Conditional Love

It’s been the talk of the town..

Everyone has something to say..

Let’s get one thing clear..

I still believe that Marcus Mariota can be the franchise quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. Before you read anything else it is important to understand that sentence. Two key words in that sentence are crucial to understanding the rest of this article.

Those two words are, believe and can.

It is my opinion that Marcus Mariota is capable of not only guiding this team towards success in the regular season, but in the playoffs as well. Does that mean that it is a guarantee? Of course not, I could be completely wrong in this assessment but I am of the understanding that in his four years in this league Marcus Mariota has demonstrated the ability to lead an NFL team towards meaningful victories because he has done it before, and he can do it again.

A lot has happened in the past week of being a Tennessee Titans fan. I cannot remember a more dramatic time than the week leading up to the Colts game as all of Titans twitter watched the Marcus Mariota practice saga. The videos emerged of him throwing, LaFleur said he believed Marcus would play, and everything seemed to be trending in the right direction as this franchise prepared itself to try and do something it had never done before in beating Andrew Luck and securing the sixth and final playoff spot. Optimism around the fan base seemed to be at a peak after a roller coaster season in which we prepared our hearts for mock drafts time and time again only to have hope continue to resurface at the last possible second.

Then came Sunday morning. The morning where ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Marcus Mariota was not expected to play in what many called the biggest game in the Franchise’s history  due to fear of permanent nerve damage. Many different things surfaced in the ten or so hours between that report and the game; some of them included talks of a fractured spine, reports of a torn plantar fascia in Marcus’ foot, and the report that if Marcus sustained the right type of hit then he was at a high risk for permanent nerve damage in the right side of his body. Among the many things that surfaced Sunday, the most prominent opinion that surfaced amongst all of the medical information was from Titans fans. Person after person lined up to voice their opinion about their disdain with Marcus Mariota and how they were no longer in support of the quarterback. The scenes of Titans twitter on Sunday December 30 sort of remind me of a funny scene in Month Python and the Holy Grail, where they accuse a woman of being a witch. One can only imagine scenes of medieval tribes gathering around a woman in their camp accusing her to be a witch as everyone called for the woman to be cast into the lake. If Titans fans had their way many seemingly wanted their “former,” quarterback to be treated much in the same fashion. People supporting the Titans had made one thing clear; they did not want anything to do with Marcus Mariota due to what many people believed to be his cowardice, lack of toughness, selfishness, or for the more rational in the group, his gravitational pull towards injury.

I am not writing this to condemn those who had an emotional response to the decision for Marcus Mariota’s not to play. In all honesty we still do not know who made the last call for him not to play, and I do not really think that it matters all that much. Regardless of who made the decision, I understand the hurt that was inflicted on the fan base. I was as upset as anyone. Heck, when I purchased my ticket to the game I did not envision that I would drive from Chattanooga to Nashville to see Blaine Gabbert take the field in what was perhaps the most important game I have ever watched as a Titans fan. I endured a season in which the battle cry was “suck for the duck,” all in hopes of drafting a guy who could deliver in moments exactly like this one. A quarterback who could lead us out of the mediocrity stamped on this franchise by Jeff Fisher and Bud Adams. Instead I had to watch Blaine Gabbert miss open men, throw gut-wrenching interceptions, and never really threaten to open up the top of the defense so that Derrick Henry could have maximized the game-plan.

I was absolutely upset that Marcus Mariota did not play in that game, but not necessarily at Marcus Mariota. As I said earlier, we do not know who made the final decision, the final details of the injury/ long term repercussions if he would have played, and I still believe that Marcus can be the franchise quarterback for this team. I do not question his toughness or desire to be that guy for this franchise. If you have questions about that then please read any article where his teammates talk about him or read Logan Ryan’s tweet directed towards this that went out Sunday night.

