Why Marcus Mariota is ideal free-agent quarterback option for Raiders

The Raiders will make some sort of move at quarterback this offseason. It probably won’t be Tom Brady. Trading up for Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert in the draft seems like a no-go. 

Smart money is on Derek Carr opening next season under center for Jon Gruden in Las Vegas. Even if Carr enters the season as the starter, the Silver and Black will need a competent backup. Mike Glennon is set to be a free agent and is unlikely to be back. Signs also seem to point to DeShone Kizer going elsewhere. While Nathan Peterman can play quarterback, he’s not a basket to put all your eggs in.

The Raiders could look to draft a quarterback like Jalen Hurts (good idea) or Jake Fromm (not so good) on Day 2 of the NFL draft when they have three third-round picks. But Gruden undoubtedly would also like to bring in a veteran to sit behind Carr in case No. 4 gets injured or his performance is underwhelming to open the 2020 season. 

The name that intrigues the Raiders from the offseason quarterback carousel is Marcus Mariota, NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo reported Friday.

Bringing in Mariota, who had a bad 2019 season for the Tennessee Titans before being benched for Ryan Tannehill, makes a ton of sense for the Raiders.

Carr was decent in Year 2 in Gruden’s system, throwing for 4,054 yards, 21 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. The numbers look good, but those can be deceiving. The Raiders didn’t score enough points, especially in the red-zone, and Carr was unable to lead them to wins over the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars or Denver Broncos near the end of the season when the Silver and Black’s playoff lives were hanging in the balance. He also went and laid another egg in Kansas City against the Chiefs.

No play summed up Carr’s limitations than a fourth-and-goal near the end of the Raiders’ Week 14 loss to the Titans. With the Raiders on the 1-yard line and trailing 42-21, Carr rolled right and instead of opting to try and squeeze a pass into a tight window, he elected to throw the ball away, turning it over on downs. It was a mind-boggling decision that Gruden surely wasn’t fond of, despite what he said publicly after the game. 

Carr is a solid quarterback, who appears to have bumped his head on his ceiling. Mariota, for all his issues last season, has yet to reach what he truly can be as an NFL quarterback.

The 26-year-old was drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Titans, but they never truly bought into him as the franchise quarterback. Instead of building the offense around what Mariota does best, the Titans shuffled from Ken Whisenhunt to Mike Mularkey, who instilled his “exotic smashmouth” offense, which focused on running the ball like it was 1970. Despite an offense that didn’t take advantage of his mobility, creativity and play-making ability and asked him to make tight throws from a three or five-step drop mainly on third-and-long, Mariota had a successful second season in the NFL, throwing for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. 

The next season he led the Titans to a comeback win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the wild card round. Read that again. He won at Arrowhead Stadium, something Carr hasn’t been able to do in his career. In that game, Mariota did everything it took to win, including catching his own batted pass and running it in for a touchdown and throwing the game-sealing block to spring Derrick Henry.

That kind of moxie and do-anything-to-win attitude would appeal to Gruden, general manager Mike Mayock (who had Mariota as his No. 1-ranked quarterback in the 2015 draft) and Raiders fans. It’s also an attitude that galvanizes a team.

Mariota can beat teams with his legs, extend plays and be highly effective when put in an offense with an innovative play-caller who can play to his strengths.

The Oregon product is at a crossroads in his career after being supplanted by Ryan Tannehill, but he’s by no means washed. He can be a capable backup to start the season and perhaps pull a Tannehill on Carr should he not take another step forward in Gruden’s offense.

Gruden has said he wants to bring the offense into the new age. He asked Carr to use his legs to make plays outside the pocket last season, something the 28-year-old was slow to take to.

Mariota is adept at making plays with his legs and can become dynamic when allowed to play a game more suited to what he does well. When Mariota ran scout team for the Titans as they prepared for the AFC Divisional Game against the Baltimore Ravens, he reportedly impressed his coaches with how effective and dangerous he was running the offense built for Lamar Jackson. Funny how a Heisman Trophy winner looks good when you play to his strengths, right?

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The Raiders will be attached to any and every quarterback this offseason. Brady is a pipedream that has little chance of coming true. Their needs are too great to spend draft capital to move up for a quarterback.

Mariota is the perfect “1B” quarterback for the Raiders. He’s smart, young and still has a lot of untapped potential. He’s a team-first guy who would have no problem sitting behind Carr to open the season. And if Carr falters or is unimpressive, Mariota has shown he can be dynamic when put in the right spot and has the unique skills that have become necessary for quarterbacks to have in today’s NFL.