The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans are ships going in opposite directions.
While the Colts franchise ultimately left Andrew Luck exposed, the Titans did the exact opposite. They built their team to protect QB Marcus Mariota, and now they have arguably the most promising young core in the NFL.
Indy didn't help Luck out any by not investing in an offensive line and in the end the team paid the ultimate price they may have lost their QB for good and he had the potential to be one of the best ever.
The Colts were lucky and their fans were spoiled ass rotten with the fanbase being carried the last twenty years by two very good QB's Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck making the postseason fourteen times,winning ten or more games fourteen different seasons,winning their division ten times.
From 1999-2016 The Patriots were 209-79 overall coming in first in winning percentage and second during that span were the Colts who went 189-99.
The Patriots went to eleven AFC title games,seven Super Bowls and won five titles during that span meanwhile the Colts only managed to go to four AFC title games,two Super Bowls and won just one title despite being just as dominant as the Patriots.
It is very rare for a franchise to be gifted with a franchise QB right on the heels of the previous one leaving. The 49ers got lucky with Joe Montana and Steve Young,the Packers with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers,the Patriots with Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady and the Colts with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Other than that it just doesn't happen often besides those four franchises.
Well if Andrew Luck somehow ends up not playing again the team definitely blew a golden opportunity because the Colts appeared to have a stranglehold on the AFC South for the next decade when they managed to go 11-5 in their first year with Luck back in 2012.
Now the team with the brightest future in the division is the Tennessee Titans. And here’s what’s most telling: They have gotten to this point by, in many ways, doing the exact opposite of the Colts.
While Indianapolis enjoyed a meteoric rise, Tennessee’s growth has been maddeningly methodical. Some fans grew frustrated, saying the process was too slow and conservative.
But it has finally produced a team that looks like it can sustain its success over the long term possibly better than any team in the NFL. These days, few teams look smarter than the Titans, who are 6-3 entering Thursday night’s game against the Steelers.
The key difference in philosophies: The Colts invested little in young talent to surround their star quarterback, who was constantly battered and bruised and now will miss the entire 2017 season due to a shoulder injury. On the other side, no team in the last two decades has been as committed to supporting its prized quarterback as the Titans have with Marcus Mariota.
“Marcus is an integral part of our offense,” said general manager Jon Robinson, “but protecting him was first and foremost.”
Robinson started in January 2016 as GM and Mariota started his second season that same year. In their first year together the Robinson and Mariota went 9-7 and this year they are 6-3.
The best thing that happened for the Titans is drafting Mariota in 2015 and getting Robinson the year after and they've made a great tandem. After all any successful team has to have a franchise QB who can win games and a good GM that can stock the team with talent and that is happening in Tennessee.
From 1999 through 2011 the first twelve years were great with the team having seven winning seasons,six trips to the playoffs,three division titles,two AFC title game appearances and a Super Bowl berth.
2012 through 2015 the team went through a tough period due to a new GM Ruston Webster whose poor drafting included a QB Jake Locker who busted. Things started to get back on track when the team drafted a new QB Mariota.
Drafting a franchise quarterback though isn’t enough to build an offense.
Ever since the Titans drafted Mariota No. 2 overall in the 2015 draft, they haven’t stopped adding offensive pieces around him.
Robinson compares it to building a house and the first thing his quarterback needed was a solid foundation.
Despite spending their top pick in 2014 on an offensive tackle, Taylor Lewan, they did the same thing in 2016 with Jack Conklin, giving their at-times fragile quarterback two personal bodyguards at the premier positions on the line.
Then in free agency GM Robinson signed center Ben Jones plus guard Josh Kline off waivers and the team already had guard Quinton Spain.
So in 2016 in Mariota's second season his offensive line was set Lewan,Spain,Jones,Kline,Conklin.
After that, the Titans accessorized. They spent a second round pick in 2016, acquired from the Rams when they traded up for Jared Goff, on star Alabama running back Derrick Henry, a Heisman Trophy winner who along with DeMarco Murray now forms one of the NFL’s best backfield tandems.
With 2017's No. 5 overall pick—again part of the Goff trade—Tennessee took wide receiver Corey Davis. The team then spent its two third-round picks on another wide receiver Taywan Taylor and a tight end Jonnu Smith.
This may sound completely normal, even logical, but it’s nothing like how teams typically act after selecting a top quarterback.
According to the draft value chart, developed by former coach Jimmy Johnson and which awards points to each draft slot based on its expected value, no team since at least 1998 has supported a top quarterback prospect like the Titans have done with Mariota through his first three seasons.
The Titans have showered Mariota with 4,640 points of offensive talent, adding up all the offensive players they’ve drafted in the first four rounds, after which the expected value of picks becomes negligible. That’s about twice the average for quarterbacks selected first or second overall since 1998.
“If you go get that franchise quarterback, go get him some help,” said offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. “Some guys turn around say, ‘I’m going to go the other way. I’ve got him, and he’s going to win the game.’”
There are two obvious points of comparison for what the Titans have done. The first is in Indianapolis, where the Colts spent roughly a third as much draft capital in the ensuing drafts on offensive players after picking Luck.
Eventually, the offense—even with a prodigious talent like Luck—began to break down when the front office tried to cobble together the roster around him with aging free agents like Andre Johnson.
Another clear point of reference: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who selected Jameis Winston No. 1 overall in the same draft the Titans took Mariota No. 2. Like the Colts, they didn’t spend many of their subsequent picks on offensive players. (In 2016, they spent a second-round pick on a kicker.)
That could help explain why the Tampa Bay offense has sputtered. The Buccaneers are 3-6 with Winston now rehabbing an injury of his own.
Meanwhile, Mariota has been among the best protected and least exposed quarterbacks in the NFL--27 quarterbacks have been sacked more than he has this year.
At the same time, investing top draft picks at some of the positions that draw the highest salaries, like quarterback and receiver, has given Robinson and coach Mike Mularkey the financial flexibility to splurge elsewhere. Last offseason, the Titans spent more than $80 million on defensive free agents.
All the while, the Tennessee offense, once mocked for lacking explosiveness, has steadily improved. From 2015 to 2016, the Titans jumped from 28th in scoring to 14th. This year, they’re 13th.