NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Marcus Mariota era in Tennessee is over. The Titans’ decision Tuesday to name Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback moving forward confirms what we all expected when Mariota was benched late in the third quarter Sunday in Denver. It’s time to move on.
Sure, Mariota might find his way back onto the field this season through injury or another reason. But, barring a miracle, he will be a free agent come the end of the season and headed elsewhere for 2020.
It was a move that had to be made right now to try to spark a team that’s just 2-4 with an offense that’s scored just seven points in the last 10 quarters wasting the efforts of one of the best defenses in the league. It’s not clear that Tannehill can fix an offense with a porous offensive line, a running game that hasn’t gotten going and a host of receivers all looking for more targets than they are currently getting, but Mike Vrabel had to do something before this season of high expectations gets away from this team.
In the big picture it’s a sad ending for a quarterback that was drafted no. 2 overall in 2015 and brought such high hopes with him. Mariota was a Heisman Trophy winner, coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff national championship game. He was talented and he was a winner.
He was supposed to be the next Steve McNair. The guy that made Titans’ fans forget about the Vince Young and Jake Locker busts in the franchise’s decade-long pursuit to find a franchise quarterback.
Mariota became the face of the franchise, even though he would much prefer stay out of the spotlight. He was quiet, nice, humble and unassuming; all things you wouldn’t expect from a NFL star. And while that was endearing, a reason pretty much all Titans fans rooted for him to succeed, it may have contributed ultimately to why he failed.
Mariota won over teammates by being one of the guys. He threw bone-crunching blocks on linebackers to help out his running backs and served as the designated driver for his beer guzzling offensive linemen during the Predators’ Stanley Cup run. But when things got tough on the field, Mariota too often was lost in the crowd when the team needed a vocal, take charge leader.
Not that it was all his fault. In many ways Mariota was doomed to fail. Ken Whisenhunt drafted him but was fired seven games into his rookie season after the young QB continually took a beating behind a bad offensive line. The general manager was next to go.
Mike Mularkey was elevated to head coach with the orders to protect the team’s prized investment, which he did in 2016 as Mariota had his best season as a pro, throwing for more than 3400 yards and 26 touchdowns. But Mularkey’s style, and that of offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, failed to evolve and the Titans changed coaching staffs after 2017 despite a 9-7 record and a win in the playoffs.
In came Mike Vrabel as head coach and young, hot shot offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to try to help take Mariota to the next level. But the QB went down with a fluke nerve injury in week one of the season and never fully recovered. LaFleur left to become the head coach of the Packers and the Titans promoted tight ends coach Arthur Smith to the coordinator role with less than stellar results through six games behind an offensive line that once again is letting Mariota take a beating with a NFL-high 29 sacks.
In all, Mariota’s had two general managers, three head coaches and five different offensive play-callers in his five seasons. No wonder he seems unsure at times in yet another new offensive system. Toss in the nerve issue, a neck injury, a broken leg, torn planter fascia and other injuries and it’s easy to see why the guy might be a little gun shy in the pocket.
But ultimately great players elevate those around them in the NFL, especially at the quarterback position. Mariota was unable to do that over his four-and-a-half seasons at the helm in Tennessee and that’s why this move was made. His fault or not, this was the season he had to prove that he could be the guy once and for all, and that he was worthy of a long-term contract approaching $100 million in value.
Everyone knew that, including Mariota. And neither he or the offense could get going. Maybe a change of scenery next season, with less pressure, will give him a new lease on his career. Let him finally return to playing free and easy the way he did in college, and reach his full potential in the NFL.
But time has run its course here. And with it seemingly unlikely that that Tannehill is the long-term answer, the Titans will be looking to find a franchise quarterback once again.
It’s a task that isn’t easy. They failed with Young and Locker, and as we saw with Mariota, the third time wasn’t the charm.