All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday, which on most days would be a reason for excitement, but this morning I’m just bleary-eyed over the complete collapse I saw from my Titans last night against the Jags.

Just complete and total futility.

I’m so crushed here that I’m going to finish the mailbag and then go take a nap and pretend last night’s game never happened.

In the meantime, you can make my life worse by winning $10k of my money this weekend in our college football pick’em. It’s free and I hope all of you lose.

Here we go with the Friday mailbag.

Cody writes:

“If you were the Titans would you consider starting Ryan Tannehill next week?”

I understand there’s lots of focus on Marcus Mariota, but the Titans issues are far more substantive than who is playing quarterback. Consider: through three games the Titans have allowed more sacks — 17 — than any team in nearly twenty years in the NFL.

Is Mariota to blame for some of them?

Sure.

But he’s athletic enough to have also avoided sacks that less athletic quarterbacks would have been sacked on as well. On his dropbacks last night he was hit or sacked on 18 of 40 pass attempts. That’s absolute insanity. No one’s quarterback can survive that.

The really remarkable thing is despite all these hits he hasn’t thrown a single interception or turned the ball over a single time.

So while I think it’s easy to focus on the quarterback and say if you replaced him things would be better, I think it’s more substantial with that. If you’re doing something so bad with your offensive line — and your offense — that you are getting sacked more than any team has through three games in almost twenty years in the league then there’s something way more at play here than the quarterback.

The question here, in my opinion, is way bigger than Mariota.

I think the Titans have to examine their foundational decision making here.

Think about the breaks the Titans got in their division before they played the Colts and the Jags: Andrew Luck retires, meaning you get Jacoby Brissett coming off a road loss in an afternoon game in California, at home in Nashville for week two. Then instead of Nick Foles you get Gardner Minshew, a sixth round quarterback who has never won an NFL game, and a winless Jags team on the same week that their best player, Jalen Ramsey, has demanded a trade because he got in a screaming match on the sideline with his head coach.

It’s almost impossible to have a better set up for two division wins than this.

Oh, and Vegas, which knows a bit about valuing teams, has you favored to win both divisional games.

So what happens?

You lose to both teams, producing only 24 offensive points. (The Titans only gave up 39 points in these two games, meaning if the team had just scored 21 in each game they would have won both.)

You literally couldn’t have gotten a better draw in your division than getting Jacoby Brissett and Gardner Minshew as your opposing quarterbacks and you lost to both.

Let’s put this in the context of a house — this isn’t, “Hey, we need to replace the water heater (quarterback) and everything will be fine,” this is “Our house is built on quicksand and we have termites throughout the entire structure.”

I think the Titans need to burn everything to the ground and start trying to build a new house.

After the loss to the Falcons next week the Titans are going to come back to Nashville at 1-3 and everyone will be saying Buffalo is a must win game, but really, this start to the season is about the Titans entire foundational decision-making being flawed.

Remember, we get relatively few games to analyze the management decisions of a franchise. We spend months talking about those free agent and draft moves, but only have 16 weekends to analyze whether they were good or bad decisions.

What’s the Titans stated goal?

They want to be the Patriots of the South. That’s why they went and hired Jon Robinson as general manager and it’s why they hired Mike Vrabel as head coach, because both men have Patriot connections.

The flaw in this logic, in my opinion, is who has left the Patriots, either management, coaching, or player, and been better than they were with the Patriots?

Almost no one.

Many teams have tried to execute the same game plan and all of them have failed.

Bill Belichick has gotten his assistants tons of head jobs, but almost all of them have been complete failures once they left the Patriots. Whether it’s Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, or Bill O’Brien, pretty much all of them have been worse than an average coach in the NFL would have been. (Bill O’Brien is the most successful and most Texan fans aren’t enamored of him).

That’s because it’s hard to replace genius. If proximity to genius moved via osmosis than everyone should be trying to hire Terry Saban to coach their college team. After all, no one has spent more time with Nick Saban than Terry.

This logic, when you really break it down, is insanely dumb because it presumes proximity to coaching greatness delivers greatness.

You don’t hire Howard Stern’s sidekicks and expect them to be the next Howard Stern.

