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Marcus Mariota is in an awkward situation. He probably feels excitement with the Tennessee Titans set to play in the AFC Championship Game. On the other hand, the Titans reached the playoffs and advanced as he watched from the sidelines.
In Week 7, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel benched Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. For any staff, pulling a former No. 2 overall pick and multiyear starter for a newly acquired backup is a heavy decision, but the move paid off.
On an expiring deal, Mariota has to find out what’s next for him. Based on the Titans’ recent success, Tannehill will probably start for Tennessee in 2020, which means Mariota could explore his options elsewhere.
With 61 career starts, a 62.9 percent completion rate, mobility, youth and a playoff win on his resume, the 26-year-old will garner interest on the free-agent market. He’ll likely have to battle for a starting job or reestablish himself in a short-term backup role.
We’ll list five ideal destinations for Mariota based on roster fit, opportunity to start and a supporting cast that could help him rejuvenate his career.
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Pace selected Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft. After a promising sophomore season under head coach Matt Nagy, the 25-year-old took a step back in 2019, throwing for 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 contests.
Still, the Bears shouldn’t move away from Trubisky at the first sign of stagnation or regression. Progress doesn’t always follow a steady incline. While improving, setbacks may occur.
Yet we can look at Mariota’s current team and understand the importance of a capable backup quarterback. He went into the 2019 campaign as the starter, but Tennessee needed an offensive spark. Tannehill provided that and became a major factor in the Titans’ playoff push.
The Bears may go through the same scenario with Trubisky in 2020. In the middle of his fourth season, the coaching staff should have an idea of whether he’s “the guy” under center for the future. If not, why not toss out a veteran to save the season if it’s salvageable?
Mariota has a couple of traits that could help the Bears in a sluggish campaign. Like Trubisky, he’s a mobile quarterback who presents a threat with his legs and doesn’t turn the ball over at a high rate.
Nonetheless, Mariota has a more established track record with starting playoff experience under his belt. Nagy wouldn’t have to scrap his offense while shifting to another quarterback who’s more knowledgeable in reading coverages. With the Bears’ top-10 defense, the fifth-year signal-caller could serve as an efficient stabilizer on offense, giving this squad a chance at a playoff spot.
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The Colts turned to Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck abruptly retired last offseason. Under short notice, with an injury-riddled wide receiver corps, the 27-year-old signal-caller had a decent year, throwing for 2,942 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Brissett did his best to tone down mistakes with limited pass-catching weapons. T.Y. Hilton missed six games because of quad and calf injuries. Devin Funchess made one appearance before landing on injured reserve with a broken collarbone. Eric Ebron needed season-ending surgery on both ankles after Week 12.
The Colts may choose to add assets to the passing game, or they could go all-in on a smashmouth offense. In Tennessee, Mariota played in that style of attack with running backs Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray behind him in 2016 and 2017.
Indianapolis has the components to mimic Tennessee’s offense from years ago. Running backs Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins could split the workload with Nyheim Hines as a change-of-pace tailback behind a solid run-blocking offensive line (12th per Football Outsiders).
Instead of maintaining the status quo, the Colts could have an open competition between Brissett and Mariota to see who’s a better fit to run the offense. With the latter’s experience in Tennessee, he could win that training camp battle and lead a new team in the AFC South.
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Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn praised Rivers but didn’t endorse him as a holdover for next season. General manager Tom Telesco will likely weigh his options—rookies and veterans—before committing to the 38-year-old signal-caller for the short-term future.
Los Angeles has Tyrod Taylor on the roster—a dual-threat quarterback two years removed from leading the Buffalo Bills to the 2017 postseason. He could battle Mariota for the starting spot if the team moves on from Rivers.
If the Chargers draft quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who’s recovering from hip surgery, the Alabama product wouldn’t have to rush back into action.
Having more recent starting experience than Taylor, Mariota could keep the seat warm for a highly-touted incoming prospect or keep the job with impressive performances in 2020.
With the Chargers, Mariota would play with the best set of offensive weapons in his career. He’d have an ascending talent in running back Austin Ekeler—assuming the team matches offers for the restricted free agent. Telesco could re-sign Hunter Henry to shore up the tight end position. Wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are under contract for at least another year.
Because of Lynn’s background as a running backs coach, Mariota may become a viable threat with his legs as well.
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Like Rivers, Tom Brady doesn’t want to hang up his cleats yet. He said so in an Instagram post.
Although Brady controls his career decision to play or not, the New England Patriots can refuse to re-sign the 42-year-old, who showed signs of decline during the 2019 campaign. He logged a career-low touchdown rate (3.9) and posted his lowest QBR (52.5) since at least 2006.
Head coach Bill Belichick is known for moving on from players before their production trends in the wrong direction, but Brady’s six rings extended his time in New England. Now a free agent coming off his worst statistical season in recent memory, the most accomplished quarterback in the game may be expendable.
If the Patriots go in another direction, they’re best-suited to go the veteran route. New England has the 23rd overall pick in the 2020 draft. The front office would need a trade package to move up and land a top quarterback prospect.
Instead, New England could explore capable veterans on the free-agent market. Mariota’s mobility would provide a new dimension to the Patriots offense—one that’s unavailable with Brady under center.
Mariota could extend plays with his legs, which gives wide receivers time to run deeper routes and produce big plays over the top as opposed to Brady’s short, quick passes largely dependent on timing and nuance. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be able to open up the playbook with a more dynamic quarterback.
Mariota would have a precise route-runner in Julian Edelman. Mohamed Sanu Sr. can win matchups with his size (6’2″, 210 lbs). Rookie first-rounder N’Keal Harry possesses the upside to develop into a No. 1 wideout with his combination of speed and stature (6’4″, 225 lbs). The Arizona State product can run away from defenders on jet sweeps or leap over them for highlight catches downfield.
Lastly, the Patriots’ late-season success on the ground (averaging 127.3 yards per game from Week 12 onward) shows Mariota wouldn’t have to carry the offense with his arm.
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The Oakland Raiders are an intriguing sleeper destination for Mariota. On one hand, head coach Jon Gruden seems invested in quarterback Derek Carr and publicly praised him for his performances with an unsettled pass-catching group.
Nonetheless, the Raiders have cycled through backups under Gruden. Among the most notable names, Oakland has signed Mike Glennon, Nathan Peterman and DeShone Kizer over the last two years.
Gruden pointed out the need to practice with a mobile quarterback in preparation for dynamic signal-callers this season.
“We need a quarterback that can move around and emulate [Patrick] Mahomes and Deshaun Watson,” he told reporters. “Peterman was going to do that for us, the zone reads, all the things that he’s able to do. Now Kizer gives us a dimension that will help us prepare for opponents.”
The Raiders would have an ideal player for that role in Mariota. Furthermore, Gruden covets mobility with his starting quarterbacks. During the offseason, the coaching staff focused on developing Carr’s improvisational skills in the pocket and ability to extend plays with his legs.
While Carr is an adequate quarterback who will likely open the 2020 season with the Raiders in Las Vegas, Mariota could give Gruden a viable backup option.
Minus wideout Antonio Brown, the Raiders’ aerial attack lacked the sizzle many expected to see in 2019. Nonetheless, the offense features a strong ground attack with a stout front line and Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Jacobs in the backfield.
Mariota’s ball-carrying capability, coupled with Gruden’s tendency to lean on a run-heavy attack, may spark discussion for a change at quarterback if Carr disappoints in his third year operating the offense.