Ryan Pace’s first draft quarterback crush could be the guy who saves his job.
The young GM had been on the job for just a few months and the rumor mill was swirling. The thought was that he wanted to package Jay Cutler with the seventh overall pick for the second pick and the chance to select Marcus Mariota. When asked about the possible trade, Pace didn’t say much. He also didn’t deny it.
The Titans balked and took Mariota. The Bears stayed at seven, took Kevin White and stuck with Cutler for two more years. It’s safe to say they might both have been worse off than if they had just done the deal.
On the surface Mariota doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade over Trubisky.
- Mariota has a career passer rating of 89.6, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt and throws touchdowns on 4.4 percent of his attempts.
- Trubisky’s rating sits at 85.8 with 6.7 yards per attempt and a touchdown percentage of 3.8.
- The Titans have gone 29-32 in Mariota’s starts and their offense exploded in 2019 after he was benched and another former first round disappointment Ryan Tannehill led them to the AFC Championship game.
- The Bears have gone 23-18 with Trubisky.
But the raw numbers don’t really tell the story of Mariota. Or Trubisky, for that matter.
The Titans mismanaged Marcus Mariota.
Questions about Mariota coming out of the draft were based mostly on whether or not he was a system quarterback after playing in Chip Kelly’s spread offense at Oregon. Instead of adapting to his strengths, the Titans repeatedly tried to make him fit the offense they want to run.
After spending his entire college career in spread formations and taking snaps out of the shotgun, the Titans have basically done that less than any team in the league. According to Sharp Football, the Titans operated under center nearly 50 percent of the time going back to 2016 and almost 60 percent of the time on first and second downs. Worse yet, they have been in the bottom three in terms of using three wide receiver sets each of the past four years.
It isn’t that their offensive system is bad; clearly it works for a quarterback like Tannehill who has several years experience playing in condensed NFL formations, including in college when he played for the old school Mike Sherman, also his offensive coordinator in the NFL for a time. But the Titans took a spread quarterback and have forced him to run bunched up formations. That’s not who he is and isn’t who he should be asked to be.
The Bears, meanwhile, are asking Trubisky to do almost exactly what he did in college, spreading their offense out with 76 percent of their snaps in shotgun and 58 with three wide receivers on the field.
In fairness, Mariota did struggle when the Titans spread the ball out, but it’s hard to say if that was actually his fault. The team usually only spread the field on passing downs and never gave him a quality group of receivers. Again, that isn’t true for Trubisky.
If Pace were to pursue Mariota, he would likely have his head coach’s blessing. The Chiefs were also rumored to be in the running to trade up for Mariota prior to the 2015 and Andy Reid said last January that he “was a fan of his coming out. I know he’s a good football player.”
While there are some who think Mariota wouldn’t sign with the Bears because he shares an agent with Trubisky, it’s worth noting that the same agency paired Blake Bortles with Jared Goff in the 2019 off-season. Trubisky isn’t as locked in as the starter as Goff, but given his injury history and the fit with the Bears, it might still be the best bet for Mariota.
If the goal is to get a franchise quarterback this off-season, Mariota might be the only option. While he has flaws, he was still good enough to be a consensus second overall pick who many thought would’ve been a consensus first overall pick in most draft classes. He has franchise-quarterback level talent.
Pace likes to talk about being bold and having conviction. Surely there has to be some confidence that he got at least one of his two quarterback crushes right?