Marcus Mariota

South Notes: Tepper, Mariota, Bucs

David Tepper may have been a minority owner of the Steelers before purchasing the Panthers for a league-record $2.275 billion, but he does not exactly fit the mold of your prototypical NFL owner. In a fascinating piece on the self-made billionaire, Kent Babb of the Washington Post describes how the enigmatic, unpolished Tepper could clash with the majority of the league’s straightlaced owners, and he wonders whether the league will ultimately change Tepper, or if Tepper might change the league. One way or another, Babb’s piece is worth a read.

Now for more from the league’s south divisions:

  • Despite some concerns that Titans QB Marcus Mariota could require a clean-up procedure on his knee this offseason, Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com says Mariota never had such a procedure and that he has looked like his usual self in spring practices thus far. Wyatt adds that, while Blaine Gabbert appears to be entrenched as Mariota’s backup going into the 2018 season, the team is more likely to keep Luke Falk as the No. 3 QB rather than risk sneaking him onto the practice squad.
  • The top four spots on the Buccaneers‘ WR depth chart are already spoken for, but Bobo Wilson, a 2017 UDFA who spent much of his rookie campaign on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, is making his case to stick around. As Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times writes, head coach Dirk Koetter has spoken highly of Wilson, who will compete for reps with 2018 fifth-rounder Justin Hunter. Wilson also has the ability to return kicks, which will certainly help his cause.
  • The Buccaneers traded a fourth- and sixth-round pick in this year’s draft to move up to the No. 94 overall selection, which they used to select Humboldt State OL Alex Cappa. Auman believes that Cappa may not be a starter right away, but that he will quickly push for a job as a regular on the offensive line (Twitter link).
  • Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune believes the Saints were wise to put a “ceiling price” on big-name free agents like Jimmy Graham and Ndamukong Suh this offseason, and he says the approach to Graham and Suh was emblematic of the team’s overall effort to rely more on young, cheap talent rather than high-priced veterans. That shift has been difficult because of New Orleans’ poor draft record in recent years, but while the Saints have a long way to go, Holder says they are moving in the right direction. Indeed, although the offense is heavy on expensive contracts, the defense is largely built on youth and thrift.
  • Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and GM Brian Gaine have specific physical characteristics in mind for every player they draft or sign, and they do not like to make exceptions to those parameters, as Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com writes. O’Brien’s and Gaine’s goal is to create a roster full of “big, strong, physical” players, and while their offseason acquisitions clearly reflect that philosophy, it is now incumbent upon O’Brien and his staff to mold his roster into a playoff contender.

Titans Pick Up Marcus Mariota’s Option

No surprise here, but the Titans will exercise Marcus Mariota‘s fifth-year option. Titans GM Jon Robinson confirmed the news in a radio interview on Wednesday (Twitter link via Paul Kuharsky).

The plan is over the next couple of days to exercise Marcus Mariota’s fifth-year option,” Robinson said in a press release. “He is an important part of this team, as are a lot of players. We’re excited to have him around here for the next couple of years and hopefully after the next season we can start to figure something out to keep him around him even longer.

Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, is coming off of another solid season in which he conducted four game-winning drives, the most of any QB in the NFL. Mariota’s numbers weren’t great overall (his 13:15 TD/INT ratio leaves much to be desired), but many of those missteps can be forgiven in light of the injuries he played through last year. Mariota went into the offseason dealing with hamstring, leg, and ankle issues and managed to miss just one start and played through the pain in both of Tennessee’s playoff contests.

In his playoff debut, Mariota led the Titans on a remarkable second half comeback to top the Chiefs in the Wild Card round. In the next round, the Patriots largely kept Mariota in check as he completed less than 60% of his passes and threw for only two touchdowns.

The fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only, so the Titans can escape the additional 2019 season in the event that his performance suffers for non-health reasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Fallout From Titans’ Mike Mularkey Firing

Mike Mularkey‘s season-ending press conference played a role in his firing. The Titans had announced their two-year head coach would be back in 2018 and given him a contract extension, but reversed course and fired him on Monday morning.

