Marcus Mariota has been a starting quarterback most of his NFL career. He assumed the responsibility his rookie year and relinquished it only for injury before Week 6 of last year.
The No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 draft, which Tennessee gave up significant assets to get, was benched for Ryan Tannehill. Mariota watched from the sideline as Tannehill led the Titans to an AFC Championship Game and then got rewarded with a big, fat contract.
Mariota ended up on the open market, agreeing to a pact with the Raiders on March 16 as a presumed backup. A two-year, $17.6 million contract so incentive laden that Mariota could earned roughly $20 million more if he assumes the starting gig through most of 2020 and has serious success in 2021.
Mariota is betting on himself, armed with belief that he can win a starting job and be rewarded in kind. He’s not walking into the situation with a hard edge. Not his style.
He fully understands that Derek Carr is the Raiders starting quarterback heading into next season and wants to do whatever possible to foster a positive work environment as the second option. Mariota and Carr are friendly, with similar personalities, and are expected to work together well.
“First and foremost, this is Derek’s team. I understand that going in,” Mariota told Rob DeMello of KHON2, a television station in his native Hawai’i. “I think my priority was to be part of a team that would bring out the best in me. Whatever happens, whatever comes of that, I’m ready for.
“I do know that, to play starting quarterback in the NFL, to be at that spot, is not an easy job to do. I think, when it comes down to it, a strong, stable, supportive quarterback room makes that job a whole lot easier. That’s what we have to do. I’m going to do my best to support Derek in every possible way that I can. Along with that, I’m going to try to become the best player I can be and see where that takes me.”
‘It’s been almost ten years since I played at home, this is as close as it gets’, #Hawaii’s Marcus Mariota ‘excited’ to sign with #LasVegas #Raiders https://t.co/O7B6TkeMAt @StLouisHawaii #NFLHawaii #9thIsland // https://t.co/9oZimTtTXJ 🤙🏽 pic.twitter.com/xBHLaAUMFy— Rob DeMello (@RobDeMelloKHON) March 25, 2020
Mariota’s a competitor and, deep down, must want another shot at a starting NFL gig. The Raiders promised to pay him appropriately should he earn that role and perform well in in. Mariota has the athleticism and skill set head coach/offensive play caller Jon Gruden prefers, though he has had ups and downs as a professional after dominating college football at Oregon.
Raiders coaches must coax better from Mariota for him to compete with Carr. The Fresno State alum is the firm No. 1 signal caller entering his third season in Gruden's system, but Mariota’s a viable second option with 61 starts and two more in the playoffs to his credit.
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Mariota’s progress has been hindered by a near-constant coaching change in Tennessee. He played for three head coaches and five offensive coordinators during his time in Nashville. Mariota was looking for consistency at the top and found that in Gruden, who signed a 10-year deal in Jan. 2018 and is going nowhere.
“I had two priorities going into this free agency process and No. 1 was to be able to find stability,” Mariota said. “I wanted an organization that had a stable head coach and stability in the front office. Secondly, I wanted a coaching staff that could bring out the best in me, use my talents and put my best foot forward. The cherry on top of it was being closer to home and being in Las Vegas. I really can’t stress it enough. We’re so excited.”