NFL

Marcus Mariota’s time with the Raiders is almost a microcosm of his entire career

NFL

Marcus Mariota’s future in the NFL remains murky.

After a missing a number of practices in recent weeks, the Las Vegas Raiders placed the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner on Injured Reserve as he battles a strained pectoral muscle, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Mariota had hoped his injury woes were behind him when he departed Tennessee after five seasons and joined the Raiders on a two-year, $17.6 million contract to become the highest-paid backup quarterback.

Instead, Mariota will begin the 2020 season on Injured Reserve for the first time in his career and will not be eligible to return to the active roster until after three weeks.

His first season in Las Vegas was supposed to be different, but Mariota’s injury history is stockpiling, and it’s beginning to feel like the tipping point of his professional football career.

After being selected No. 2 overall out of Oregon in the 2015 NFL Draft, Titans fans were enthusiastic about Mariota’s future in Tennessee. But his rookie season was derailed when Mariota missed four games due to an MCL sprain. Still, Mariota managed to complete 62 percent of his passes.

In Year 2, Mariota looked promising. He threw 26 touchdowns in 15 starts with just nine interceptions. He finished 13th in DYAR, 10th in quarterback DVOA, and 12th in QBR, and had an adjusted 7.9 yards per pass attempt, the best of his career. In Week 16, Mariota sustained a broken fibula against the Jags and his second season was over.

 

Mariota had never suffered a major injury until that time, not in high school and not in college. Many felt he wasn’t the same player after that.

Over the next two seasons, Mariota sustained an unspecified Grade 1 thigh/hamstring pull which sidelined him for one game vs. the Dolphins in 2017, and a pinched nerve issue knocked him out for one game against the Texans on Sept. 9, 2018.

Weeks later, Mariota suffered a cervical neck stinger on Nov. 18, missing one half of play. He re-injured himself in Week 16 and subsequently missed the Week 17 showdown vs. Indianapolis with a playoff berth on the line. Tennessee lost with Blaine Gabbert under center.

These are the only injuries documented on the NFL’s injury report. However, as Paul Kurharsky reports, Mariota played through several others during the 2018 season.

  • He dealt with an ulnar nerve issue, which gave him a tingly throwing hand.
  • He suffered a neck stinger against the Colts in Week 11 and re-injured it in Week 16 against the Redskins. That second instance was why he was unable to play in Week 17.
  • He sustained a cracked vertebrae.
  • His plantar fascia had a significant tear during the season, which escalated into a full tear in Week 16.
  • He had a strained oblique.
  • He suffered a broken rib.
  • He also dealt with a sprained AC shoulder joint.

Vinny Passas, who has been working with Mariota since he was 14 years old, believes Mariota’s slew of injuries followed him into 2019.  

“The timing was just bad for him,” Passas told The Athletic. “He wasn’t fully healed and then he took a lot of punishment in the preseason. But he did have an opportunity to make plays and he didn’t, and it’s a bottom-line league. And he wasn’t the new staff’s guy when it came in, in 2018.”

The former Oregon product was eventually benched for Ryan Tannehill, who went 7-3 in the Titans’ last 10 games to help lead them to the playoffs. Mariota finished his Titans career with 76 touchdown passes, 44 interceptions, 155 sacks and 29 wins in 61 starts with the Titans. He has never played a full 16-game season.

Now with the Las Vegas Raiders, Mariota has new chemistry around him and an opportunity to revive his career as one of the NFL’s top-tier quarterbacks. But questions about Mariota’s health continue to linger.

Perhaps Mariota’s injury isn’t serious and he'll be able to recover quickly and rejoin the team's active roster. Or maybe just maybe, the 26-year-old’s career is on a downward spiral for good.

The Raiders are certainly counting on this time to be different.   

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