Have We Seen the End of the Jake Locker Era in Tennessee?

Daniel BarnesCorrespondent IIINovember 10, 2013

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 10:  Jake Locker #10 of the Tennessee Titans runs the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field on November 10, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Jaguars defeated the Titans 29-27.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Preliminary reports (per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean) suggest that Jake Locker's season could be over after he sustained a foot injury against the Jaguars.

Of course, it's still early, but if it turns out to be true that Locker won't play again this season, we may have seen the end of the Jake Locker era in Tennessee.

Locker started the season strong, getting the Titans to a 3-1 start with victories over Pittsburgh, San Diego, and the New York Jets. Through the first four games of the season, Locker completed 69 of 111 passes (over 61 percent) for 721 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions.

He also ran 15 times for 65 yards and another touchdown.

Then he missed part of the Jets game with a hip injury, which also caused him to miss the games against Kansas City and Seattle, both of which the Titans lost. He re-entered the starting lineup against San Francisco, where he visibly limped but still played a fairly strong game (326 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception).

Since that game, Locker hasn't looked so good, despite seeming to be at full health, and now he finds himself injured yet again.

Since he was pegged as a starter in 2012, Locker hasn't gone for more than seven games without an injury, and while he looked like a much improved quarterback for most of this season, he still struggled with inconsistency.

Now, with Locker out for the rest of the season, Locker's long-term status as the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans is in question.

Locker has a lot in his favor: He was definitely a better quarterback in 2013 than he was in 2012, and he's definitely good enough to be a starter in the NFL. However, while he had a few games where he played lights out, I don't think anyone can say he played like a top-10 quarterback this season, so he's not elite.

If he were playing at an elite level, then the injuries wouldn't hurt him so bad, but a pretty good quarterback who regularly misses large chunks of the season due to injuries isn't someone too many coaches are going to be able to rely on in the long term.

Now of course, a lot of what happens with Locker will depend on what happens to Mike Munchak. If the Titans can still get into the playoffs, and Munchak keeps his job, then Locker may return to the starting lineup.

However, if the Titans don't make the playoffs, chances are that Munchak will lose his job. If he does, and a new head coach is brought in, there's a good chance Locker will be replaced, because new regimes usually mean new quarterbacks.

This year's draft class also appears to be pretty deep in quarterback talent. The likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Tajh Boyd, Johnny Manziel, and Derek Carr could all find themselves as first-rounders, so the Titans could potentially land a new quarterback, even with a lower pick.

Furthermore, Jay Cutler, current starting quarterback for the Bears, will be hitting the free-agent market this season. Cutler was brought to Chicago by Lovie Smith, who is no longer with the Bears.

Cutler cutting ties with Chicago isn't out of the realm of possibility, and if he did, the Titans would certainly be interested in him. He regularly spends time in Nashville and played college ball at Vanderbilt, so he'd likely be interested in the Titans as well.

Now, Cutler has his own problems with injuries and inconsistent play, but there'd be very few people who wouldn't call Cutler an upgrade over Locker.

It's still early. It could be that after some evaluation, Locker's injury isn't as bad as it appears and he could return.

Or, even if he doesn't, the Titans could find that they have no better options at the position than Locker. Cutler could always stay in Chicago, and four of the college quarterbacks I listed could choose to stay in school (though that seems very unlikely), and he may get another shot.

But if he doesn't return, then there's still a good chance that he'll be a starter somewhere—after all, he's just 25 and has shown quite a bit of potential in his time with the Titans—but it doesn't look like that place will be Tennessee unless a lot of things swing in his favor.