‘Let it ride’
Mariota heads into final season of rookie deal with Titans without extension
By TERESA M. WALKER
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Going into the final year of his rookie contract, Marcus Mariota hasn’t changed anything about how he prepares for this season.
That includes no talk of holding out or public demands for a new contract. The Titans quarterback and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner prefers to show up and work hard during the voluntary offseason program to be the best he can be.
“Let it ride,” Mariota said Tuesday. “I mean no matter what still I get to come out here. I get to play a game that I love and I’m going to make the most of it.”
Mariota’s injury history is the reason why the Titans have yet to sign the quarterback to an extension after picking up his option for 2019 at $20.9 million. The Saint Louis School graduate has missed at least one game a season and eight combined through his first four years, and he is coming off a season where he threw for a career-worst 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
A revolving cast of coaches hasn’t helped.
Coach Mike Vrabel is Mariota’s third head coach since being drafted No. 2 overall in 2015, and Arthur Smith is his fourth offensive coordinator and fifth play-caller. Vrabel promoted Smith from coaching tight ends to make the transition as smooth as possible — the only offensive change after coordinator Matt LaFleur was hired as Green Bay’s new head coach.
“I hope that there’s a lot of carry-over,” Vrabel said of his offense.
Both Mariota and the Titans have plenty of room for improvement on offense. Thanks to a dominant December by Derrick Henry running the ball, Tennessee ranked seventh in that category in 2018. They ranked 29th in passing offense, managing a mere 189.5 yards per game after losing Mariota’s top target — three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker — in the opener.
Mariota threw for more than 300 yards only once — in an overtime win over Philadelphia — and the Titans had three games where they didn’t reach 100 yards passing. Mariota missed three starts, including the regular-season finale when a victory would’ve earned a second straight playoff berth.
The Titans upgraded Mariota’s backup, trading for Ryan Tannehill in March. They also signed wide receiver Adam Humphries and new left guard Rodger Saffold to improve the offensive line while drafting another receiver in A.J. Brown to give both Mariota and the offense a boost.
“I feel like as a team we’ve made some good choices, and hopefully they can bring something dynamic to the offense,” Walker said.
Mariota wouldn’t bite when asked how little he needs Tannehill to play this season.
“No matter what, I know he’ll be prepared if it comes to that and he’ll make the most of his opportunity,” Mariota said.
The Titans made clear when they traded for Tannehill that Mariota remains their starter, though that hasn’t stopped speculation that Tannehill was brought in to push Mariota.
“His job is not in jeopardy,” Vrabel said of Mariota.
The quarterback and Smith know each other well having spent the past four seasons together through all the different schemes. Mariota said Smith also makes it easy for players to talk to him about what they like and don’t like.
Mariota, who sat out the final game last season because of nerve issues affecting his throwing arm, looked fine on the second day of the Titans’ organized team activities in the final phase of the offseason program. Mariota threw short, mid-range and long passes.
The quarterback said he wishes those health issues hadn’t happened, especially at the end of the season. He’s working to be healthier, having gained a few extra pounds to help. But he’s not going to worry about the concerns others have about his durability.
“Other people’s opinions don’t matter to me,” Mariota said. “I just got to be the best I can be for this team.”