The Tennessee Titans entered the 2018 season believing they had a franchise quarterback on their hands in Marcus Mariota.
While I’m not ready to say Mariota isn’t a franchise quarterback, the first six games of the season have muddied the waters a bit.
Before the 2018 season started, there was a lot of talk about the extension that Mariota would likely soon be receiving from the Titans.
Tennessee picked up Mariota’s fifth year option (for 2019) back in the spring. An extension wasn’t an “if” for Mariota, it was a “when”. The assumption was that Mariota would probably receive a deal after the Titans locked up left tackle Taylor Lewan (which happened during the summer).
But based on the first third of the 2018 season, I’m not so sure an extension is a certainty for Mariota anymore.
And I definitely don’t think the Titans should attempt to extend the former Oregon signal caller before the end of the 2019 season — unless something drastically changes.
Mariota, who is in his fourth season in the NFL, is developing a reputation among general NFL fans as an oft-injured quarterback who is inconsistent on the field. His performance so far this season is only serving to solidify that reputation. Mariota is battling through a nerve injury that’s affecting his throwing hand, which has led him to a career low 74.6 rating so far this season.
Is the nerve injury something that could be considered a freak situation that was unavoidable? Sure, of course it could be. So could Mariota’s broken leg in 2016, or his MCL sprain in 2015.
At some point, though, you have to wonder if the injuries will stop, or if Mariota is just one of those guys that’s destined to be constantly hurt. I don’t think anyone could, or should, question Mariota’s toughness, but it’s hard to have a lot of faith in a player who is always injured.
As for Mariota’s performance on the field, I feel like it should be trending up by now.
Sure, Martiota’s had to deal with a myriad of coaches during his time in Nashville, which probably hasn’t been easy for him. But at the same time, he’s a professional quarterback in the NFL. Mariota, ultimately, has to take responsibility for his performance. Not a position coach or an offensive coordinator.
Of course, there’s the fact that Mariota certainly hasn’t been helped out by the play of some of his offensive counterparts. Wide receivers dropping passes or running the wrong routes have hurt Mariota.
Third drop of the day: Mariota’s throw was a little low, but catchable. Also, Taywan Taylor looked to be running free down the middle. Not sure if Mariota would have had the time to deliver the pass pic.twitter.com/0hABCciyu8
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 24, 2018
However, isn’t an elite quarterback suppose to raise the play of those around him?
Sometimes that’s not possible. I get it. But look at the greats like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. They’ve each had wide receivers that weren’t household names (Chris Hogan, Austin Collie, Devery Henderson, the list goes on) that elevated their play when paired with a great franchise quarterback.
So far, we haven’t seen wide receivers become significantly better because they played with Mariota.
Now, I’m not advocating that the Titans move on from Mariota. I think it’s way to soon to suggest something like that.
We’re only six games into the Mike Vrabel/Matt LaFleur era. It’s still way too early. Mariota deserves the chance to prove he can stay healthy. At that point, we can evaluate how good he can be in LaFleur’s system.
But I also think it would be incredibly foolish to go ahead and extend Mariota, when it’s clear that his status as a franchise quarterback is still up in the air.
I understand that it’s incredibly difficult to find a franchise quarterback. The Titans know this as well as anyone.
If a team finds someone that can get the job done, it’s wise to hold on to that player, even if they aren’t Aaron Rodgers 2.0.
But the Titans don’t want to find themselves in the same position as the Miami Dolphins, either.
The Dolphins signed Tannehill to a mega-extension just before his fourth season (2015) in the NFL.
Since signing that extension, Tannehill has missed 20 games and the Dolphins have made the playoffs once.
Given the chance for a “re-do” the Dolphins would probably pass on tying up that much money in a quarterback that can barely stay on the field.
If the Titans were to extend Mariota before the end of the 2019 season, before having a better idea of what he’ll be, they could end up in the same situation as the Dolphins — stuck with a quarterback that probably isn’t leading a franchise to the Super Bowl.
Worst case scenario, Mariota suddenly blossoms into a Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback and the Titans are forced to scramble to get a deal done.
But I honestly don’t see that happening. I think what the Titans are getting with Mariota right now is what they’re going to continue to get.
And they have to decide if that’s good enough for a franchise that hasn’t made it a conference championship game since the 2002 season.
Featured image via Yahoo Sports