For the first time since the 2007 regular season, the Atlanta Falcons will have someone other than Matt Ryan leading them onto the field in the first week of the season. It’s pretty surreal to think about, but as they say, all good things come to an end. Ryan is now in Indianapolis and the Falcons are left looking toward the future.
After trading their franchise quarterback to the Colts, the Falcons acted quickly in signed quarterback Marcus Mariota to a two-year deal. It’s possible the Falcons, who have the 8th overall selection in the upcoming draft take a quarterback, but Mariota at the present time is the favorite to start Week 1.
Mariota was a highly-coveted prospect coming out of Oregon in 2015 and was selected with the 2nd overall selection in that draft by the Tennessee Titans. Expectations were high for Mariota, who won the Heisman trophy the previous year, and joined a Titans team which was coming off of a 2-14 season. Up to that point, the last time the Titans even made the playoffs was in 2008.
A familiar name to us all was in Tennessee at the time, and that name would be Arthur Smith, the Titans assistant tight ends coach. Smith climbed his way up the ranks of the Titans’ organization and finally became offensive coordinator in 2019. That season, Mariota would start off 2-4 before being benched for Ryan Tannehill. That offseason, Tannehill got a five-year extension and Mariota essentially got the boot out of Nashville.
The Las Vegas Raiders signed Mariota to a two-year, $17.6 million contract during the 2020 offseason, making him the primary backup to starter Derek Carr. In two years with the Raiders, Mariota threw 30 total passes, completing 18 of them for one touchdown and one interception. With Las Vegas, Mariota profiled more as a gadget quarterback and would enter games to merely run or hand the ball off to the running back, except in the rare instances where Carr was hurt.
Now in Atlanta, Mariota is the Falcons starting quarterback as of the moment. Initially, that may seem like a massive downgrade when you compare Mariota to Ryan or Deshaun Watson, who the team pursued this offseason. But we must look at what Mariota brings to the table.
“Marcus had some terrific runs with us in Tennessee,” Smith said via AtlantaFalcons.com. “He obviously was a starter who won a playoff game with us in the 2017 season. He’s at a different point of his career from where he was at then. I’m at a different point in my career. A lot of lessons learned, and we’re excited to work together again. He’s an exciting player, a smart football player, and he’s excited about the opportunity to get to Atlanta to prove himself.”
It’s doubtful that Mariota will come in and make Atlanta an instant playoff contender. That seems a year and some substantial roster upgrades away, at minimum. It’s also worth noting that the team currently has the 8th overall selection in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft and may take a quarterback at that pick.
Mariota would likely still start off the season as the team’s quarterback, but would in that scenario play more of a stop gap role until the rookie is ready to take over. Either way, Mariota is a good person off of the field and has potential to be a solid starter in an offense Arthur Smith is hoping to tailor to his strengths. We shall see what happens.