Tennessee Titans

Titans will have short leash on Marcus Mariota

The Titans drafted Marcus Mariota to be their franchise quarterback. If he doesn’t produce out of the gate this season, he could easily end up out of a job.

If the Titans have a chance of making a significant playoff run this season they will need excellent production from the quarterback position. Mike Vrabel and his coaching staff hope that Marcus Mariota can be the guy to give their offense that kind of life. That doesn’t mean they’re going to give him a long time to prove he’s the right guy for the job.

The former Oregon star has failed to live up to his billing after Tennessee drafted him with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. A variety of injuries have definitely slowed down his progress, but his inability to complete precise passes down the field also really limits his potential as a quarterback. Entering his fifth season with the Titans there are still serious questions about whether or not he can make enough plays inside the pocket to be an above-average starter.

That’s one reason why the Titans front office chose to acquire Ryan Tannehill this offseason. He didn’t light the world on fire during his tenure with the Dolphins, but he is capable of making difficult throws from inside the pocket. His style of play might ultimately prove to be a better fit for the sort of offense Vrabel wants to run in 2019.

Mariota’s contract status might also push the Titans to give Tannehill a legitimate opportunity to win the job. They’re paying him over $20 million this season in the last year of his rookie deal. It’s very likely he’ll be looking for a long-term deal near that average annual salary next offseason. If the Titans are going to pay Mariota that kind of money, he’ll need to break out in a big way in 2019.

Tannehill, on the other hand, is only making $1.75 million on his one-year deal with the Titans. If he starts and plays well he will look for a significant raise, but at 32 years of age he won’t be in a position to command anything near $20 million per season. If Tannehill can come in and execute Vrabel’s offense, he could serve as a very inexpensive starter until the Titans can identify their new quarterback of the future.

If Mariota wants to stick with the Titans beyond this season, he will need to significantly outplay Tannehill. Not only will he need to stay healthy, he’ll also need to post numbers that will get him in the Pro Bowl conversation. That’s the only way the franchise will feel comfortable giving him the massive, long-term contract he’ll want.

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Otherwise, look for Tannehill to find his way into the starting lineup the moment Mariota slips. If he can give them 80% of Mariota’s production for a fraction of the price it would represent a solid outcome for the franchise. Mariota needs to be looking over his shoulder as soon as the regular season begins.

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