Jon Robinson said that decision was made Monday morning and added Mularkey’s comments Sunday played a role in this ouster (Twitter links via Jim Wyatt of Titans.com and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). Mularkey did not appear ready to make changes to his offensive staff, and it’s clear Robinson felt they were probably necessary.

Tennessee’s GM made clear Marcus Mariota‘s development will be the “highest priority,” per longtime NFL reporter Paul Kuharsky (Twitter link). Mariota regressed from 2016-17 despite steering the Titans to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons and giving the franchise its first postseason win since the 2003 campaign. The former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick threw for a career-low 13 touchdown passes — after firing 26 in 2016 — and a career-high 15 interceptions. DeMarco Murray‘s yards-per-carry figure also plummeted by nearly a yard for a Titans offense that ranked 18th in DVOA.

While Robinson made it clear all of Mularkey’s assistants were under contract (Twitter link via Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.com) it’s likely some (if not most) will be searching for new jobs soon. Kuharsky tweets Robinson and team president Steve Underwood informed Mularkey of his firing, not controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk.

Mularkey’s stubbornness regarding tailoring his scheme to Mariota’s talents helped do him in as Titans HC, Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com writes. Mularkey wanted to bring back his offensive staff, Wolfe reports.

The Titans are planning to interview Mike Vrabel and Steve Wilks, and hiring a defensive coach would represent a first since Jeff Fisher. A Josh McDaniels pursuit may have broken down in part because of timing, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets.

Josh McDaniels Prefers Titans To Colts?

Josh McDaniels will be the next head coach of the Colts. Or maybe not. Josh McDaniels (vertical)

The Titans canned Mike Mularkey on Monday morning, opening up speculation that the Titans have their eye on another head coaching candidate. If that preferred candidate is McDaniels, then they could have a match. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (Twitter link), the belief prior to the Colts report was that McDaniels would prefer the Titans to all of the other available coaching jobs. McDaniels is high on Marcus Mariota‘s potential and also has concerns about Andrew Luck‘s health.

McDaniels may have had a verbal agreement with the Colts, but there’s nothing in writing as the Patriots’ season is still ongoing. Until then, there will be speculation surrounding a reunion between McDaniels and former Pats exec Jon Robinson,

South Notes: Colts, Mariota, Bucs, Saints

Sunday’s snow game in Buffalo may end up costing Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri a significant amount of money, as Mike Wells of ESPN.com writes. Vinatieri has a clause in his contract that calls for him to earn a $500K bonus for converting 90% of his field goal attempts this season. After missing two field goals in a near blizzard against the Bills, Vinatieri’s field goal percentage now sits at just 88%, down from 95.6% entering Week 15. As Wells details, Vinatieri will need to hit at least five-of-five attempts during Indianapolis’ remaining three games in order to hit 90% again and reach his incentive threshold. Vinatieri, 44, is earning $2.75MM in base salary this year, and will become a free agent next spring.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two South divisions:

  • Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is still dealing with hamstring, leg, and ankle issues and could require surgery following the season, a source tells Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com. Mariota, who missed the tail end of the 2016 campaign after breaking his fibula, suffered a hamstring injury earlier this year, and the combination of those leg ailments are now affecting the Tennessee signal-caller. His recent performance is evidence of the problem, as Mariota hasn’t topped 200 yards passing in any of the Titans’ last three contests (while throwing for only two touchdowns against four interceptions). Tennessee still looks like a solid bet for a postseason berth — 81% per FiveThirtyEight — but the club could be held back by a hampered Mariota.
  • Although he initially feared he suffered a torn biceps in Week 14, Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy wants to play out the rest of the season, reports Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. McCoy has torn his biceps two other times during his NFL career, but he believes he’ll be able to play through the pain this time around. The Buccaneers are evidently willing to let him do so in what has become a lost campaign, as the club made a transaction on Tuesday without putting McCoy on injured reserve. Despite Tampa Bay’s problems on defense, McCoy has been as stout as ever, as he grades as the league’s No. 5 interior defender, per Pro Football Focus.
  • Defensive end Alex Okafor would like to re-sign with the Saints following a 2017 season that was shortened by injury, as he explains to Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. Okafor, 26, inked one of the better one-year deals of the season, a $2MM pact that will allow him to hit free agency again in 2018. Before going down with a torn Achilles, Okafor had more than lived up to his contract, excelling against the run while also managing 4.5 sacks. He’d been a key contributor as New Orleans’ defense surprisingly improved from its awful 2016 standing.
  • The Colts should use their three remaining games to assess their young talent, argues Wells in a separate column. Now sitting with a 3-10 record, Indianapolis clearly isn’t in the playoff hunt, so the club can begin to see what kind of talent resides on the back end of its roster. One player who could conceivably see more time down the stretch is running back Marlon Mack, especially given that 34-year-old Frank Gore is coming off a 36-carry effort in Buffalo (and will now play on a short week).

Titans QB Marcus Mariota To Start In Week 6

The Titans will see the return of quarterback Marcus Mariota on Monday night, as he’s expected to start against the Colts after recovering from a strained hamstring, according to veteran NFL reporter Paul Kuharsky (Twitter link).Marcus Mariota (Vertical)

With Mariota sidelined for Week 5, Tennessee turned to veteran backup Matt Cassel, who couldn’t move the offense in a 16-10 loss to the Dolphins. Cassel completed 21 of 32 attempts for only 141 yards and one touchdown while taking six sacks. Brandon Weeden, signed following Mariota’s injury, served as Cassel’s No. 2, but it’s unclear whether he’ll remain on the roster now that Mariota is available.

The Titans, Texans, and Colts all sit at 2-3, one game behind the AFC South leading Jaguars. Football Outsiders currently gives Tennessee a 24.2% chance of making the playoffs, and those odds should only be buoyed by Mariota’s return. Through four starts, Mariota has completed 60% of his passes for three touchdowns and three interceptions while adding 116 yards and three more scores on the ground.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Marcus Mariota To Miss Week 5

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is not expected to suit up for today’s matchup against the Dolphins, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). Backup Matt Cassel will start in Mariota’s stead.

Marcus Mariota (Vertical)

An MRI earlier this week revealed that Mariota suffered a strained hamstring in last Sunday’s blowout loss to the Texans. Mariota returned to the game following the initial hit that led to injury, and he warmed up before the second half as if he planned to re-enter the game. But following discussions with the Titans’ staff, Mariota went to the locker room and didn’t re-appear on Tennessee’s sideline until the fourth quarter. With the Titans already down 30-14 at halftime, the team decided not to risk further injury to its star QB.

After entering the game, Cassel went just 4-10 for 21 yards and two interceptions, and given his recent track record, it might be asking too much for him to keep the team afloat if Mariota were to miss a significant amount of time. The same is true of Brandon Weeden, whom the Titans recently signed in the wake of Mariota’s injury. At 2-2, Tennessee is in a three-way tie in the wide open AFC South, and it needs Mariota back on the field as soon as possible.

As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports, even though Mariota was considered day-to-day this week and had a chance of suiting up today, his recovery time from the date of the injury was two to four weeks, so he may not be ready for next week’s game against the Colts.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Titans, Lions, Colts, Giants

