Titans QB Marcus Mariota continue to rehabilitate an ulnar nerve injury that contributed to a missed game this season. Although Mariota was active, he spent Sunday on the sidelines with a baseball cap.
It’s unknown at this point if Mariota’s absence will be for one game or multiple games due to uncertainty surrounding the status of his progress.
Some fans are using the late Steve McNair’s ability to play through injuries as a means of questioning Mariota’s overall toughness.
This is where people are wrong.
The ulnar nerve injury isn’t about pain. Mariota is not experiencing pain associated with an injury. He is experiencing numbness that is effecting his ability to grip the football. If he cannot grip the football, he cannot be effective as his touch and accuracy will be greatly impacted.
Playing Through Pain?
As mentioned above, the thought that “Mariota needs to play through the pain” is inaccurate and off base.
HC Mike Vrabel cited in practice that Mariota’s progress hasn’t really made any significant changes since he was last evaluated. Simply put - there are throws he can make and throws he cannot. Vrabel is of the mindset that the offense will be more limited with Mariota in his current health than it already is with Blaine Gabbert fully healthy.
That alone speaks volumes.
A takeaway from Vrabel’s statement could indicate the Titans offense could try to stretch the field in Mariota’s absence - and Gabbert has the arm to do so. His accuracy has been the real issue he’s struggled with throughout his career.
Vrabel doesn’t want to takeaway the potential deep pass from the offense. Because of that fact, Mariota will likely remain sidelined until he can make those throws OR until the offense becomes more limited/less effective with a healthy Gabbert.
Value Defining Season
Mariota’s ulnar nerve injury could not have happened at a worse time.
Primed to run an offense tailor fit to his strengths, Mariota is now forced to watch and wait. Mariota’s is losing money the longer he is not on the field. This season was potentially a value-defining year in which he could’ve earned a contract extension early and become one of the top paid quarterbacks in football.
Now, the Titans and GM Jon Robinson can chose to wait out on signing Mariota to a long-term deal until they have assurances the injury will not linger or have a detrimental effect on the longevity of his career.
Robinson would much rather be in the opposite position, surely. He would much rather his franchise quarterback be healthy and put in the position to grow into a new offense. But the fact is, he’s not healthy.
The season is still salvageable for Mariota in terms of increasing his value, but missing games will not help his cause. He’s clearly not missing by choice, but due to hampering the team’s overall efficiency.
If Mariota’s health is restored and the time spent on the sidelines helps him advance mentally in finding comfort with the offense, he could still produce just enough to earn a deal - assuming he overcomes the ulnar nerve injury. This would completely absolve any concerns Robinson may have.
If terms like “career-altering”, “lasting long-term concerns”, or the dreaded “residual damage” begin to start circulating - hit the panic button.