After all the angst over Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota at the top of the 2015 draft, the answer may well turn out to be: neither of them. (Or, possibly: Sean Mannion.) Winston is still doing his thing, alternating brief stretches of competence with mindbending turnovers, while Mariota offers more of an unspectacular mediocrity. Yes, “unspectacular mediocrity” is the heart of Tennessee Titans football, and possibly their season-ticket package slogan, but they’d very much like it not to be. And so the 2-4 Titans have banished Mariota to the bench in favor of Ryan Tannehill.
Mariota, on the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, was yanked in the third quarter of Sunday’s 16-0 loss to the Broncos after failing to move the Titans past midfield in nine drives. He was 7-for-18 for 63 yards with two picks, and in Tennessee’s last three losses he’s led the offense to just 14 total points.
This season’s been especially bad for Mariota, a backsliding from the weird, pallid consistency of his first four years. Stats like Mariota’s were fine in his rookie season because they came with the implicit promise of improvement; those exact same stats looked less sunny in Year 4. By now it’s fairly clear that Mariota wasn’t a young quarterback showing flashes of promise, he was just a quarterback showing what kind of quarterback he is.
There are mitigating factors. “Sure, game-planning, play-calling, pass-protection and receiver-separation have all been issues,” Paul Kuharsky deadpans. So is the Titans’ insistence on drafting and signing wide receivers with flippers where their arms should be. Mariota hasn’t exactly been set up to succeed. But the fact that he’s gotten worse this year made it clear the Titans won’t be re-signing him, and if he’s on his way out there’s no downside to plugging in Tannehill and either seeing if he can’t lead the team on a run, or lose enough games to put them in position to draft a top QB prospect.
So Tannehill, who the Titans acquired from Miami in a low-pick swap, will be under center at home against the Chargers on Sunday. Given that Tannehill’s Dolphins career looked an awful lot like Mariota’s Titans career, don’t be surprised if we see Mariota again sometime this season. But either way, Mariota’s days in Nashville are numbered.