Leading up to the start of NFL free agency, NESN.com will break down the New England Patriots’ top potential veteran quarterback options. Next up: Las Vegas Raiders QB Marcus Mariota.
2021 status: Under contract with Raiders
2020 stats: 17 of 28 (60.7 percent), 226 yards, 8.1 yards per attempt, one touchdown, one interception, 83.3 passer rating, 98.1 QBR; nine carries, 88 yards, one touchdown (one game)
Pros: Mariota hardly saw any playing time in his first season as Derek Carr’s backup, but his lone 2020 appearance was an impressive one.
After replacing an injured Carr in Week 15, the former Tennessee Titans starter delivered several gorgeous completions and rushed for 88 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Mobility and athleticism always have been hallmarks of Mariota’s game. He’s no Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray in that regard, but from 2015 to 2018 (his four full seasons as an NFL starter) he ranked fifth among QBs in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
“He’s very strong and athletic enough to extend plays, whether that’s buy time for the receivers to get open, throw on the run or in some cases advance the ball himself,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in 2018.
Belichick also has praised Mariota’s intelligence and decision-making in the past. The Titans posted a winning record in his starts in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In 2018 — one year before he lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill — Mariota set career highs in completion percentage (68.9) and adjusted completion percentage (77.1). The Titans ran a more conservative offense that season that emphasized power running and short passes, but Mariota also led all qualified QBs in adjusted completion rate on deep balls, per Pro Football Focus. His 9.5 yards per attempt against the Patriots in a November victory was the third-highest mark New England’s Super Bowl-winning defense allowed in 2018.
Mariota still is relatively young (turns 28 in October) and still has upside as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. If the Patriots believe he’s capable of a career renaissance, he likely won’t cost much in terms of compensation and carries a reasonable $11.35 million salary cap hit (though he can earn significantly more than that through playing-time escalators).
The Patriots might not even need to trade for him either. With Mariota’s contract terms scaring off potential suitors, the cap-strapped Raiders could outright release the QB in the coming weeks, according to a recent report by NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. If that happens, New England would be free to sign Mariota for any agreed-upon rate without needing to part ways with a draft pick.
Would Mariota be a long-term answer at the quarterback position? Probably not. In all likelihood, he wouldn’t even enter training camp as the unquestioned starter. But with the Patriots not likely to be in the running for Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott or Russell Wilson and a Jimmy Garoppolo trade/release not logical unless San Francisco acquires someone better, Mariota might be the most desirable veteran option available.
Outside of Prescott, this year’s crop of impending free agent QBs doesn’t feature a single no-doubt starter.
Cons: There’s a reason Mariota had to settle for a backup job in 2020.
Despite his lofty draft status, he’s really only been an above-average quarterback in one of his six pro seasons. That was in 2016, his second year, when he posted a 26:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio and ranked ninth in yards per attempt, 10th in passer rating, 13th in QBR and eighth in expected points added per play.
Otherwise, Mariota has been middling at best and downright bad at his worst. He’s never ranked higher than 14th in passer rating, QBR or EPA/play in any other season and was 21st or worse in all three in 2018, his last full season as a starter. He’s also typically ranked in the bottom half in accuracy metrics (completion percentage and adjusted completion percentage), outside of his 2018 bump.
Mariota also has yet to play a full 16-game season, so injuries are a concern, as well.
In 2019, Mariota posted a miserable 35.5 QBR through six starts that would have ranked second-to-last in the NFL if he’d thrown enough passes to quality. He was benched for Tannehill, who proceeded to have a phenomenal statistical season while leading the Titans to the AFC Championship Game.
Tannehill is a prime example of a highly drafted quarterback who struggled early in his career before flourishing after changing teams. Mariota could follow that same path. But his body of work this far doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.
Patriots’ chances: Reasonably high. One sportsbook recently pegged Mariota as the favorite to be the Patriots’ Week 1 starter.