As a result of this situation, Mariota has been among the most buzzed-about signal-callers this offseason when it comes to trade rumors. QB-needy teams could look to acquire Mariota to either bring competition to their quarterback rooms or be a starter for at least the 2021 season.
Below we’ll examine the five new teams who are a perfect fit for Mariota to land with.
Marcus Mariota to Washington Football Team
With the recent buzz out of the nation’s capital suggesting Alex Smith‘s days are numbered with the Football Team, the only incumbent option on Washington’s roster at the most important position on the field Is Taylor Heinicke, who signed a two-year contract extension after a solid playoff start.
The notion of playing for a reigning division champion with an obvious opportunity to start should appeal to Mariota. He’d be traded out of conference to the NFC, be supported by an excellent defense, and the Football Team would plug an obvious hole with a seasoned veteran who has experience in numerous offensive systems and has the talent of a former No. 2 overall pick.
Since Washington isn’t picking until 19th in the 2021 NFL Draft, it’d be unrealistic to either trade up high enough to select a top QB prospect, or to believe the next long-term answer under center would fall that far in the proceedings.
Even if he’s not a decade-long answer, Mariota is a great stopgap solution while the Football Team figures everything out. It’s worth noting Mariota is in a contract year, so he can also decide whether or not Washington is a good long-term fit for him depending on how 2021 would play out if the two sides joined forces.
Smith mounted an amazing comeback last season and guided the team to a 5-1 record despite obvious physical limitations and lackluster stats. With Mariota at the controls, he’d have Terry McLaurin out wide, Logan Thomas at tight end and two pass-catching backs in Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic to rely on.
Plus, Mariota would free up the Football Team to land either a high-priced playmaker in free agency, or use their first-round pick on a stud receiver prospect. Any added weaponry to go with Mariota’s presence in the huddle would cement Washington’s status as NFC East favorites.
Marcus Mariota to Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have given Ben Roethlisberger a deadline to restructure his contract by March 17. When he does this, Big Ben won’t be the prohibitive salary cap hit of over $41 million he’s counted as right now, which will free up enough funds for Pittsburgh to pursue someone like Mariota.
Although Dwayne Haskins is a candidate to be Roethlisberger’s heir apparent, his flame-out in Washington as a 2019 first-round pick hardly makes him reliable enough to count on. Mariota hasn’t played for an organization like the Steelers before, and he’d walk into a rather favorable situation where his strengths would be utilized well.
Mariota is an excellent runner who’d bring an immediate spark to an offense that ranked dead-last in rushing this past season. Although Pittsburgh could stand to upgrade its offensive line to help the cause, Mariota has enough athleticism and ability to escape the pocket to gain yards with his legs.
At this juncture of his career, Big Ben’s improvisational ability is relatively nonexistent. He’s a statue in the pocket, and must get the ball out quickly to succeed.
Thanks to his superior mobility, Mariota could set up play-action bootlegs that’d cut the field in half and create mismatches. Both James Washington and Chase Claypool are excellent at tracking the ball and are viable deep threats, while Diontae Johnson thrives as an underneath, possession receiver.
New Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada is an in-house promotion, but he only arrived with the team in 2020, so he’s not necessarily married to the prior scheme Roethlisberger is accustomed to. This could be a nice way of phasing Big Ben out, especially if he plays as poorly as he did down the stretch of the 2020 campaign.
Marcus Mariota to New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill? Those are the two QB options Saints fans are trying to talk themselves into for 2021 with Drew Brees likely retiring. Winston threw 30 interceptions during his last crack at a starting job, and Hill has played far more snaps at tight end than quarterback in his NFL career.
That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. How juicy would it be for Mariota to go into coach Sean Payton’s system, beat out the one man who was drafted ahead of him in Winston, and help New Orleans continue to thrive despite a horrid salary cap situation and the legendary Brees’ exit?
Mariota has never thrown to a receiver like Michael Thomas. During his days with the Tennessee Titans, Derrick Henry hadn’t yet peaked, and King Henry isn’t near the pass-catcher that Saints tailback Alvin Kamara is.
Changing play-callers was almost an annual occurrence in Tennessee when Mariota was there. Payton is the head coach and is in charge of the call sheet on game days, and he always finds a way to get his offense producing at an elite level. He proved adept at adapting in recent years when Brees’ physical skill set was in obvious decline, too.
Mariota presents even more explosive rushing upside than Hill does, and doesn’t have to clear a very high bar to commit fewer boneheaded errors than Winston.
Marcus Mariota to Chicago Bears
It’s fair to say Bears head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace can officially turn the page on the Mitchell Trubisky era, and that Nick Foles flopped last season. They’re both also on the hot seat, so it’s time to take a swing and do something different at the position that’s held Chicago back from achieving greater glory of late.
No, Mariota isn’t going to bring a lot of fanfare as a potential franchise savior. Nevertheless, if Nagy is indeed as clever on offense as many give him credit for, there’s reason to believe Mariota could shine under his tutelage.
Late last season, the Bears picked up three straight December wins to sneak into the postseason. Much of that success can be attributed to an unprecedented commitment to the run, as the offensive line jelled at the perfect time and ball-carrier David Montgomery really took off.
Building on that identity would behoove the defense-dependent Bears in 2021. Even the mere threat of Mariota keeping the ball on zone-read running plays opens up running lanes for Montgomery, not to mention the run-pass option plays Nagy is fond of.
The last two seasons Mariota extensively played were 2017 and 2018. He ranked 14th and 18th respectively in Pro Football Focus’ quarterback grades in those years. That was better than Foles (17th and 19th) and Trubisky (28th and 33rd) in the same span. Foles and Trubisky ranked 28th and 33rd this past year.
It’s pretty obvious that the numbers point to Mariota being a significantly better player than Chicago has had of late. Rolling with Foles or Trubisky next season is pretty much unacceptable.
Marcus Mariota to San Francisco 49ers
A run-first, heavy play-action, QB-friendly system is exactly what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan runs — and is what Mariota needs to thrive in his second act.
There are similarities between the offenses Shanahan and Gruden run, and the two coaches have a long-standing relationship. That’d make for an ideal situation in terms of pairing up teams as trade partners.
Jimmy Garoppolo led San Francisco to a Super Bowl berth just two seasons ago, yet he can’t stay healthy. That was a knock on Mariota throughout his time in Tennessee. Now, he’s had some time to heal while sitting behind Carr in Las Vegas, and his game action from 2020 showed the high-end potential he can still unlock with the right opportunity.
Shanahan has never had an athlete like Mariota to work with other than Robert Griffin III, who was much more reliant on his legs and was undone by injuries. Mariota is much more cerebral than Griffin, and has stuck around in the NFL despite constant turnover at offensive coordinator with the Titans.
Tennessee failed Mariota by never providing him with proper continuity. He wouldn’t need to worry about that in the Bay Area, as Shanahan should stick around for a very long time. He’s among the brightest offensive coaches in recent NFL history.
Mariota’s mobility combined with his knack for picking up playbooks quickly could convince San Francisco he’s an upgrade over Jimmy G, who could either be traded away to a different team or cut loose with a minimum cap cost.