Welcome to QB Stock Watch. This is the second entry in a series running for the remainder of this season about some of the league’s most difficult, and interesting, quarterback decisions to be made for the 2019 season and beyond.
Player: Marcus Mariota
Team: Tennessee Titans (5-5)
Current contract situation: The Titans exercised the fifth-year option on Mariota’s contract back in April. While the deal is guaranteed only for injury (and Mariota is currently week-to-week with a stinger) this shouldn’t be complicated. Despite an injury history (he’s yet to play 16 games in a regular season), it is obvious Mike Vrabel and GM Jon Robinson continue building the team around him. Mariota, when healthy, embodies the high-end tier of the league’s “good enough” middle ground. Vrabel has the right mindset when it comes to finding coordinators and coaches who will at least try to accentuate his strengths, and Mariota’s mobility allows for a certain degree of unpredictability on game day. Two years removed from a strong 2016 season, Mariota has been a capable leader and franchise cornerstone type player.
JAMEIS WINSTON STOCK WATCH:Will he be in Tampa in 2019?
2018 season: Here’s something (relatively) interesting: In the three games where Mariota has attempted the fewest passes (16, 15, 13), the Titans lost. They are 4-2 when he throws at least 18 times. On his current trajectory, he’ll set a career high in completion percentage, but won’t set a career low in interceptions. The team has suffered a bit due to their inability to effectively run the ball. Combined, Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry are averaging about 82 yards per game and both are well below the four yards per carry mark. When Mariota returns for the stretch run, it will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur opens up the offense. Amid a critical period that could see the Titans swing into the playoffs or fizzle out altogether, they’ll have to think of something that can complement a stong defense featuring a budding pass rush.
What to expect for the rest of the season: Mariota is obviously not in danger of getting Jameis Winston’d here. Time away from the field won’t impact his organizational standing, especially when Mariota’s backup is Blaine Gabbert. That being said, he has a great opportunity to solidify his standing with a relatively friendly schedule from here on in. The Titans face the Texans in Houston on Monday before taking on the Jets, free-falling Jaguars, last-place Giants, banged-up Washington and the Colts at home to finish the season. With the meat of their schedule behind them, this is a wonderful opportunity for Mariota (if healthy) to rack up some wins.
Will the QB be on the same team next season: Barring something catastrophically strange (like Chip Kelly’s re-emergence as an NFL coach), the Titans seem to have their man. This is a down year for quarterbacks in the draft and the roster is built to win, with maturing stars on defense and an offensive line that may be one of the three best in football. The former No. 2 overall pick might not have lived up to the gargantuan expectations that artificially surround a high draft pick, but he’s entering a phase in league history where coordinators have a better understanding of how to manage their quarterbacks than ever. We may not have seen the best of Mariota yet.
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