Head coach Mike Vrabel continues to clear about the depth chart pecking order, but should Ryan Tannehill have a chance to supplant Marcus Mariota?
The Tennessee Titans are only committed to Marcus Mariota for the coming season, under the fifth-year option on his original rookie contract. The 2018 season was a success in some ways, as he set a franchise record for completion percentage (68.9 percent), but more missed time seemed to be the reason the Titans acquired Ryan Tannehill from the Miami Dolphins during the offseason.
Back in March, head coach Mike Vrabel seemed to talk out of both sides of his mouth while talking himself into Mariota and professing how Tannehill is someone who can compete and help the team win. Quelling talk of a possible quarterback competition is something a football coach is prone to do, and if healthy Mariota is in line to be the Titans’ Week 1 starter.
At the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament, Vrabel was asked about and had to address his quarterback situation.
Here’s what Vrabel said regarding Tannehill’s role (h/t to Pro Football Talk).
His job as a backup — everybody’s job as a backup — is to push the guy in front of him. To compete and try to make yourself better and try to make the team better and see how everybody responds.
So Tannehill’s job, as the backup, is to “push the guy in front of him” (Mariota). But clearly being deemed the backup means he has no chance to win the starting job.
But should that be the case? Let’s look at the two quarterbacks side-by-side, strictly by the numbers.
Mariota: 27-28 record as a starter (regular season), 214.4 passing yards per game, 69 passing touchdowns, 42 interceptions, 63.2 percent completion rate, 89.4 passer rating, two playoff starts (1-1 record)
Tannehill: 42-46 record as a starter (regular season), 232.2 passing yards per game, 123 passing touchdowns, 75 interceptions, 62.8 percent completion rate, 87.0 passer rating, zero playoff starts
Essentially two more full seasons starting pushes Tannehill’s raw numbers higher. Extra production as a runner is essentially a wash in total (1,270 yards for Mariota, 1,210 for Tannehill), with an edge to Mariota in touchdowns on the ground (11 vs. six).
Per game through the air — with a nod to how conservative Tennessee’s offense has been and constant change in coordinators — Tannehill has a solid edge. Completion percentage, passer rating and interception rate are not dramatically different (or equal, in the case of career interception rate-2.6 percent).
Tannehill’s has had his own injury issues, as a torn ACL and a throwing shoulder issue have cost him 24 of a possible 48 games over the last three seasons.
The Titans’ professed level of belief in Mariota has not extended to any serious talks about a contract extension, which says it all. He’s heading into a make-or-break year, with better health as the first step to better performance.
Vrabel wants to keep the scrutiny of Mariota’s job security to a minimum, presumably right up to giving Tannehill minimal (if any) first-team reps in camp or preseason games. But continuing to shut the door on the idea a healthy Mariota can be replaced as the starter is foolish, and career numbers show a healthy Tannehill is at least an equal quarterback.