William Faulkner’s typist isn’t the next Faulkner.

Yet this is what teams do all the time, they hire the guy next to the guy because then when you can fail you can say, “How was I supposed to know that Bill Belichick’s coordinator wasn’t going to pan out? He worked when he was with Belichick!”

So why do the Titans think Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson are going to suddenly become the Patriots South?

Because they’re desperate.

Look at their last five Titan first round picks under Jon Robinson:

2016 Jack Conklin (Busted pick the Titans will let go after this season.)

2017 Corey Davis (Given his draft position at number five overall, trending towards a bust.)

2017 Adoree Jackson (Mediocre at best given his draft position at 18 overall, unable to help in special teams, which was a big reason for his selection as well.)

2018 Rashaan Evans (Too early to rate, but not looking like a first round pick in year two.)

2019 Jeffrey Simmons (not playing in 2018 because of injury.)

So this is your brilliant GM’s top picks? How many of these guys are difference makers? How many of these guys could you trade today and get back a first round pick for them? I don’t think you could get a first round pick back for a single one of these guys.

Okay, well, what about the free agent signings?

Can you name a single free agent the Titans have given big money to that you think they’ve gotten a good deal on?

Because I can’t.

Their strategy has basically been give more money to former Patriot players like Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, and Logan Ryan than the Patriots are willing to give them.

Which, let’s be honest, is an awful, awful strategy.

As a general rule if the Patriots are selling, you shouldn’t be buying. That’s because it’s virtually unheard of for a player, coach or executive to leave the Patriots and be better at his next destination.

So I’m not kidding, I think this is a stare in the mirror and examine all of your decisions type morning for the Titans.

If you’re giving up nine sacks to a winless team and you lose to a back-up rookie quarterback who has never won a game before in the league, it’s not all because of any one player or any one thing, it’s absolutely and completely systemic.

I think the Titans are trending towards a 4-12 or 5-11 season this year. And I just don’t see any reason for optimism based on what I’ve seen from this offense in the past two weeks. The defense isn’t a total failure, but they aren’t particularly dynamic either. They can’t really get to the quarterback up front or at linebacker and they are simply solid in the secondary, a place they have spent a ton of money. They are what they’ve shown themselves to be, a slightly above average defense with a really, really bad offense.

And, again, rather than trending up, I see this team trending down.

They built to a ceiling of nine wins and now they’re regressing back down to a four or five win football team.

I’d love to be wrong, but there isn’t really much evidence in the past two games that I am wrong. Which is why I think while most will focus on the quarterback, he’s a symptom of the overall failure as opposed to the cause of it.

Put simply, the Titans gameplan — and the guys they’ve paid tens of millions of dollars to execute that gameplan — are failing.

On a larger basis, I have come to believe that the teams I root for will suck for the rest of my life.

Zach writes:

“What is the Jaguars future at QB? Foles or Minshew?”

First, the Jags guaranteed $45 million to Foles over this year and next year before they can get out of his contract so it’s hard to see them keeping Minshew in when Foles comes back healthy.

Having said that, what do you do if Minshew has the team in contention for the AFC South? Can you really pull him if he continues to play like this? (Minshew’s first three games are better than any rookie quarterback in league history).

I don’t think so.

But here’s the key data point: you can’t judge Foles in this offense because we simply don’t know how he’d be doing.

The luxury the Jags have is they will give Minshew a bunch of starts and then they’ll be able to bring back Foles and see how he does as well. You kind of have the perfect laboratory to compare these two guys in very similar settings.

While it’s still insanely early, Minshew looks like an absolute steal, Baker Mayfield without the drama or behavioral issues.

SL writes:

“What state has the worst combination of flagship college program and NFL team? Because all I can think of after last night is Tennessee.”

Well, the state of New York is pretty bad. The Jets and Giants are bad and I’m not buying the Bills even though they’re undefeated right now. Syracuse is the best college program and they are pretty mediocre too.

So the state of New York is in the running with the state of Tennessee for worst combo of college and pro sports teams.

