Once upon a time, Marcus Mariota was one of the most electric young quarterbacks in the NFL. Those years may be a distant memory for some, but the former Heisman winner isn’t giving up on his future. Mariota is preparing to enter his second season in Las Vegas as Derek Carr’s backup, but no professional football player is content with sitting on the sidelines.
His goals should be lofty, but when looking around the league, it’s tough to envision the-soon-to-be-28-year-old Mariota ever becoming a team’s unquestioned starter in the future. But hey, stranger things have happened.
For Mariota to earn true relevancy once again, it would take the sort of comeback story nobody could see coming, including me. In fact, it would take something similar to what happened to him while he was in Tennessee, but with him on the opposing end of it this time. How many of us saw a Ryan Tannehill resurgence coming when the Miami Dolphins traded him to Tennessee? A show of hands, please... Anyone? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Still, Mariota hopes that his past doesn’t define his future, and he said as much while speaking candidly earlier this week.
“I look at it, and I’ve learned a lot in terms of the business standpoint [of the NFL] '' Mariota told the Raiders’ official website. “But at the same time, I think I just learned about being myself. I think so much of the expectations that I had in Tennessee kind of carved out somebody that I really didn’t want to be and somebody that I didn’t recognize. I truly understand that was kind of part of my journey. Everyone’s journey is a little different and I can use that going forward. We’ll see what happens with my career.”
Mariota’s time as a Titan was absolutely wild. It started on the right foot but ended well short of anyone’s expectations. Mariota had a promising rookie season in 2015 and took a sizable step forward as a sophomore in 2016. It was all downhill from there. Constant injuries to different parts of the body and several coaching changes had Mariota looking like a shell of his former self by the 2018 campaign. Finally, the Titans pulled the plug on the Mariota experiment midway through 2019 and salvaged their season, which started 2-4 under Mariota and ended in the AFC Championship Game with Tannehill.
The Mariota faithful made countless excuses for him throughout his tenure as a Titan. The injuries were super unfortunate. He played for three head coaches, and even more offensive coordinators. Tennessee could have handled that better. But after seeing what the Titans were able to achieve (and continue to achieve) by simply replacing Mariota with Tannehill in the middle of a season that appeared to be lost, it became increasingly difficult to point the finger at anyone but him.
But hey, we’re happy to leave the past in the past. Mariota departed Nashville for Vegas in 2020. He logged significant playing time in just one game last season, a Week 15 contest against the Chargers that saw Carr exit with an injury. Mariota looked rejuvenated. At times, he even looked like his old Oregon self again as he completed 17-of-28 passes for 226 yards, a touchdown, and an interception while rushing for an additional 88 yards and another touchdown. The Raiders would go on to lose the game, but Mariota’s effort was the bigger storyline. More importantly, he looked like he was having fun again. It was easy to see that the final few years in Tennessee took a toll on him. You could almost feel the weight come off of his shoulders.
The hopeless romantic in me would love to see an epic Mariota comeback story, one for the ages even, whether in Vegas or elsewhere—but some fantasies are meant to remain fantasies. I hope I’m wrong.
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