With incumbent Ryan Tannehill now entrenched as the present and future for the Tennessee Titans, it’s time to take a look at a former Ducks legend’s time in Nashville. It was a promising career marred by injury, poor coaching, and just pure dumb bad luck.
Fresh off a dominant Heisman winning campaign (and tear inducing speech that only ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi can rival in making grown men cry) that fell just short of a national title, Marcus Mariota was the second overall draft pick of the Titans.
Mariota was handed the reigns to the starting job from the word go. What a debut it was. He faced off and won resoundingly against a Jameis Winston led team for the second time in eight months that year.
Highlight of his rookie year:
2015 vs. the New Orleans Saints (unfortunately the NFL won’t allow embedding for some reason on certain videos)
He finished the year with an injury (a recurring theme sadly).
No sophomore slump for Mariota as he posted a fun 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns to nine interceptions to go with 349 yards on the ground with two touchdowns. However, he fractured his fibula in late December against rival Jacksonville that prematurely ended a playoff push season. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate though so there’s that.
Showing very little ill effects of the broken leg, Mariota guided the Titans to a playoff berth where he did this and a game sealing block to spring Derrick Henry:
and this just to get them in the playoffs (rumor has it that Barry Church is still trying to dig his way out from the earth’s core):
The playoff loss to the New England Patriots portended the ill omens to come where he sacked an incredible eight times.
New coach, new QB, familiar OC.
The year from hell that effectively sealed Mariota’s fate as the starter in Tennessee, only we just didn’t know it yet (foreshadowing!) He would be done for week or two after suffering a damaged nerve in his throwing elbow in the seven hour marathon against Miami in the opener. He was sacked ELEVEN times against Baltimore.
However it wasn’t all bad as he led the Titans to a dominant Monday Night Football on the road against Dallas. He also beat the Patriots. He did this against Philadelphia:
As is the theme of his career, he couldn’t finish out the season due to injury (stinger) and the team had to rely on Blaine Gabbert to win and in their way into the playoffs in week 17. However with a fifth year option in his back pocket, Mariota was assured of returning to the Titans as the nominal starter.
In what turned out be Mariota’s last season with the team, there was a short film about him made by the organization
Remember when I mentioned something about Mariota starting to feel the heat? Well, the Titans traded a fourth round pick for Ryan Tannehill. That aforementioned heat happened in Denver this past season after Mariota was hugely ineffective.
He was benched against Denver and never saw the starting job ever again after leading the team to a 2-4 record. Mariota made some cameo appearances here and there but it was Tannehill’s show.
The Titans lost to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game after beating both the Patriots and the seemingly impossible to contain Lamar Jackson led Ravens.
62.9% completion percentage, 13,207 yards, 76 touchdowns, 44 interceptions
1,399 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns
Career earnings to date
Salary data courtesy of spotrac.com
What went wrong in Tennessee?
I won’t rehash my thoughts on the subject but here’s an excerpt from my Mariota benching article that sums it up best:
“While the Titans likely won’t garner any sympathy from the Oregon Ducks faithful for its utter failure to develop a coherent system around Mariota, he needed to work on his flaws to elevate the team like other “franchise quarterbacks” are able to do.”
The elbow injury was the death of his career in Tennessee as we know it. So was the constant churn of offensive systems and a severe lack of building assets around him until it was too late. Maybe it was his on field persona that wasn’t the fit. The NFL is full of big alpha males with large egos and a bank account to match. Maybe the NFL needs to change. We probably will never know why or how Mariota failed to correct his flaws.
What went right in Tennessee
We saw glimpses of what he could given his immense talents. Teammates, former and current will still go to war with him leading the charge every day. The character and work ethic was never questioned as he was often first in the building and last to leave. Even faced with the dishonorable and ignominious benching, he was a model teammate, often being the first guy cheering after a great play and working like he was still the starter (there are clips of him alone in the stadium working). He put the team above himself every day. Not a single soul dead or alive can say anything bad about Mariota the person.
What’s next for Marcus Mariota?
The legal tampering period of free agency opens on Monday afternoon. The official start to free agency is on Wednesday (provided the NFL doesn’t move things around due to COVID-19 concerns). In actuality, tampering begins at the Combine if not before at the Senior Bowl (the NFL usually just turns a blind eye to it unless its stupidly blatant and egregious).
Mariota is an unrestricted free agent in a year of unprecedented upheaval at the quarterback position. Future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers are all free agents (yeah I know what you’re thinking but they are officially free agents). Starter potentials like Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent as well. Expect the wild carousel to stop spinning shortly after Wednesday.
Where will he end up? Tune in to find out!