Marcus Mariota Has A Brighter Future Than "La La Land": The NFL Underground Mailbag

Yes, we see the irony. Who are the NFL's newest contenders now that free agency and the draft are behind us? Plus, why 'The F8 of the Furious' is destined to be our generation's 'Casablanca.'

by Christopher Harris
May 5 2017, 2:25pm

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the NFL Underground Mailbag. Ask Chris Harris your question about the NFL, general sports or cultural minutiae at Follow him @HarrisFootball.

Drew J.: Which team you viewed as a non-contender when the season ended now looks like a contender after free agency and the draft?

Dammit, Drew, you're just waiting for me to say "Jacksonville Jaguars" so you can send this column to Deadspin in about six months with the email subject line "Can You Believe They Pay This Douchebag To Pontificate About The NFL?"

I'm not going to say Jacksonville Jaguars, but I do think this generation of drunken-sailor spending on defense (Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Barry Church) will go better than last year's (Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Prince Amukamara). The problem in Hooterville is, as ever, named Bortles.

Read More: Myles Garrett, Good! Mitch Trubisky, Argh!

I could make an argument for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans, purveyors of third-year franchise QBs in whose futures I basically believe (more on them shortly). Tampa signs DeSean Jackson and drafts O.J. Howard. Tennessee drafts Corey Davis and signs Johnathan Cyprien and Logan Ryan. If I squint, maybe I can see Cinderella?

But I think my answer has to be Houston. The Texans already had a ready-to-contend roster, J.J. Watt presumably returning from being America's foremost lumberjack, and membership in the AFC South going for them. And now they have Deshaun Watson, who probably isn't Dak Prescott, because that story was insane, but offers a higher ceiling than anyone else the Texans might've trundled out under center. I'm not picking the Texans as Super Bowl LII champs, but I think their bold move up to grab Watson in the first round of last week's draft gives a mature Houston roster a puncher's chance in '17 and gives Browns fans yet another potential milestone. "We passed on him twice? Hand me the arsenic."

Memo to Houston: things could get interesting. Photo by Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Michael G.: How do you analyze the Vikings backfield with Dalvin Cook, a second-round draftee, and Latavius Murray, a free-agent signee?

That Cook lasted until the 41st pick is one of the sneaky shockers of the 2017 draft. Before the combine, Cook was a consensus top-15 pick in any mock draft you cared to read.

(Incidentally: stop reading mock drafts! They are useless click-bait completely unworthy of the valuable time you'd otherwise spend cleaning your toes or finding health care. The reason NFL writers arrive at a "consensus" mock draft every year is that everyone reads everyone else's mock drafts! People would stop writing them—especially in fucking February—if you'd stop looking at them. They are the Transformers of sports articles.)

Then NFL teams started paying attention to Cook's off-field misbehavior—breaking a car window with a BB gun, chaining up puppies in a harmful way, hanging out with friends who were investigated for brandishing firearms at a neighbor, and, most significantly, being charged with assault for allegedly striking a woman outside a Tallahassee bar, though a jury found him not guilty. Teams also started nitpicking his medicals and his disappointing combine quickness, and suddenly he wasn't even a top-40 draftee.

But when a running back is as impressive at a huge football school as Cook was at Florida State, I tend to trust the tape. He was a monster. We can't know what kind of person he is; we can't know if he's Montee Ball ready to squander his talent. But if his head is right, Cook's a future NFL star.

Murray should be fun to watch. Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As for Latavius Murray? He's a 6'3" 230-pounder with power and great long speed, he's only 27, and he's coming off a 12-touchdown season. I'd call him an above-average player. He can be the lead dog for a good pro rushing attack, and he'll probably top the Vikings in TDs. He's not a change-of-direction and acceleration menace like Cook. Give these guys a good offensive line (Minnesota's blocking was disastrous in '16) and they'll make a fun tandem.

Brian W.: What movies from the 2010s will be thought of the same way we think of Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, and Citizen Kane? My bets are La La Land, The Social Network, Zero Dark Thirty, and Her.

Can we stop with La La Land? It's pretty, well-acted pablum. It's fine, but it's nostalgia made manifest, and as such is subversively retrograde. The Artist won Best Picture on the wings of similar thirsting for the "simpler time" that never actually existed. In 50 years, they'll be begging you to accept a surplus neural implant of La La Land with every dose of zombie spray. The Social Network is "important" and a good character study, but is it a good movie? Is there actual tension? Zero Dark Thirty and Her are surpassingly excellent films, but if I wanted to choose a surpassingly excellent film that was illustrative of our era, I'd choose The Lobster.

But that's not what our era will be remembered for.

We live in the Era of Stupid, and I have a hard time imagining our culture getting surpassingly smarter in some speculative evaluating future. We'll probably be way dumber. So without doubt, our descendants will turn their lonely eyes to the 2010s and remember fondly the innocent days when something as deep and heartfelt as The F8 Of The Furious roamed the planet.

Rich L.: I don't know why you're so down on what you call "soft-focus" NFL features. OK, so we're never gonna really know who these athletes are. Big deal. I like feeling a connection to athletes, even if it's inherently one-sided. Does that make me a sucker or something?


When you're a child, looking up to Steph Curry or Tom Brady is fine. Your brains are mush. You're trying to become a person. You're dumb. Part of the responsibility of growing up and becoming a functioning member of society is shrugging off childish things. It would be lovely to be able to understand and believe in very wealthy people we don't know, and I know my continued insistence that we don't and can't and shouldn't try makes me sound like a cynic.

But goddammit, times are too fucking serious to play this game anymore. It makes us sleepy. We start assuming these players and managers and owners (and celebrities and politicians and football columnists) are good people with decent things in their hearts, and soon they're bilking us for stadium money and covering up institutional rape cultures and inspiring the mental gymnastics that allow us to attack victims so as not to question our fandoms.

I love sports, but our fandoms should be questioned. Is every wealthy athlete a terrible person? Of course not, but you don't know who is and isn't, and any personal connection you feel for their lifestyles or their romantic entanglements or their Guitar-Hero-playing pre-draft antics is akin to that scam where you "buy a star" in the night sky. You're free to do as you choose, admire whom you like, toss your money into a trashcan and light it on fire, but in the end you're projecting a lot of emotional energy billions of light years out into the universe, and it ain't coming back your way.

OK but we like Marcus Mariota. Photo by Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Nick B.: What's Marcus Mariota's ceiling this year and in the future?

I really like Mariota's tape. He and Winston will forever be linked by the '15 draft, but so far they're not particularly alike as players. I call Winston the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man, because he's improvisational almost to a fault, which leads to unexpected brilliance but also bouts of head-clutching madness. I like Winston as a player, but someday soon I may love Mariota.

He's got touch, he's got plenty of wing, he squeezed passes into some ludicrous windows, and most importantly he's under control. Of course, he did this last year in the context of a powerful rush offense and without the same workload Winston bore in Tampa (Winston averaged 5.5 passes per game more than Mariota, and led the league in air yards per attempt). We'll see if the addition of rookie receivers Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor opens up the Titans offense. I'm hopeful.

John C.: Should I move out of the USA?

I assume you're talking about Mango Mussolini's continued assault on the most vulnerable members of our society, but my answer is: probably not. Or not yet. I know every day the U.S. starts to feel a little more like Gilead, but every place has its problems, right? White nationalism isn't just an "us" problem. I say stay and be decent to everybody you meet; serve as an example, as thankless as that often feels. And anyway, where are you going to go? Canada? It's fucking cold there and they eat moose heart.

Sean M.: Does pineapple belong on pizza?

More than moose heart does.

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