchise. That doesn’t seem like a wise move. The Titans’ roster is built to win now. They’re most likely not going to “win now” with a rookie quarterback (in 2020 and beyond). And they’re not going to fill the position via free agency (which is becoming rare).
Let’s say the Titans wait until the end of the 2019 season to decide on Mariota’s future with the team.
If Mariota doesn’t receive an extension before the end of the season, I think there’s a good chance he tests free agency.
Why wouldn’t he?
Nick Foles, a backup quarterback (yes, he won a Super Bowl, but he hasn’t fared that well as a starter), just received a four year deal worth $88 million from the Jaguars. Carson Wentz just received a four year extension worth $128 million from the Eagles.
Quarterbacks are getting paid. And if Mariota has a good season in 2019, he will absolutely get paid by someone.
Plus let’s be honest, Nashville isn’t home for Mariota. It’s never going to be “home”. It might be his second home, and he might love it in Nashville, but Hawaii will always be home for Mariota. And as long as Nashville is his second home at best, I think it means Mariota will be willing to relocate to wherever the money is. Essentially, I don’t think the Titans will receive a discount if he reaches free agency.
The Titans could extend Mariota now and probably save a decent amount of money. Maybe Mariota would take similar cash to Foles. $22 million a year would be a steal for a starting quarterback. Even $24 million a year would be reasonable.
If Mariota stays healthy in 2019 and the Titans win the division and go deep in the playoffs, the Titans could be looking at $30 million a year. That would then hamper the Titans’ ability to bolster their roster in the future.
And there’s a huge opportunity to improve the roster after 2020.
A huge potential roster upgrade
Jalen Ramsey is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL and he recently expressed interest in playing for the Titans.
Ramsey is from the Nashville area so it makes sense that he’d like to play for his hometown team. He’s also probably seen that Tennessee isn’t afraid to pay players (Kevin Byard and Taylor Lewan).
Of course, Ramsey isn’t going to be cheap. That’s why the Jaguars haven’t given in to Ramsey’s demands for a new contract (though they did pick up his fifth year option for 2020).
If the Jaguars don’t franchise tag the talented cornerback after 2020 (he could threaten to sit out or they might not want to commit that much cash to a single player), then he’ll hit free agency.
Ramsey would obviously be a hot commodity at that point that would make any team better.
It won’t be easy for the Titans to fit Ramsey under the cap, but it can be done. Mariota signing an extension for less than what he’d get in free agency is part of the equation.
Tennessee has Logan Ryan coming off the books after 2019. They have a potential out with Malcolm Butler after 2020. They also have a potential out with Cameron Wake after 2019 (if Harold Landry steps up, this could be a smart move).
And then there’s Derrick Henry. I’m never a fan of paying running backs big money (outside of a few rare circumstances). Even if Henry plays well this season, it might be wise for the Titans to not re-sign or extend him. Financial flexibility is often more important than a running back.
If the Titans are able to land Ramsey after the 2020 season, they’d have one of the top defenses in the NFL. And they’re loaded with a lot of young talent on offense.
The Titans don’t need Mariota to be Tom Brady. They don’t need him to be Drew Brees. They can win a Super Bowl with Mariota, as long as he’s healthy, with the roster that Jon Robinson has constructed.
I’m not saying extending Mariota now is the absolute right move. There’s a plethora of reasons why it could be the wrong move. But it’s a gamble that could pay off in a big way for the Titans.
I understand why being conservative is a smart approach by NFL teams, but the risk takers are usually the teams that rise to the top.
The Titans have a legitimate opportunity to build one of the best rosters in the NFL. Perhaps they should take a leap of faith and do it.
Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports