INDIANAPOLIS _ Marcus Mariota missed just one game for the Tennessee Titans in 2017, that coming due to a hamstring injury that kept him from playing Miami back in week five.
In that game, veteran Matt Cassel filled in, and the offense struggled in a 16-10 loss to the Dolphins.
Mariota managed to work his way back to health well enough to play and not miss any more games. But for several weeks, the nagging injury bothered him and was blamed for his statistical drop-off from the previous season.
Which begs the question, would the Titans have given Mariota another week or two to heal from the injury had they had more trust in the backup quarterback more?
Now with Mike Vrabel installed as head coach, the backup quarterback spot is one to watch closely this off-season to see what the Titans do.
Journeyman Alex Tanney was a favorite of the Mike Mularkey regime, but now looks to again be a long shot if he gets to camp at all. Brandon Weeden is a free agent, and the Titans will likely move on from him.
Cassel’s contract has one more year to run, and he and Vrabel were once teammates with the New England Patriots. But will the Titans go into what is a deeper than usual quarterback free agent market to look for a new No. 2 QB? Some of the names that either will or could be available this off-season – and might not be left with a starting job once the carousel stop – include Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater of Minnesota, Josh McCown of the Jets, Tom Savage of the Texans and perhaps even Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo.
The performances of Nick Foles and Case Keenum in 2017 demonstrated how valuable a competent backup quarterback can be, with Foles driving that point home by leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl title.
The backup quarterback situation is not lost on Vrabel and Jon Robinson this off-season, as the new head coach likened being the No. 2 quarterback to a long reliever in baseball, having to come in with virtually no notice and perform capably.
“It’s a critical position, just like all the backups that have to be ready to play on Sunday. (I want) a guy that can go in and finish the game for you and win a game, guys that have won in this league,” Vrabel said. “You watch the MLB Playoffs, and the starter gets rocked in the second inning, and you’ve still got to win the game. They bring a guy in from the bullpen that’s got to win the game. He can go four, five or six innings. He can’t just get you out of a jam. He’s got to win you a game. That’s an important position.”
The Titans might also be tempted to look in what is considered a deeper quarterback draft than in previous years, but the snag there is that they currently only have six picks. And barring trades down to acquire more, the Titans have other more pressing needs at linebacker, running back, guard and receiver. That could make drafting a developmental QB a luxury the team cannot afford right now.