Will Sunday’s game be a tryout for Cassel and Tanney?

The Tennessee Titans season effectively ended last Saturday in Jacksonville, but there is still a game to be played this weekend.

Tennessee’s matchup against the Houston Texans is important mostly due to divisional pride, as the Titans will try to avoid going 1-5 against the AFC South in 2016. But the game also has value in regards to roster evaluations.

With no playoff hopes, expect the Titans to give young, unproven players like Aaron Wallace, Tre McBride, and Kalan Reed increased reps in preparation for offseason roster decisions. The game may also be an opportunity for the reserve quarterbacks, Matt Cassel and Alex Tanney, to prove they deserve to be Marcus Mariota’s primary backup in 2017.

Cassel Vs. Tanney

With Mariota sidelined due to a broken fibula, Titans coach Mike Mularkey has already stated that Matt Cassel will be starting against Houston. This move makes sense when you consider the circumstances. Cassel has been the backup all year and provided Marcus with veteran advice and guidance that Marcus lacked in his rookie season.

Cassel has certainly earned his chance to start, and Mularkey has rightfully honored that. But at age 34, and with his contract expiring after this season, there is no guarantee that the Titans (or any team) will sign him in 2017. Cassel wasn’t particularly impressive in relief against the Jaguars, going 13-24 with 1 TD and a pick six. He brings value as a veteran presence and mentor for Marcus, but is that enough to warrant re-signing him as the backup QB? Perhaps a solid performance against the Texans could help him earn a new contract.

Although Cassel is deserving of the starting role against the Texans, the Titans should still make an effort to give 3rd string QB Alex Tanney playing time. With Cassel being a question mark for the future, Jon Robinson should at least see what he has in the 29 year old practice squad lifer. Tanney only has one game of NFL experience, when he played decently in relief of Zach Mettenberger in Tennessee’s final game of 2015. Tanney also arguably outplayed Cassel in the pre-season this year, but playing well against 3rd or 4th stringers doesn’t carry much weight. The Titans signed him to a decent contract that prevented other teams from snatching him off of their practice squad, so they obviously like him. But like Cassel, his contract expires after this season, leaving his future with the team up in the air. If the truly Titans consider Tanney a feasible #2 QB, they should make sure to get him some valuable reps against a playoff defense this weekend.

2017 Backup Possibilities

Some Titans fans may say, “If Mariota goes down it doesn’t matter who plays QB. We won’t stand a chance”. But any GM will tell you how important a backup QB can be; just look at the Dallas Cowboys.

The Titans should want a player that gives them a chance to compete if Marcus misses action. As Marcus’s lackluster play the last month has shown, you can still win games when you can run the ball effectively and play good defense.

The backup doesn’t need to be a Pro Bowler, but he should be able to manage the game and make just enough plays to keep the offense moving. And there happens to be some interesting (if unimpressive) options in free agency this year: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, EJ Manuel, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, and Geno Smith could all be possible upgrades to the backup QB position.

So are Cassel and Tanney viable backups for Marcus in 2017? Week 17 may answer that question. But the most probable scenario is that the Titans let Cassel walk, and sign Tanney to another short, cheap contract.

They can then bring in another veteran free agent to compete with Tanney for the backup job. Letting Matt Cassel start this Sunday is certainly a sportsmanlike gesture by Mularkey. But if there is a chance they think Tanney could be Mariota’s backup, Tennessee should let him play against premier competition to help them determine if he is capable. In some ways, the offseason has already begun, and the Titans need to start making preparations for 2017.

They now have an opportunity to observe both of their in-house QB options this Sunday, and they should take advantage of it.

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