In the past couple of decades the Chicago Bears and Illinois football have been pretty consistently awful too. You could also toss the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota into that mix as well. And certainly there are NFL teams that have pretty much always stunk — the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, for instance — surrounded by good college programs — Michigan and Michigan State and Ohio State, but the combo of the two is fairly rare.

But right now I think you can make a strong case that Tennessee has the worst college and pro combo in the country.

Of course this wasn’t always the case.

Remember, as recently as the turn of the century the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Titans were both playing for national titles and Super Bowls.

Indeed in 1998 the Vols won the national title and in 1999 the Titans played in the Super Bowl, which is a combo of football excellence that rarely occurs anywhere.

But since then things have gone askew.

In fact, you can basically plot the ascension of my career as my two favorite sports teams have collapsed.

If we were graphing them out I’d be steadily rising and my teams would be steadily collapsing.

That is, starting in about 2004, when I began writing online, I’ve been on a pretty consistent climb and starting about that same time both the Titans and the Vols have been on a pretty consistent decline.

Now that’s not to say it has all been awful, the Titans were the top seed in the AFC playoffs back in 2008 and the Vols played for the SEC title in 2007, but the general trajectory has been very bad. Meanwhile the general trajectory of my career has been pretty much straight up.

The end result has been I’m way more successful at my chosen field of competition — sports media — than my teams are in theirs — football.

And I sit around thinking to myself, wait a minute, if I can dominate my chosen field based on my talents and work ethic, why can’t the Titans?

So every now and then — okay, every time my teams lose of late, which seems to happen all the time now — I think, am I the curse? If I’d just kept practicing law and never attained any sort of public profile in sports media, would the Titans and the Vols be better right now?

Am I (partly) to blame for them sucking?

I mean, if you wanted to make that argument you could say that I’m the disruptor in both fan bases, the person with the loudest voice and biggest audience who has been clamoring for success, and in the process found more failure instead.

Now I don’t think I’m saying anything different than what I’d be saying if I were just a private citizen practicing law somewhere today, but I also know that I have high standards and those high standards could create the pressure for change, thereby creating the potential for more highs and lows than might otherwise exist. That is, when you interject change into a system/team you create more potential for varied outcomes, which can be either good or bad, than it might have been if you maintained the status quo.

If you follow this logic am I (partly) responsible for Jeremy Pruitt and Mike Vrabel and the current state of the Vols and Titans?

I could be because I’ve demanded change and that change, when it has happened, has mostly been bad. You can argue, for instance, that every coach Tennessee has hired since they fired Phil Fulmer has been progressively worse. From Lane Kiffin to Derek Dooley to Butch Jones to Jeremy Pruitt.

You can also argue that the Titans have ended up in a worse place with Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Munchak, Mike Mularkey, and Mike Vrabel than they were with Jeff Fisher.

Now what I’d argue is we need a result like what happened with Paul Finebaum at Alabama. Finebaum so railed against Alabama football for twenty years or so that people blamed him for why the program was awful. But really he was just the voice for that fan angst, not the cause of it, and eventually the pressure he brought to bear led to the hire of Nick Saban.

Things were so bad at Alabama that finally they got to the point where the status quo hire wasn’t acceptable and they marshaled their resources to make that Nick Saban hire possible.

I’d like to think that eventually both the Titans and Vols will find their Saban. (It’s unrealistic to expect this level of hire, of course, but I think both places could hire their best possible option. So far, clearly, that hasn’t happened.)

But short of just renouncing my fandom completely, I’m not sure what else to do here.

It’s not like my voice is getting less prominent.

Every day, every week, every month, and every year, much to the chagrin of the haters, our audience gets bigger.

And even though I’m too old to care as much about sports as I do, I’m not finding myself caring much less. I stay mad for bad losses for less time than I used to, which I guess is a positive, but I still get just as mad. Especially when I see incompetence.

I guess if you think I’m the problem you could root for me to get so wrapped up in national sports stories that I just stop talking or writing about my favorite teams, but at this point I feel like I’m Michael Corleone in the Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

I can’t get away from them or stop caring, no matter how much I try.

JA Crowell writes:

“Which is more likely: Bob Stoops to Auburn, Urban Meyer to USC, Lane Kiffin getting power 5 job next season, Phil Fulmer coaching the rest of the year.” 

In order:

1. Urban Meyer to USC

I think this happens.

2. Lane Kiffin getting a power 5 job.

This happens if Lane wants a power 5 job. Because I think FAU’s going to have a pretty good year three under his lead, potentially winning their conference for a second time in three years under Kiffin.

But I’m not sure Lane wants to leave FAU. He likes it there and he’s under the radar.

3. Bob Stoops to Auburn

Stoops told me last week he wouldn’t shut the door on returning to coach in college. I’m not sure Auburn would be his destination, but I can see him being open to the idea.

4. Phil Fulmer comes back to coach Tennessee this year.

I just don’t see this happening.

Could it happen?

Hell, it’s Tennessee football, never say never, but I don’t see it as very likely at all.

Roger writes:

“What’s your take on the Navy admitting the videos of “Unexplained Aerial Phenomena” are real, but should not have been released?”

I believe in aliens and ghosts.

Primarily because I think it’s insanely arrogant of us to assume we have an advanced enough technology to figure out everything in this universe.

In fact, I don’t even think we have the tools to realize what we don’t know right now.

For example, imagine that you lived in 1550 Italy. That’s essentially the center of the educated universe then. The microscope wouldn’t be invented for another fifty years. So even seeing microbes wasn’t part of your adjacent possible. It wasn’t a failure of your scientific knowledge that you didn’t know about microscopic organisms, you lacked the tools to know they exist.

So why would we be arrogant enough to assume we’ve discovered all the tools we need to unlock the mysteries of the universe?

You want another wacky idea? I’m a believer in the idea that we’re essentially a real life video game experiment for a highly advanced civilization somewhere else. That is, I think there’s a decent chance they seeded Earth with life just to see what would happen and are following our story as entertainment.

Essentially, we’re a real life reality show for them.

Herm writes:

“Is the cancel culture powered by the fact that everything anyone has ever said is now accessible to be thrown back in their face at some point in the future?”

I think that’s a big part of this, yes.

Think about it, if you were a budding comedian in a pre-Internet era there was no record of every statement you’d ever made for your entire life. And it certainly wasn’t preserved on audio or video and easy to share with anyone.

Hell, if you got arrested for a serious crime in, let’s say, 1975 and you went on with your life, it was pretty damn hard to even find evidence of that crime in 1995.

You had the ability for your worst (or most controversial) moments to be forgotten and go one with your life.

Now everything is easily accessible and we live in a kind of permanent present universe, where everything that has ever happened is still out there happening presently. You can’t escape your past because it’s out there in digital code alongside your present.

And the result is everyone is easily able to find the most controversial thing you ever said. And the wild thing is, you’re judging standards of controversy based not on when you did it, but on what you did back then that might be offensive today.

I mean, use me as an example, there are millions and millions of words from me that are easily accessible out there on the information superhighway.

Use me as an example.

If I’d been a newspaper writer, once my column appeared in the daily newspaper it would basically vanish and never be accessible again. The same thing used to be true of radio. Whatever you said was here then gone and unless you had an archivist filing everything away, it would never see the light of day again.

Now every article and every podcast is out there and if someone wants to go back through them all they could chronicle every statement you’ve ever made.

The result is every person gets treated like a political candidate now; someone is always vetting your past to see whether they find you acceptable. And then that person, whoever it is, that’s vetting you is able to immediately distribute what they find, fair or foul and generally devoid of all context, to everyone instantaneously.

My suggestion — in addition to ignoring people who try to cancel others — is that we should have a digital statute of limitations of sort. You know how you can’t prosecute most crimes after a couple of years? Well, anything that’s over two years old shouldn’t be at play for cancel culture any longer.

You don’t like something current, fine fire away and we can debate that, but how have we allowed a standard to exist where people can go back years — decades even — find old things that were said or done back, publish them anew, and then get retroactively offended over them?

I mean, think about this for a minute.

No one would have even known that stuff existed but for a loser out there trying to take retroactive offense. It’s like that SNL comedian who got hired and fired before he even started. Imagine disliking a comedian so much that you are scouring old podcasts to find jokes you didn’t like in an effort to get him fired from a job telling jokes.

