Trade Rumors: Mariota’s New Starting Job?

Alex Heining Editorials

With the NFL’s Quarterback Carousel officially on in an unusually active offseason, it’s time that teams with doubts or substantial extra value at quarterback to start making calls about moving the most important position in football. This puts the Las Vegas Raiders and former Oregon superstar Marcus Mariota in a bind. Given the opportunity to play in place of an injured Derek Carr, Mariota performed substantially better than expected, against Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert no less.

Mariota played exceptional off the bench in a primetime game against the Chargers.

Unfortunately outside of a few choice games, like this past December against the Chargers, Mariota’s career has been lackluster for the most part. Injuries have harbored his playing ability surely but he also has underperformed to his lofty draft position of second overall. The lensing of Mariota’s pro career can change this offseason pending a quarterback trade, it’s just uncertain whether that Raider quarterback will end up being Mariota or Carr. It’s notable that although Mariota remained the backup this season, Raider’s head coach Jon Gruden has not seemed all-in on Carr, so keeping Mariota around long-term could still be in the cards(and not on the cheap this time!).

The time crunch of March leading up to the NFL Draft is becoming an impending factor though, and the trading of a current backup over a current starter seems more and more inevitable at this point, given that free agency opens officially on March 17th. Mariota won’t be a free agent this month, but he will get a job again because of the game he put on tape this past December. He showed he still has potential and that injuries will not keep him from coming back. There’s no question he’ll get to at least compete for a starting opportunity next season, it’s just uncertain if he’ll land that starting job. Let’s find him his best opportunities.

These are a few teams in quarterback sweepstakes that could sign Mariota as a backup, but end up starting him and giving his career a jumpstart back to the stardom of his days with Our Beloved Ducks.

After a forgettable first season on the team, Teddy Bridgewater looks to be on the way out.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have voiced their aggressive pursuit of a new signal caller for Matt Rhule and Joe Brady to mold, and currently are on the edge of prime draft position to get a new one in the upcoming draft. Picking at eighth overall would be a great opportunity to get a top quarterback in the majority of drafts, but unfortunately could keep them away from the likes of Justin Fields and Zach Wilson, as well as the best non-quarterbacks (including one of Oregon’s all-time best prospects).

If the Panthers aren’t able to trade up, they could miss out on a quarterback entirely and have to settle for Penei Sewell (still probably just out of reach), Micah Parsons or Patrick Surtain II. That would be great for Mariota’s case to eventually end up the starter if the Panthers choose to pick him up in the coming weeks as an insurance policy following their impending trade/release of Teddy Bridgewater just one season into his three-year deal. The Panthers remain a lead contender in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, so keep an eye on that as well.

Cam Newton has not been re-signed by the Patriots yet, and the former MVP may hit the market in two weeks.

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New England Patriots

Mariota’s next stop could potentially be in New England as well, but given the output that former NFL MVP (and Duck championship dream-crusher) Cam Newton was able to get out of an extremely lack luster skill position group of wide receivers and tight ends, I doubt the organization would try taking any more chances outside of the draft again this year. The backfield does include College Football Playoff standout Sony Michel, though he hasn’t been able to produce much at the pro level in a limited snap-count system under Bill Belichick’s offense.

However, we can’t yet rule out the Patriots, as they sit in one of the worst positions to draft a quarterback this offseason in desperate need to fill the void left by Tom Brady. Sitting at 15th overall with little capital they’d be willing to let go of, Mariota may be one of the only cards they can end up playing as time winds down to next season and tension builds to find a new starter.

Gruden’s never been committed to Carr.

Las Vegas Raiders

Gruden’s narrative with the Raiders I feel is one of the dark horse realities for Mariota that could end up becoming real. General manager Mike Mayock has reiterated his belief in Carr this offseason, but that could easily just be a smoke screen for the media in light of the Russell Wilson rumorsIf this does end up being a smoke screen for the Raiders to give up Carr, Mariota would be in the driver seat with a coach who’s loved him since he was drafted.

Gruden spent time with Carr and Mariota on his QB Camp show leading up to the 2014 and 2015 NFL Drafts. He did look to enjoy his time with both, yet it was overwhelmingly apparent then that Gruden appreciated Mariota’s demeanor and thought highly of his coachability. This seems the most likely of all the scenarios where Mariota lands a starting job, and also has the least variables at play. It would be a true joy to get to see Mariota every Sunday again and redeem himself following his time with the Tennessee Titans, ushering in a new era of Duck football fans alongside Herbert in the AFC West.

Takeaways on Oregon’s Future Implications

Getting players to the league for Oregon shouldn’t necessarily be a primary goal, but it intensely helps recruiting for Cristobal and co. Gruden retaining Mariota and shipping off Carr to another team instead could be even more impactful on Oregon’s new prospects, as Herbert and Mariota would be able to play interdivision matchups twice a year on the heavily recruited west coast for future Ducks to see on Sundays.

Even if it was just a season or two, it could be the difference for some four and five-star recruits down the road that the Ducks are able to get the upper hand on acquiring. What do you think? Is it Mariota’s time to be a starter again, or is this all a delusional Oregon student’s out-of-touch fever dream of the future for a player past his prime?

Alex Heining
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo By Kevin Cline

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