The Titans report for training camp two weeks from tomorrow. Unless things change they will do so without their new franchise quarterback.
No. 2 overall draft pick Marcus Mariota has yet to sign his rookie contract with Tennessee, and while everyone assumes a deal will get done, both sides appear to be preparing to start camp with Mariota absent. “I don’t concern myself too much with it if a guy misses a few days,” GM Ruston Webster said last month.
At issue is something called “offset language” in the contract. If that offset is present, the Titans would not be responsible for paying out all of Mariota’s guaranteed money if the team cuts him before the four-year deal is up and he signs with another team. The Titans want this. If there is no offset language, Mariota could be paid by both the Titans and his new team at the same time. Mariota wants this.
In reality, it’s probably an academic point: there is only the tiniest of chances that Mariota won’t be a Titan for the next four seasons. Only five first-round quarterbacks over the last decade have been released before playing out their rookie deals (Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Tim Tebow, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden), and only
one two of those were top-10 picks. Unless things go horribly wrong, teams are reluctant to cut bait on an investment like that; and the Titans, who have been hungry for a QB for a long time, aren’t likely to give up on Mariota. Whether his contract has offset language or not is almost guaranteed not to matter.
Instead, it’s a matter of principle and precedent. One agent speculates to ESPN.com that “Mariota’s representatives could be trying to figure out something to fight about, and that winning on offsets is seen by some as a badge of honor when in this instance it ‘doesn’t mean anything.’”
Yesterday, Titans president and CEO Steve Underwood said this isn’t about Mariota; it’s about making sure future rookies can’t point to Mariota and argue they shouldn’t have offset language either.
“We’ve always had offset language in our player contracts. It’s nothing new,” Underwood said. “I think it is important where a high first-round draft pick is concerned, because it’s the precedent. Everything that we do is precedential for the next round of contracts.
“So keeping the offset in place is something we want to be able to do going forward. And the minute you back away from the contract principle then you no longer are able to assert it going forward.”
Every team pushes for offset language; not every team insists upon it. No. 1 pick Jameis Winston’s deal with the Bucs has offsets, while No. 3 pick Dante Fowler’s contract with the Jaguars does not.
In Tennessee, someone is going to have to blink. It’s easy to say it should be Mariota, or it should be the Titans, because they don’t stand to lose anything practical. But you can’t come down on one side without immediately saying hey, if it doesn’t actually matter, why can’t the other side just do it? Because if Mariota isn’t still a Titan in 2018, both sides will have much bigger problems than the money.