As had been expected, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will be a gametime decision in Week 5, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Mariota is day-to-day with a strained hamstring, and backup Matt Cassel will start against the Dolphins if Mariota is unable to play. Tennessee signed veteran signal-caller Brandon Weeden earlier this week, passing over other free agent options such as Colin Kaepernick.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Lions haven’t decided whether they’ll activate defensive Armonty Bryant — who is returning from a four-game suspension — before Sunday’s contest against the Panthers, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Detroit has a roster exemption for Bryant, and it must either add him to the 53-man roster or release by Monday. Given how thin they are along the defensive line (Kerry Hyder is out for the year, Khyri Thornton is still banned), Bryant seems likely to claim a roster spot by next week at the latest.
  • Before signing with the Bears’ practice squad on Friday, defensive end Howard Jones worked out for the Colts, tweets veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer. Jones, 27, had drawn a good deal of interest since being non-tendered by the Buccaneers earlier this year, as he’d also met with the Titans and Jets. Still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in November of 2016, Jones wasn’t a major contributor in eight games last season before going down, but he did manage five sacks in a rotational role for Tampa Bay in 2015.
  • Speaking of workouts, the Giants auditioned a large group of free agents today, reports Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. New York focused on front five as it worked out the following players: offensive linemen Kareem Are, Willie Beavers, Ethan Cooper, Kaleb Johnson, Cameron Jefferson, Storm Norton, Jeremiah Poutasi, Cyril Richardson, Kristjan Sokoli, and Zach Voytek, plus defensive tackle Greg Milhouse.
  • The Buccaneers will be without defensive end for two-to-four weeks Ryan Russell after he suffered a shoulder injury against the Patriots, per Rapoport (Twitter link). Russell, 25, has managed four tackles on 110 defensive snaps as a rotational end this season. If Tampa Bay is looking for depth, the club could potentially promote Channing Ward from its practice squad.

Titans Did Not Consider Colin Kaepernick

With Marcus Mariota dealing with a hamstring injury, the Titans signed veteran quarterback Brandon Weeden. The move raised some eyebrows around the football world since Weeden is the latest middle-of-the-road signal caller to get an opportunity ahead of Colin Kaepernick. Apparently, Kaepernick wasn’t even considered. Colin Kaepernick (vertical)

[RELATED: Raiders Have Not Considering Kaepernick Either]

Coach Mike Mularkey told reporters on Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of any conversations about signing Kaepernick (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Cameron Wolfe). The justification is in line with what we’ve heard before from other teams, both on and off the record. Kaepernick, he said, is not familiar with the Titans’ type of offense while Weeden offers familiarity with a similar system thanks to his time in Houston and Dallas.

Weeden auditioned alongside Matt Barkley, Matt McGloin, and T.J. Yates on Tuesday and turned in the best performance of the quartet. He has not appeared in a real NFL game since 2015.

The Raiders, who will be without Derek Carr for some time, also did not consider Kaepernick.

Mariota practiced for the Titans on Wednesday, but he was limited. He is considered day-to-day as the Titans prepare for their Week 5 contest against the Dolphins.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans QB Marcus Mariota Day-To-Day

An MRI revealed that Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has a strained hamstring and is now day-to-day, head coach Mike Mularkey told reporters, including Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.com (Twitter links) and veteran NFL reporter Paul Kuharsky (Twitter links).Marcus Mariota (Vertical)

Mariota returned to Sunday’s contest following the initial hit that led to injury, and warmed up before the second half as if he planned to re-enter the game. But following discussions with the Titans’ staff, Mariota went to the locker room and didn’t re-appear on Tennessee’s sideline until the fourth quarter. With the Titans already down 30-14 at halftime, Mularkey decided not to risk further injury to Mariota.

If Mariota can’t play against the Dolphins in Week 5, the Titans would turn to veteran Matt Cassel, who completed only four of 10 attempts for 21 yards yesterday while tossing two interceptions. Per Mularkey, Tennessee’s passing attack will remain similar if Cassel is forced to start, but changes will be made to the run game. A decision on Mariota’s status may not be made until next Sunday morning.

The Titans only have two quarterbacks on their current roster, so Mularkey admitted the club could look to add a third signal-caller. Practice squader Tyler Ferguson would be an obvious candidate for promotion, but the 2017 undrafted free agent doesn’t have any NFL experience.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.