Roughly a year ago, Marcus Mariota signed a $17.6M contract with the Las Vegas Raiders, making him the richest back-up quarterback in the NFL.
Heading into the 2020 NFL season, the Raiders coaching staff talked about wanting to rebuild Marcus Mariota after a failed stint in Tennessee to begin his career. Now, one season in silver and black later, Mariota appears to be where he began the season: A quarterback who can likely start on another team with no path to the starting job at his current stop.
Mariota is seemingly trapped.
But the Raiders are committed to Derek Carr and they signed a backup quarterback to contract extension and his name wasn't Marcus Mariota. It was Nathan Peterman.
When Derek Carr injured his groin in Thursday Night Football last season, Mariota entered the game and breathed some life into the Raiders' offense nearly leading them to victory. The former Heisman winner finished the game with 226 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception along with nine carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.
It was the only significant playing time Mariota saw all season. Even in week 17 with the Raiders eliminated from playoff contention, Las Vegas elected to start an injured Derek Carr rather than see what Mariota can do with a real gameplan for him.
For how highly the Raiders have talked up Mariota, it all feels like lip service.
After the season, Mariota was the favorite to be the New England Patriots starting QB. Then the Patriots signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal.
Then trade talks between Las Vegas Raiders & Washington Football Team fizzled. They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal.
After Drew Brees retired, Jameis Winston signed a one-year deal with the Saints.
So, what happened?
Well, Mariota's contract with the Raiders is proving to be a poison pill.
His contract was heavily incentivized.
Per the details of his contract, Mariota’s cap number will be just above $10.7 million in 2021. Should Mariota play over 60 percent of snaps in 12 games next season, the quarterback will earn an additional $7.85 million. Then for each victory Mariota leads his team to, he will earn an extra $156,250 with maximum win earnings of $1.8 million. Then, the incentives continue if Mariota makes the postseason. The 27-year-old will earn $250,000 for every postseason win, $1 million for making the Super Bowl, and $2 million for winning the title. The incentives in his contract could escalate his pay to more than $20 million if he became a full-time starter in 2021.
“Teams as of right now, don’t seem to think that it’s something that would be worth it,” NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said in. “Especially when you consider they would give up a draft pick to trade for him.”
So, with NFL free agency opening, Newton is making a base salary of $5M that could earn him a total of $14M in incentives. Fitzpatrick will get $12M. Winston received $5.5 million in guarantees, but could make as much as $12M.
Andy Dalton is likely to sign with the Bears, who are also flirting with Russell Wilson.
If the Raiders decided to cut Mariota, they would save more than $11 million in 2021.
But if they were going to do that, wouldn't they have made that move prior to free agency beginning?
As of March 16, 2021, the Raiders had roughly $10.3M in cap space for 2021.
They could have used the additional money to compete for a top-tier free agent.
Instead, Mariota continues to sit there with the third-highest base salary on the team.
Maybe the Raiders are holding out hope that they can trade him, though that seems like a pipe dream at this point.
Will Mariota be in silver and black next season?
That's the way it is starting to look, begrudgingly.
If they do part ways, Mariota & the Raiders are headed for a messy, complicated break-up.