What I am addressing more than anything in this piece is the Titans fan who had an emotional overreaction, to the events Sunday and has decided to be out on Marcus. People calling for the Titans to draft a new quarterback in the draft or to sign someone like Nick Foles in free agency who can come in and be the new quarterback moving forward. Both of these scenarios could not be more unlikely for this franchise, and what this franchise needs moving forward is a fan base who, in spite of what the voices of national media say about it, believe that this team can achieve more in 2019. A fan base that seeks to recapture the environment present in Nissan Stadium on Sunday Night Football much more frequently than once every ten years. A fan base who lives in recognition of the fact that the team has already picked up the fifth year option on Marcus Mariota and needs, him to be worth the $21 million they will be paying him next year because frankly that is our only hope moving forward.

There is simply not a quarterback in this draft who analysts think will be better than Marcus Mariota other than perhaps Dwayne Haskins from Ohio State. Acquiring him might seem great to some fans, but at what price?

Trading Kevin Byard, Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown, or Derrick Henry plus draft compensation to acquire him? Stop it.

Signing Nick Foles in Free Agency; a quarterback who will demand a contract similar to Kirk Cousins because of the premium placed on good quarterback play in today’s NFL and paying two quarterbacks on the roster over $20 million this season? Stop it.

There is simply no better option for the 2019 Titans moving forward.

If that is the case, which it is, the Titans must refocus on attempting to do what they did when they hired Mike Vrabel and Matt LaFleur; maximizing their value from Marcus Mariota. Remember how on board everyone was with that plan after Marcus led us past the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs despite running an offense that looked like it took place in the era of Stranger Things? Well, I do not think Marcus Mariota getting sacked 42 times, was a part of that plan and yet everyone is quick to call for Marcus’ head.

Usually in the NFL maximizing the ability of a quarterback involves keeping him upright, something this offensive line did not do well or often enough this season. This means investing in pieces around Marcus Mariota and scheming for ways to protect a quarterback who has fairly earned the label of injury prone. Does anyone know how many times Marcus was sacked in his best statistical season? The answer would be 23. In 2016, his best statistical season he was sacked 23 times. The Titans have to find a way to return to this approach for their quarterback and truly answer the question that everyone seems to have a hot take on.

For those reading this screaming at their screen about how long Marcus holds the football, I hear you… but to an extent. I do not believe that Marcus magically decided to hold the football longer after his 2016 season. In fact, per nextgenstats, which actually tracks a QB’s average time to throw (TT), Marcus was right around the league average for time in which he held onto the football. Not only that, but his average for 2018 was .06 seconds faster than it was in 2016 when he was only sacked 23 times. Marcus holding or not holding onto the football does not solve the larger issue from this season, which was abysmal offensive line play from a number of guys, and lack of production for most of the season from the majority of the Titans’ skill players. For a majority of the season, and especially during some of the more prominent losses, the Titans were in the top ten in the league in drop percentage. This means that the Titans pass-catchers were well below average for a large part of the year.

All of this goes into saying what I said earlier. I still believe that Marcus Mariota can be the franchise quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. We still have a number of questions to answer about him; the most concerning the fragility of his body, but any quarterback not named Russell Wilson who gets hit as much as Marcus has will get injured. Despite that, this franchise needs a fanbase who supports them and believes in them rather than treating personnel moves like they were as simple as making trades in Madden on their Xbox.

If your patience has worn thin with Marcus because of the concerns about his durability then I understand. In fact, I think that is a perfectly reasonable position to take, but the reality is that he will be our starting quarterback next year, and we need him to be as good as he has shown he can be in the past and to hopefully survive his first season in which he does not miss major time for injury. A healthy Marcus Mariota is capable of leading this team on a Super Bowl Run; if you do not think so please google Joe Flacco, but we need to keep him upright in order to do so, provide him with legitimate playmakers as Blake Beddingfield has pointed out, and it would help this team greatly to have your support at Nissan Stadium while they attempt to do that rather than calling in to 104.5 every week talking about how poor the quarterback looked in the game that you watched from your couch since you would rather see Marcus thrown off the pedestrian bridge than quarterbacking our team.

It is not time to move on from Marcus Mariota… yet, if you have told yourself that it is time to do so then I understand your sentiment and acknowledge your right to do so. I simply implore you to do what your franchise has done and give him one more year to prove you wrong. Titan Up.

 Guest Writer: Brookes Jones (@BrookesJones8 on Twitter)


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