All because it offends your notion of what comedians should say or do.

What a complete loser thing to do.

Anyway, I think the larger issue here is we have all this new technology, but we don’t have the social mores established for how to deal with it.

We all know, at least on some level for instance, what’s appropriate and inappropriate while you’re out eating dinner. If you were in a regular restaurant in the middle of the afternoon with your family and some guy just jumped up on the bar, pulled his pants down, and started twirling dancing naked on the bar, he’d get arrested.

And you’d all tell that story to everyone you knew and be in total disbelief over what happened.

Your jaw would drop in the restaurant.

But that kind of anti-social behavior happens on social media all the time and no one really knows what to do in response.

People kind of look around and think, “This doesn’t seem right, but is there any way to stop this from happening?”

It’s like the analogy I make of my Twitter feed as the equivalent of my digital house. That’s where I hang out online, I live there. Yet if some of the things people put in the comments to my Tweets were said by someone standing in my front yard, I’d call the police and they’d go to jail.

Yet nothing happens online and it’s considered completely acceptable to tell someone to go kill themselves, to tell them that you’ll beat them up the next time you see them, to insult families, I mean it’s totally wild what people say online that they’d never say in real life.

What I try to do is sound the same on social media, this website, radio, Periscope/Facebook and TV as I would in real life.

You may not agree with my opinions, but I’m attempting to set the same precedent in all places.

And even if you hate me at least I’m cognizant of trying to establish rules for my online behavior; I think most people’s use of technology has far surpassed their comprehension of that technology.

In other words, I think we’re just starting to understand the transformative impact of social media on our modern lives.

Think about it, our criminal code, for instance, may not be perfect, but it has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years. We’ve spent generations and generations working out the difference between manslaughter and first degree murder, for instance.

All the ways you can kill someone are not the same.

I think most of you agree that makes sense.

Well, that didn’t happen by accident. Generations of brilliant people have crafted that criminal code and we use it today to govern our entire country.

Is it perfect? Of course not, it’s the product of flawed humans. But is it better than what anonymous people on Twitter would come up with? I think so.

But we have no history of generations setting out standards on social media, it’s truly something truly brand new.

It’s a transformative technology that many are just learning how to use.

You can’t even argue, for instance, that social media is a natural outgrowth of a newspaper because it just isn’t. There were gatekeepers when it came to the idea of what news is and was. There was a method by which it’s determined what is published and what isn’t published and it’s a method that’s been refined for hundreds of years.

But then along comes social media and just cannonballs into our culture and there’s no established way to handle its impact.

And the biggest challenge of all of this is social media companies have rigged the process so that conflict is the underlying premise that maintains our interest. The more conflict there is, the more time we spend on social media.

On a primal basis we crave conflict. Every story, all of them, require conflict or we lose interest. No story ever begins with “And they lived happily ever after,” and goes from there. Social media, because the business model is predicated on our interest, feeds us conflict all day long every day. And that conflict leads to polarization, which creates, you guessed it, more conflict. It’s not a coincidence that in 2016 both political parties nominated the most hated presidential nominees in the history of our country — IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY — to run against each other.

Think about that for a minute.

Our country has been electing presidents since the 18th century and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the two most hated people to ever run for president and they ran against each other.

That’s incredible.

Social media turned the presidential nominating process from “I’m going to pick someone that I hope everyone likes to represent my party,” to “I’m going to pick the person that I know the other side will hate the most to represent my party.”

I’m old enough to remember when Democrats and Republicans picked candidates they thought the rest of the country would like. Mass appeal was a really big deal. Now, it isn’t, everyone is picking the person who most antagonizes the other side.

I think that’s because of social media.

Now, and here’s where I want to be optimistic, I’m hopeful that we’ll see a reaction against this in the years ahead. That what people will start to crave instead of incendiary bomb throwing disruptors hellbent on tearing everything down is people who simply make reasonable decisions and work within our existing institutions to make them better.

Because what I think we have to be careful of is this — it’s much easier to tear down something than it is to build something up.

And the scary thing is this: what’s left when you tear down everything?

Thanks for reading the Outkick mailbag.

Hope all of you have good weekends.

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