As you may have heard by now, the Titans drafted Marcus Mariota to play quarterback. The hope is obviously that he will remain there for the next decade, and solidify the position. While this is great, and I personally believe that Mariota can do it, it is time to start thinking about the next part—building around your quarterback. Ruston Webster did a great job during the draft to surround Mariota with young weapons that can hopefully grow together. However, it does not stop there. Many associate building around your quarterback as signing or drafting players at only skill positions, and maybe left tackle. But, building the "Mariota Titans" is a task that will require addressing every facet. It sounds like a supremely obvious idea that is unrelated to Mariota when you break it down—you need to build your football team with good players. However, Mariota is related from a financial standpoint. Given the new rookie contracts, the window has officially opened for the next 5 years for the team to build a legitimate contender.
Under the old NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, first round rookies got huge contracts. If they were picked in the top 3, it was a significant amount of money that only increased yearly. Sam Bradford, the last rookie Quarterback picked in the top 3 who received one of these contracts got a deal for 6 years, $76 million in 2010. I am not going to try to accurately extrapolate the numbers, but Mariota, selected 5 years later, would have gotten $90-100 million, I’m estimating. However, based on Jameis Winston’s 4 year, $23 million contract, it appears likely that Mariota will receive about 4.5 to 5 million dollars per year for the next couple of years.
Under the old rookie contracts, a traditional idea was the "five year plan." A team selects its Quarterback, can slowly build through the draft and improve, and hopefully become a contender years down the road. However, in the NFL under this new Collective Bargaining Agreement, this approach seems relatively outdated. That is not to say that teams, specifically the Titans in this situation, should not continue to build through the draft, because this is always the way to go as far as building a team, and Ruston Webster agrees. However, the five year plan seems to have been accelerated. Teams now need to take advantage of not having to shell out a significant amount of cash to quarterbacks right off the bat, and get aggressive when building in the relative short term, before the quarterback reaches his second contract. This is where, if they turn out to be elite, or even just above average as Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, and Ryan Tannehill have shown, teams will have to pay big time money.
Ideally, this team should at least show some form of competition for the playoffs within the next 2 to 3 years. After last season, I know that sounds ludicrous, but if the Titans are there, then they are following the blueprint very well. This can allow them to use free agency to their advantage. Unlike past years where they have had to be "aggressive" due to a poor roster, and have overpaid subpar players, they can be aggressive in a different way. The team can add pieces, which is what free agency is meant for, instead of attempting to overhaul the roster. Mariota is a factor here as well. If he turns out to be the quarterback that we all hope he will be, skill players may be more enticed to come to Tennessee. I know that money talks, but taking less money to play with a top quarterback is something that skill players do. Wes Welker took less to play in Denver than to play in Tennessee years ago. Randall Cobb did the same by staying with Green Bay instead of moving to Jacksonville. Also, Mariota’s contract can allow the team to spend more money re-signing its own during this window. A nice mesh between these alone should speed things up tremendously when it comes to re-building this team. The Titans were smart by already starting to build around Mariota, exclusively on offense. This opens things up for next off-season, when they can take the same approach to the draft, except on the defensive side of the football. In two years, the Titans could have completely changed the look of the entire team on both sides. It’s a reason why the playoffs in the next couple of years seems to be something to look at, even considering what happened last year.
This is not to say that the Titans must win the Super Bowl in the next five years, or even that they absolutely have to make the playoffs in the next 2 to 3 years. The bottom line is that they have a 5 year window to build the team up as much as they can around Mariota before they have to pay him a significant amount of money. This is a reason why the Colts added a lot of veterans, like Andre Johnson, Trent Cole, and Frank Gore this off-season. With Luck likely getting ready to become the highest paid player in NFL history, they are making one last run at a Super Bowl during this window under his rookie contract before they have to make tough financial decisions. The Seahawks are another example—they are typically pretty flexible in free agency, and have been aggressive in building the team as much as they can before Russell Wilson gets his contract next year. The rookie contract is not a window where teams *must* win a Super Bowl in 5 years, but the way things have shaped up recently, it appears as if it is the most optimal time to strike.