By: Joe Harris/Oregon Sports News
It is officially Marcus Mariota time in Atlanta. The former Oregon Duck will replace Matt Ryan or have to compete with Feleipe Franks for the starting job.
After the Russell Wilson trade, I assumed the Hawks might be interested in Mariota. He would serve as a great backup/mentor to Drew Lock and would add a rushing element to the Seahawks’ offense. Instead, the Hawks kept quiet, but the Falcons made the move.
It’s certainly an interesting one if Atlanta plans to make the former Heisman Trophy winner and number two overall pick their starting quarterback. Mariota has thrown just 190 pass attempts in the last three seasons. During his final year with the Tennessee Titans, he was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill. Then he went to Las Vegas, where he has been the backup to Derek Carr for the last two seasons.
The Raiders rarely used Mariota in their passing game. It didn’t help Mariota’s exposure chances that Carr never missed a game over the last two years, but they still found a place in their offense for him. Mariota mainly was brought in on third-downs to run the ball and find the gaps. He did that job exceptionally well, rushing for 175 yards and two touchdowns on just 22 carries. That’s an average of eight yards per carry.
However, there was no way that Mariota was anxious to see his career be diminished to a full-time backup QB who gets to run the ball once a game if he’s lucky. There should be some fair questions about his arm, his accuracy, and if he is still capable of leading a team for 17 games with his passing ability alone.
In his last full season as the starter in Tennessee, where he started just six games, he passed for just 1200 yards with seven touchdowns. His completion percentage was south of 60 percent, and he had a touchdown percentage of just 4.4 percent. This was when he was shown the bench, with the Titans needing some sort of spark plug.
The Falcons are not entirely in a rebuild, but they likely aren’t setting their expectations at winning ten games in 2022. They just traded the QB who has started nearly every single game for them since 2008. They don’t have a true number one wide receiver on their roster unless we are calling tight end Kyle Pitts a wideout, and the running game is shaky at best.
A big reason why Mariota landed in Atlanta is because of Arthur Smith. He is entering his second year as the Falcons’ head coach, but he spent ten seasons in Tennessee under different roles. If there is any coach that has a ton of experience with Mariota, it is Smith. Mariota emphasized that sentiment after the signing.
“Loyalty is very important to me,” Mariota said, via Rob DeMello of KHON. “It’s something that we all live off of here in Hawaii, and Art has been somebody that’s been in my corner for a long time. And I appreciate everything he’s done for me. And I’m just excited. I’m excited for this opportunity, I’m excited to be a part of this organization. And just looking forward to getting out there.”
Smith likely knows that Mariota isn’t the quarterback of the future in Atlanta and that he isn’t bound to sign some massive contract extension in a few seasons. I think he knows that he just signed a bridge quarterback who can guide the Falcons for one to two seasons until they can get the player they really want in the building.
“Marcus is a high-end talent just like (Matt) Ryan was,” Smith said. “He was a first-round pick. He’s in a different spot in his career. I trust Marcus. Marcus, he’s going to come in here, and he’s going to give us everything he’s got.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons used a draft pick in this year’s draft on a quarterback. The Falcons are picking 8th overall in the first round and then have the 43rd overall selection, which lands in the second round.
There will undoubtedly be quarterbacks available at pick number eight. If Malik Willis falls, the Falcons might have to pick him. Willis has been flying up draft boards. He has a massive arm, and he can use his legs. If Smith believes that he can craft Willis into the QB of the future without any pressure on starting him right away, Atlanta is in great shape.
Even if the eighth pick isn’t spent on a signal-caller, I would have a hard time envisioning that the Falcons don’t look at a guy like Carson Strong, Sam Howell, Kenny Pickett, or Matt Corral at pick number 43.
The quarterback position has become the most important, and it isn’t even close. If Atlanta wants to win in the near future, they need a star at the position, and as much as I like Mariota and for as great as his career was at Oregon, he has proven that he is not going to be the franchise star of an NFL franchise.
This could be a great way for Mariota to reinvent himself. It worked, sorta, for Jameis Winston and Mariota has the stage to prove that he can still stick around the league. At just 28-years-old, maybe we are entering the second chapter of Mariota’s career. I certainly hope it’s a good one.