Four years ago, quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota arrived in the NFL to much fanfare as the first two picks in the draft. Now, both guys are entering last-chance seasons with their respective teams, the Buccaneers and the Titans.
The No. 28 storyline entering the 2019 season focuses on Mariota, and whether he’ll earn that second contract (and the ongoing employment that goes along with it) in the final year of his rookie deal.
At $20.8 million, Mariota will be compensated handsomely for one last crack at persuading the organization to keep him around for the long haul. But his ability to continue to earn a starter-level salary hinges on his ability to develop the kind of consistency that his game has lacked.
He also needs to stay healthy. It’s not a suggestion but a mandate from G.M. Jon Robinson, who recently said that he has “stressed” to Mariota the importance of the mantra, “Let’s live to play another play.”
“Don’t take that hit,” Robinson says. “It’s OK to punt, we’ll get another crack at it. That’s the main thing, it’s stressing to him — to try as best as possible, like all quarterbacks do, to avoid getting hit.”
If Mariota hopes to continue to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, it’s not about heeding Robinson’s advice but doing what Robinson wants him to do. Otherwise, the Titans will surely find another quarterback who will.
They possibly already have. The trade for 2012 first-rounder Ryan Tannehill, who got far more chances to figure things out in Miami than Mariota will get in Tennessee, gives the Titans a far better backup plan than Blaine Gabbert, and Tannehill (when healthy) could perform well enough to seize the opportunity to stay on the field, if a Mariota injury gives Tannehill a chance to get on the field.
Whether it’s Tannehill, another veteran, or a rookie, the Titans surely will be ready to explore all options if Mariota doesn’t make in his fifth year the kind of strides they’d surely hoped he’d make much earlier. And that could spark a much sooner than expected commencement of Mariota’s career as a second-string quarterback.