Extra Points: Desperate Titans ignore the suitors
(SportsNetwork.com) - Let's just say the quarterback position has been a problem in Nashville since the late Steve McNair left for Baltimore in 2006.
It's not like the Tennessee Titans haven't tried to fix things, drafting Vince Young at No. 3 overall in 2006 and Jake Locker at No. 8 in 2011, but nothing was worked. So maybe the third time will be the charm.
Of all the places Marcus Mariota could have ended up, however, Music City was perhaps the least likely except in the mind of the only two men who really mattered, Titans general manager Ruston Webster and his head coach Ken Whisenhunt.
As expected, the inexperienced, at least from a personnel standpoint, Chip Kelly put on the full-court press for his old college quarterback, attempting to mortgage the Philadelphia Eagles' future by sending a host of draft picks and veteran players to Tennessee for Mariota at No. 2 overall. And others like Cleveland, Chicago, St, Louis and the New York Jets made overtures, some more significant than others.
Webster, however, held on to the pick claiming he and Whisenhunt grew increasingly comfortable with Mariota during the pre-draft process, which included a number of meetings with the Heisman Trophy winner starting at the NFL's Scouting Combine back in February.
"It was going to be difficult to convince us to back out," Webster said. "We had conversations with different teams, but nothing to the point of us not picking Marcus. Every minute we spent with him it just felt better and better."
Difficult may have been an understatement because two different sources told The Sports Network Kelly threw the kitchen sink at the Titans in an attempt to acquire his dream quarterback.
The Eagles put two first-round picks, an additional third-round selection, along with proven defenders Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin on the table. And they may have added more as the clock ticked down on Kelly's fantasy.
"I didn't think it was going to happen, and it didn't happen," Kelly claimed, while denying he actually offered the players he now has to look in the eye. "It was a really steep price."
Rumors that Lincoln Financial Field, the Phillie Phanatic and Geno's Steaks as well as the Liberty Bell, the Rocky Statue, Joel Embiid, Claude Giroux and Cole Hamels were added to sweeten the pot for Tennessee could not be confirmed.
All jokes aside, though, Webster turned down quite the haul for a prospect who doesn't seem like a great fit for the Titans, at least on the surface.
Mariota is admittedly a very smart kid with all the intangibles you need to play the game's most important position but he has little training in a pro- style offense.
In fact some scouts believe Mariota was never really tested in Eugene in what is, at least in the NFL's eyes, a dumbed-down offense. The spread system that Kelly ran with the Ducks and Mark Helfrich has continued is based on tempo and doesn't require the QB to make NFL-level progressions from receiver to receiver. It's often been described as quarterback-proof, in which the pilot is told what to do pre-snap and expected to make his one read and go.
Which brings us full circle to the Titans, who finished 2-14 last season under Whisenhunt, a coach who made his bones in the NFL mentoring traditional signal callers like Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers.
"I believe in my abilities and the hard work that I've put in and that's one thing, is that I can't control other people's opinions," Mariota said. "I've just got to do what I can do and that's putting in the hard work and getting ready for the next chapter. People are always going to have their opinions and say what they want to say, I'm just excited to get it rolling and start this new chapter."
The problem for Whisenhunt, though, is this new chapter begins in an era where five-year plans are no longer acceptable. After the 2-14 2014 campaign, his first in the Volunteer State, Whisenhunt is already on the clock and he probably can't afford another disastrous record while waiting for a raw QB to develop.
The positives are that Mariota possesses both amazing mobility and the arm strength to throw it from the pocket, skills that are now the prototype in this league (think Aaron Rodgers).
Whisenhunt, however, will be expected to get Mariota up to speed and make him a Day 1 starter over second-year project Zach Mettenberger, not a tall task from a competition standpoint but certainly a difficult one when you spin it off into the rest of the league and the AFC South where Mariota will be competing against a superstar like Andrew Luck twice every season.
He'll also be ordered to tweak his entire system to take advantage of what Mariota does well right now, running the read-option and using the quick- hitting passing game, things the coach may not be all that comfortable with.
"There are going to be some things he's had success with in college we'll incorporate in what we do," Whisenhunt said. "I don't think it's going to be that challenging. I'm excited about doing that. ... We'll see how it grows, what he can handle and how he can progress."
Mariota better progress fast or this will end in an ironic fashion ... with Webster saving Kelly from himself while sealing his own fate as well as his coach's.