NFL

The Chargers better not ruin Justin Herbert the way the Titans ruined Marcus Mariota

NFL

Let me take you back to the 2016 NFL Season.

Marcus Mariota began the season on fire, throwing for 1,124 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a 115.0 passer rating along with 89 yards rushing with a touchdown. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for Tennessee. 

The Titans finished with a 9-7 record narrowly missing the playoffs, but the Titans appeared to have a stud in its sophomore quarterback who was named a Pro Bowl alternate and ranked the 50th best NFL player by his peers. 

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Then in 2017, Mariota appeared to regress, finishing the regular season with 3,232 passing yards, 13 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 312 rushing yards, and five rushing touchdowns, despite his team making the postseason and upsetting the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round. In that game, Mariota become the second player in NFL postseason history to throw a touchdown to himself and orchestrated an 18-point comeback. Also, Mariota struggled through hamstring and ankle injuries that year. 

Then, the Titans made another change at head coach with Mike Vrabel which has worked out since for the Titans but did not help Mariota. By the time Mariota was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill, the former Heisman winner had dealt with five different play-callers in five seasons as Tennessee's starter. 

Now with the 2020 regular season concluded, the Los Angeles Chargers better not make the same mistakes with Justin Herbert who looks like he can develop into a top-5 quarterback after breaking numerous rookie passing records. 

 

It seems pretty clear Anthony Lynn will be fired as Chargers head coach. Los Angeles finished with a 7-9 record, but the roster could have easily earned a Wild Card berth with better coaching.

This season alone, Lynn named Tyrod Taylor the starter, ran running plays without timeouts with less than 30 seconds remaining, ran the ball with no timeouts so his team couldn't kick a field goal, had the wrong number of players on punt return multiple times in a single half, ran a QB sneak with the offensive line in pass protection, punted the ball on fourth-and-short giving Patrick Mahomes the ball in overtime, and blew numerous second-half leads. 

Now, with Herbert under a rookie contract surrounded by offensive weapons and Derwin James returning healthy in 2021, the Chargers need to win now, because they can.

Step one? Fire Anthony Lynn. Step two? Hire an offensive play-caller as their head coach. 

By hiring an offensive play-caller to head coach, the Chargers can promise stability for Herbert. Something he hasn't had since high school having undergone three different head coaches at Oregon. 

He will not need to learn a new offensive system every offseason as Mariota did in Tennessee. If Herbert makes a new offensive coordinator look good, Los Angeles won't have to worry about someone else hiring away its play-caller. 

If I had a top choice, the Chargers should hire Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady who schemed players open in his first season at Carolina. Now imagine him replacing Teddy Bridgewater with Herbert's physical tools and Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the outside. 

The Chargers will only go as far as Herbert will take them. Every single decision over the course of Herbert's rookie contract, if not longer, should be to maximize the Eugene native. Every decision made this offseason should be with the intent to win a Super Bowl during Herbert's rookie contract. 

Five of the last eight Super Bowls had a quarterback on its rookie contract starting for one of the teams, with two of them winning. It would be one more if Carson Wentz didn't tear his ACL when the Eagles won the championship. 

A starting quarterback on a rookie deal is the most valuable asset in the NFL. Tennessee had that and blew it. Now, Los Angeles cannot make the same mistake.