As the New England Patriots sift through the open market at the quarterback position, more and more options are becoming available.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota is the latest signal caller to reportedly receive interest in the trade market, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday.
The Patriots can’t make any official moves until March 17 at 4 p.m. ET, when the new NFL year officially begins, but similar to how the Detroit Lions agreed in principle to a deal that will send quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two first-round picks, a third-round pick and QB Jared Goff, New England also can swing a deal for a passer without signing on the dotted line to make it official.
So, is Mariota a legit possibility? Let’s go through the positives and negatives that would come with bringing on the 2015 No. 2 overall pick.
Mariota could wind up being the biggest bargain on the veteran QB market since he only carries a $11.35 million cap hit and shouldn’t command a first-round pick in a trade. It’s more likely that a team will fork over a late Day 2 pick (second or third round) to acquire Mariota from the Raiders. The 27-year-old QB does have incentives built into his contract that would significantly increase his 2021 salary if he earns a starting role.
Mariota was benched for Ryan Tannehill midway through the 2019 season after going 2-4 as a starter, but he previously was a fairly successful field general. The Oregon product was 27-28 as a starter before the 2019 season. He led the Titans to a 24-19 record from 2016 to 2018.
Here’s where Mariota ranked in some key advanced statistical categories (click here to get a better understanding of these stats) throughout this career:
|Season||EPA + CPOE||EPA/Play||Success Rate||CPOE||Air Yards||QBR||PFF Grade||Adj. Comp. Pct.||DYAR||DVOA||AVG|
The 2016 season was Mariota’s best, and he?s seen his numbers dip since that second year in the league. He did not qualify in 2020, when he played in just one game and went 17-of-28 for 226 yards with one touchdown, one interception and nine carries for 88 yards with a touchdown.
The Titans let Mariota sling the ball a little bit more from 2015 to 2017. He still could have upside because of his age and first-round pedigree.
Here’s one issue with acquiring Mariota: The Patriots could have acquired him last offseason. Instead, they let Mariota sign a two-year deal with the Raiders and waited to add Cam Newton in July, and that didn’t go so hot as New England finished the 2020 season with a 7-9 record. So, now they’ll have to give up draft capital to add a quarterback who they could have signed last offseason.
On the surface, that looks bad. It is slightly more complicated than that, however, so let’s get into the weeds.
First, it would have been more difficult cap-wise for the Patriots to sign Mariota than it was for them to acquire Newton. Mariota?s cap hit was $9.125 million in 2020 while Newton?s cap hit was $1.6625. The Patriots could have elected to distribute Mariota?s cap number differently than the Raiders to lower that 2020 cap hit, but it still would have been tough for the Patriots to fit him under the salary cap in March. They probably would have needed to let Joe Thuney or Devin McCourty walk in free agency or not sign Adrian Phillips, Jermaine Eluemunor, Damiere Byrd, Shilique Calhoun and Beau Allen.
You also have to account for the compensatory pick formula. Signing Mariota likely would have canceled out the 2021 fourth-round compensatory pick the Patriots are receiving for losing linebacker Jamie Collins in free agency last offseason. So, essentially, by not signing Mariota last offseason and waiting to add Newton, the Patriots gained a 2021 fourth-round pick. If the Patriots now send a 2021 third-round pick to the Raiders for Mariota, then they?re essentially trading a third-round pick to the Raiders for Mariota plus the fourth-round comp pick they received for not signing him last offseason.
Moving down one round but also not carrying Mariota?s 2020 cap hit no longer looks so bad. It?s not quite as simple as giving up draft capital for a player who could have come to New England for free.
The biggest problem with Mariota lies with those numbers we posted above. He just hasn?t been very good for a fairly long time.
It?s most concerning that Tannehill immediately started playing like a superstar after Mariota was benched. And Mariota was playing under offensive coordinator Arthur Smith in that 2019 season he got relegated to the sideline. Smith was so successful as an offensive coordinator in the 2019 and 2020 seasons that he was hired away as the Atlanta Falcons? head coach in 2021.
Here?s Mariota?s advanced metrics while playing under Smith in 2019:
Success Rate: 40.5%
Air Yards: 7.3
And here are Tannehill?s from 2019 to 2020:
Success Rate: 54.5%
Air Yards: 8.8
Under the same offensive coordinator, Tannehill ranks first or second among qualified QBs in EPA+CPOE, EPA/Play, Success Rate and CPOE. He?s fourth in air yards. Mariota?s 2019 season ranks 44th in EPA+CPOE, 41st in EPA/Play, 49th in Success Rate, 44th in CPOE and 43rd in Air Yards in that same span.
Under Smith, Tannehill has been one of the best quarterbacks in football while Mariota was one of the worst, albeit in a six-game sample size.
Mariota has been compared to Tannehill as a possible reclamation project, and while it?s possible he could just need another change of scenery, it?s not actually a similar situation as Tannehill?s at all. Tannehill improved because he went from playing under Adam Gase to Smith. Mariota is coming from Smith, with whom he struggled mightily. The improvement in his offensive play-caller won’t be nearly as drastic.
One last good thing about Mariota is that the Patriots would not be committing to him. He?s only under contract for one more season, so if he looks the same in 2021 as he did in 2019, then they could move on and keep looking for a quarterback. They also could, in theory, trade for Mariota and still take a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, but that?s a lot of draft capital being used on a quarterback when there are other needs throughout the roster.
Unless the Patriots find a way to acquire Deshaun Watson or Dak Prescott, there is not an ideal signal caller on the free-agent or trade market this offseason. Mariota, Newton, Carson Wentz, Derek Carr, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Jimmy Garoppolo, Teddy Bridgewater, Mitchell Trubisky, Jacoby Brissett and Sam Darnold all have their flaws or else they wouldn’t be available. It all comes down to preference. Mariota is probably one of the more cost-effective options, so if you’d prefer the Patriots not not have to pay top dollar or give up a first-round pick, then he might well be your guy. But it’s no guarantee that he’ll come to New England and suddenly look like the same quarterback from 2016.