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NFL Draft

3 Best Fits for Marcus Mariota If Released

  • The Draft Network
  • March 19, 2021
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The Las Vegas Raiders were expected to be active in free agency as they look to improve their chances at making the postseason for the first time since 2016, and active they have been. The Raiders started off free agency with a bang, signing defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to a two-year deal worth $26 million. Ngakoue fills a major need for the Silver and Black and will provide much-needed juice off the edge. The team has also added wide receiver John Brown and running back Kenyan Drake to further provide Derek Carr with quality playmakers. On paper, it is easy to like the additions the Raiders have made so far, but the real story here is who the Raiders have let go in order to sign these players.

Over the last week, the Raiders have lost three of their starting five offensive linemen from 2020. The team traded right tackle Trent Brown (and a 2022 seventh-round pick) to the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2022 fifth-round pick. Brown was hardly healthy for the Raiders, but when he was, he was still one of the better right tackles in the league. The team was able to save $14 million in cap space, but now has a huge hole at right tackle.

Next on head coach Jon Gruden’s hit list was veteran center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson. News came out that the team was going to release both players, but instead pivoted and elected to trade them instead. This has become par for the course for Gruden and announcing their intentions of releasing a player only to turn around and trade them only diminishes their trade value. Regardless, both players are no longer Raiders as Hudson is now an Arizona Cardinal after being traded (along with a 2021 seventh-round pick) for a 2021 third-round pick, and Jackson is now a Seattle Seahawk netting the Raiders a 2021 fifth-round pick in return.

The Raiders aren’t done with their purge, however, as reports came out Thursday that the team has given backup quarterback Marcus Mariota an ultimatum that he must either take a $7 million dollar pay cut or he will be released. Mariota is on the second year of a two-year deal he signed last offseason that was worth $17.6 million dollars. Mariota is due $10.725 million this upcoming season, and the Raiders would love to get out from that deal.

Now, the issue here is Mariota has zero incentive to take a pay cut, and from his perspective, why should he? All Mariota did last year was prove that he, at worst, is the best backup quarterback in the league, and realistically probably good enough to start for multiple teams.

Last year in his one game in relief of Carr, Mariota put on a show. Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Mariota completed 17-of-28 passes for 226 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He also ran for 88 rushing yards and one touchdown on the ground. Yes, it was a small sample size, but the former No. 2 overall pick looked more than capable of competing for a starting job—and if it's not going to be with the Raiders, it is in Mariota’s best interest to not negotiate with Las Vegas and force a release.

If the Raiders go through with their threat to release Mariota, I expect him to have a strong market whether as a top backup or as someone who can compete for a starting job in an open competition. While the list of potential suitors has certainly diminished in recent days, there are still a few teams that would make a ton of sense for Mariota. 

San Francisco 49ers

My personal top choice for Mariota would be to stay in the pacific time zone and join the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers appear to be in the market for a quarterback, as there are reports they are bringing Joe Flacco for a visit. Well, Mariota would be a vast upgrade over Flacco, and would actually be solid competition for incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo has proven to be unreliable as a starting quarterback, playing in just 31 of a possible 64 games due to various injuries. When healthy, Garoppolo has been serviceable, proving to be an accurate passer especially in the short to intermediate levels of the field. That being said, even before suffering injuries this past season, he didn’t look great.

Mariota could come in and, at worst, be the best backup in the league to a quarterback that can’t stay healthy. Mariota will undoubtedly get snaps in relief of Garoppolo and have a chance to put even more good play on film and hope to land a starting gig next offseason. However, there is also a possibility that Shanahan falls in love with Mariota and his intriguing skill set. Mariota can offer the 49ers much more athleticism at the quarterback position and provide the offense with more big-play ability. He is a perfect fit for Shanahan’s system and could really thrive in this offense. 

Denver Broncos 

This is a landing spot I haven’t seen mentioned a lot when it comes to Mariota, but it makes a lot of sense. Drew Lock was OK in his first year as a starter, and like many young quarterbacks, flashed some intriguing talent but was very inconsistent with his accuracy and decision-making. There is absolutely no guarantee that new general manager George Paton likes Lock, and with head coach Vic Fangio’s seat getting warmer, if Lock doesn’t play well early this season this is a prime in-season benching candidate.

That being the case, the Broncos need to have a solid backup plan if and when they do bench Lock, and Mariota would be a tremendous option. Mariota is a smart, accurate quarterback who takes care of the football and can pick up yards with his legs. That could be exactly what the defensive-minded Fangio wants in a quarterback as he aims to run the football and play good defense.

Chicago Bears

This is probably a major long shot now, as the Bears recently just added Andy Dalton and reportedly “promised” him the starting job. Well, unfortunately for Mr. Dalton, promises don’t mean a thing in the NFL. If the Bears want to add a quarterback to compete, they can do just that. Mariota could enter in an open quarterback competition with Dalton, and Mariota’s legs and playmaking upside may make him the favorite in Matt Nagy’s and Bill Lazor’s spread-style offense. This is the most realistic spot for Mariota to still compete for a starting job in training camp and wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is his agent's first call. 

Lastly, one option I may suggest for Mariota if he does get released is to wait until the end of the preseason to sign. As we have seen in the past, all it takes is one quarterback injury in camp or preseason for a starting spot to open up, and if Mariota's true wish is to start in 2021, waiting it out could be a wise move.

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