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Marcus Mariota stays as No. 2 QB, next moves Las Vegas should make

Dec 26, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) warms up before a game against the Miami Dolphins at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The latest Las Vegas Raiders news isn’t exactly going to thrill fans hoping for upgrades elsewhere on the roster, but Marcus Mariota is expected to back up starting quarterback Derek Carr for the upcoming season as of right now.

Mariota could’ve sought out a starting job elsewhere. Instead, he’s back in the fold under head coach Jon Gruden. It seems likely he’ll eye a second chance at being a franchise QB in 2022, but Mariota is still leaving the possibility open to leave before then.

Marcus Mariota reworks contract, could still be traded

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Mariota’s contract is for one year and worth $3.5 million, with incentives to make as many as $8 million. Rapoport reported further details on Mariota’s deal, indicating it still gives him flexibility for the future:

Mariota was once the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, but got benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill during the 2019 campaign and ultimately didn’t live up to the hype with the Tennessee Titans.

In about one half of action last season, Mariota showed he still has serious running ability and threw the ball rather well in leading the Raiders offense in relief of an injured Carr. That was the only significant playing time Mariota saw, though, so it made for a difficult evaluation of where he truly was as a player.

Las Vegas’ scheme likely persuaded Marcus Mariota to remain with team

Raiders news: Marcus Mariota
Dec 17, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is only speculation, but given the fact that Mariota went through five different offensive coordinators in as many years to start his NFL career, he probably wasn’t too jazzed about diving into yet another new playbook.

Gruden’s system is complex enough, and Mariota had to pick up that scheme during an offseason that was limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given all those circumstances, it’s all the more impressive Mariota stepped onto the field in Week 15 against a talented Los Angeles Chargers team and held his own.

Continuity is a luxury Mariota hasn’t gotten to enjoy thus far as a pro. With the chance to stick around in Las Vegas and continue developing his football knowledge under Gruden and alongside Carr, it makes more sense than meets the eye.

Jumping at one of the few remaining possible starting opportunities around the NFL would’ve meant Mariota would learn a new system yet again — and probably wouldn’t be in the most ideal position to succeed. This way, he gets more time in the same offense, and can reassess his options as his situation with the Raiders plays out.

Read More: Raiders news: RB Josh Jacobs arrested in Las Vegas on DUI charges

Next moves Las Vegas needs to make after latest Raiders news

Next moves Las Vegas needs to make after latest Raiders news
Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) reacts during Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Yours truly has gone to bat for Gruden as a coach, perhaps naively failing to realize before how much sway he has over personnel.

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock doesn’t strike any casual outsider as having the type of personality to cave to Gruden’s whims on which players to acquire and let go of, but then again, Gruden is the one with the 10-year contract.

Gruden the coach needs to get out of the way, give the reins to Mayock when it comes to personnel, and trust the man to do his job. Whoever is to blame for the team’s inability to build a logical, sustainable roster around a cost-effective QB in Carr, it needs to get sorted out fast.

As for the pure free-agent moves, though, obviously defense remains a need. Gruden got into some trouble for flirting — potentially tampering — with free-agent cornerback Richard Sherman, whose former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is now calling the shots for the Silver and Black’s D.

Sherman is among the best free agents still available and can be had for a bargain price relative to the Hall of Fame resume he brings to the locker room. Signing Sherman would be a great way to add leadership on defense in desperate need of it with young defensive backs in Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette and Johnathan Abram expected to be big contributors in 2021.

An odd set of transactions this offseason saw Las Vegas blow up a previously strong offensive line, which is going to put Carr in harm’s way and might actually lead to Mariota getting more playing time than expected due to his superior athleticism and ability to extend plays with his legs.

But ideally, Carr remains the starter and the protection up front gets a big upgrade. Austin Reiter makes sense, because he’s a center who can take over for traded starter Rodney Hudson and is from the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs. Reiter was a top-five Pro Football Focus center in pass protection during 2020 and didn’t surrender a single sack of Patrick Mahomes.

Read More: Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson traded from the Las Vegas Raiders to Arizona Cardinals