Two things can be simultaneously true about the 2020 Raiders: They are Derek Carr's team, and coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock really like Marcus Mariota. If they didn't, they wouldn't have paid him $7.5 million in the first year of a two-year deal.
Gruden and Mayock both praised Mariota when he was coming out of Oregon. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner has dealt with injuries and a rotating cast of coordinators and systems during his time with the Tennessee Titans. If healthy, Mariota still has the talent to be a good NFL quarterback, and one former NFL head coach told The Athletic's Mike Sando that he believes Mariota could be Gruden's next Rich Gannon.
“I really want to like him, but he’s a four,” a former head coach told Sando for his quarterback tiers column. “I think Jon Gruden, if he committed to him, could do what he did with Rich Gannon, because I think the guy has some real good ability. Mariota has issues keeping his eyes up the field, but I think he was in a tough position there in Tennessee with the combination of things they had going on. At some point, you have to overcome whatever it is.”
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After a middling first decade in the NFL, Gannon signed with Gruden and the Raiders ahead of the 1999 season and excelled in Gruden's West Coast offense. Gannon was named to four straight Pro Bowls with the Raiders and won the 2002 NFL MVP the year after Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
When healthy, Mariota has been a good NFL quarterback, showing the athleticism and playmaking ability to thrive in the NFL. Mariota went into Arrowhead Stadium and won a playoff game in January in 2017. Again, he won at Arrowhead Stadium, something Carr hasn't been able to do in his career. In that game, Mariota did everything it took to win, including catching his own batted pass and running it in for a touchdown and throwing the game-sealing block to spring Derrick Henry.
Mariota dealt with nerve injuries during the 2018 season and never looked right in 2019 before getting benched for Ryan Tannehill.
Mayock said Mariota had to get healthy and that the Raiders planned to "rebuild" him from the ground up. Gruden has said he wanted his quarterback to be more mobile and urged Carr multiple times in 2019 to use his legs more.
The Raiders spent the offseason revamping the offense around Carr. He survived a total tear down that saw him have little to work with on offense during the beginning of Gruden's second reign. Now, Carr will enter the 2020 season with a receiving corps that includes one of the best tight ends in football in Darren Waller, a talented slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow, first-round draft pick Henry Ruggs, running back Josh Jacobs and veteran receiver Tyrell Williams. Carr also will be throwing behind one of the best offensive lines in football.
All of that points to Carr having a career year in 2020. The lack of OTAs and an altered training camp won't give Mariota much time to challenge him for the starting role in camp. But if Carr should falter early, and the losses start piling up, Gruden no longer will be afraid to turn to his backup quarterback.
Carr hasn't had to look over his shoulder before in his career. The likes of Mike Glennon, DeShone Kizer, A.J. McCarron and Connor Cook posed little threat to his standing at QB1. That won't be the case if Mariota is healthy. The 2014 No. 2 overall draft pick has loads of talent and is in need of a coach and team who believe in him. His confidence must be rebuilt in order to find the Mariota that dazzled coming out of Oregon.
The Titans threw Mariota to the wolves, hired coaches who didn't believe in him and then discarded him wondering why it didn't work out.
Mariota can beat teams with his legs, extend plays and be highly effective when put in an offense with an innovative play-caller who can play to his strengths.
Gruden loved Mariota coming out of college and he's the ideal quarterback for his West Coast system.
Once again, this is Carr's team as of right now. But Gruden no longer will be afraid to go to the bullpen if things start going south for the Silver and Black.