It’s unfair to qualify Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill as bad. But you’d also have a hard time calling them good.
So when the Tennessee Titans traded for Tannehill on Friday, it set up a quarterback battle no one asked for. It’s an event no one really wants tickets to. It’s going to be the controversy we wish we didn’t have to read about. So now is the time to introduce this quarterback battle to the world, so that we can all enjoy its high comedy, because we know we won’t be watching high-quality football.
Keep in mind: the Miami Dolphins traded Tannehill at a moment when their only other rostered quarterbacks were Luke Falk and Jake Ruddock. Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater had also just passed on the opportunity to be starters in Miami, with the two veterans choosing backup roles instead. No one seems to want play quarterback for the Dolphins. And still, they looked at Tannehill and said, ‘Nah, we’re good.’
The Titans, meanwhile, saw another boring, replacement level quarterback, and said, ‘Yes, please!’
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It’s important to note that the Titans’ quarterback room should be the envy of a handful of NFL teams. They have a starter in Mariota, who has seemingly been on the verge of breaking out for years. They have a backup in Tannehill, who is competent. It’s a better situation than what the Washington Redskins have. But we’ve seen this play out before: Mariota will struggle. Tannehill will enter the mix. Tannehill will struggle. And then the Titans will be back at square one.
Mariota’s position is already tenuous with a pesky hamstring and a proclivity to throw interceptions. Over the past two seasons, Mariota has thrown 24 touchdowns to 23 interceptions. It’s hard to say what’s less impressive: 24 touchdowns in two seasons or his touchdown-interception ratio bordering on 1:1.
Mariota, the second overall pick in 2015, has not been good under center, just like Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in 2012. They are practically interchangeable, with Tannehill being a better passer but Mariota being a better runner. Still, the playbook wouldn’t change much. Mariota is often limited with his hamstring and has to stay in the pocket. Tannehill is also fairly mobile, as he was a receiver in college.
It feels like there’s going to be a game in 2019 when Mariota gets benched at halftime after throwing 6 of 11 for 78 passing yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s when Tannehill will step in and complete 8 of 17 for 105 passing yards and an interception.
With the Titans, there’s a chance everyone will have to watch the quarterback battle for most of the season because they will stay competitive. They proved in 2018 that they don’t need their quarterback to win games. In Tennessee’s Week 2 win over the Houston Texans, starter Blaine Gabbert had a quarterback rating of 51.7. He was 13 of 20 for 117 yards and a touchdown. And somehow, the Titans beat the best team in the AFC South.
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Tennessee could stay relevant in 2019 while flipping and flopping between their perfectly mediocre signal-callers, which means we might have to monitor the “battle” as it unfolds.
It’s important, however, to put the word, “battle,” in air-quotes, because there’s generally vigor and excitement in a battle. It’s unlikely to see those qualities in this quarterback content. There’s also a winner in a battle. But with Tannehill and Mariota, there will be no winner — just losers, including us, the viewers.