Patriots Mailbag: Why the Pats Should Trade For Raiders Quarterback Marcus Mariota

As the quarterback carousel continues to spin, there are rumblings linking Mariota to the Patriots.

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The NFL’s quarterback carousel made another stop this week with former Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz getting off the ride in Indianapolis as the new starter for the Colts. 

In New England, the Patriots weren’t interested in trading for Wentz, but there’s one available veteran quarterback that’s consistently brought up in league circles for Bill Belichick. 

Although his career took a downward turn when he fell out of favor in Tennessee, we continue to hear things linking Marcus Mariota to the Patriots.

Mariota, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill when the Titans made a stylistic change to their offense. Tennessee went with a more under-center approach that builds off a strong running game with bootlegs and other moving pockets off play-action. 

Dating back to his Heisman Trophy-winning days at Oregon, Mariota is a better fit in a shotgun spread scheme amplifying vertical throws, quick throws between the numbers, and of course, his legs. 

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s passing system focuses on accuracy, timing, decision making, and processing at the quarterback position, making Mariota a stylistic fit. 

In his last full season starting games for the Titans in 2018, Mariota was 12th out of 35 qualified quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus’s accuracy charting that studies actual ball placement. 

Plus, Mariota still gives New England a mobile quarterback that averaged over 360 rushing yards as a starter. He can extend plays or win on designed runs like Cam Newton, is four years younger than Newton, and throws with much smoother mechanics and better accuracy.

Mariota had a relief appearance for the Raiders when starter Derek Carr, who is not on the trade block, was injured, and Mariota was extremely impressive.

Looking at that tape from Week 15, Mariota displayed several traits as a passer that would make him appealing to the Patriots: anticipation, quick processing, and accurate ball placement. 

Here, Mariota has tight end Darren Waller working a five-step slant against zone coverage between the numbers. Mariota sees no. 56 Kenneth Murray joins the rush, subtracting one defender from the middle of the field, and knows he can make the pass to Waller by moving the underneath safety out of the passing lane. Mariota stares down Waller’s slant route in the first window to get the short zone defender to lean in that direction and no-looks a throw with zip to the second window for a completion. 

This play serves as another example of Mariota reading underneath coverage and anticipating a passing window. The shallow zone defender to Mariota’s right sinks towards the flat when the running back flares out of the backfield. Mariota waits for the linebacker to widen and then hits Zay Jones on the curl route for a nine-yard gain on first down. 

Next, Mariota read coverages both before and after the snap quickly to take shots downfield. In 2018, he also graded out as one of the most accurate deep ball passers.

In this play, Mariota reads the corner at the bottom of the screen here who vacates the deep third to stay on an underneath curl route. Mariota knows it’s safe to throw to Waller once again on a wheel route with no defender deep along the sideline and the deep safety in the middle of the field, then drops it in the bucket. 

Earlier, Mariota read a single-high man coverage pre-snap to take a shot to Waller. Flexing Waller out gives Mariota a man indicator, and the safety starts on the far hash. Mariota keeps the deep safety away from his tight end by initially looking right in his drop, then drops a dime to Waller on the go ball for a 35-yard touchdown. 

Lastly, throughout Mariota’s tape against Los Angeles, there are several instances where he showed great pocket awareness, the ability to extend plays and make throws on the move. 

Although it’s not a requirement, quarterbacks that can move around and create outside the pocket are becoming the norm because they make things easier on those around them. 

Here, Mariota’s initial read to Waller on the deep crosser is covered. When he feels pressure from Joey Bosa off the left side, Mariota steps up in the pocket and finds an escape route to extend the play. Eventually, tight end Foster Moreau works himself open along the sideline, and Mariota throws an accurate ball on the move for another first down completion. 

Although the verbiage is different, the types of reads and throws that Mariota was making in Jon Gruden’s offense with the Raiders resemble what the Patriots do under McDaniels. 

After polling league sources, it also sounds like the asking price for Mariota is coming down because Las Vegas is desperate to move him, given their cap situation. 

The Raiders are $18.6 million over the cap, and having a backup quarterback with a $10.75 million cap hit isn’t a luxury they can afford, but for the Pats, that’s relatively cheap. A trade or even a release is coming, and Mariota can be had for a day three pick.

The only kicker for the Patriots is a contract filled with playing time incentives, but that won’t affect New England’s cap until 2022, meaning they’ll maintain their flexibility in the short term.

For New England, the question as it was last offseason when they checked in on Mariota during free agency isn’t money, but rather if they feel he’s a significant enough upgrade over Newton. 

Mariota is worth exploring. The Pats aren’t married to him with only one year remaining on his deal, his contract will allow them plenty of flexibility to upgrade the roster, and they could still look to the draft for a long-term solution at quarterback. 

Let’s get to some of your questions now with a heavy emphasis this week on non-quarterback topics since we opened with a Mariota discussion: 

Good question. I think it will help attract those two since they’ll be playing with a familiar quarterback. As far as the Pats’ interest goes in both players, it’ll be a matter of preference. They can come in at the top of the market on either, so the question is, does Belichick like them as players? In particular, he was very complimentary of Smith a few years ago, calling him “probably the best tight end in the league” after the catch, among other compliments. Davis had a few big games against the Pats in the past, and we know Belichick tends to gravitate towards those free agents. Both David and Smith are possibilities here. 

Short is a power rusher with the length and functional strength to hold up at the point of attack. However, he’s been used primarily as a one-gap penetrator throughout his career. If the Pats think he can play as either a two-gapping nose or more likely a 3-4 DE, then maybe they’ll see a fit. But Short is at his best in a system that lets him shoot gaps. 

Out of this list, the tight ends are the most likely candidates to end up in Foxboro. The Pats might not want to get in a bidding war for Henry, so Everett or Cook on a one-year deal to give Asiasi a veteran to develop behind are strong possibilities. I like JuJu’s on-field fit but have a tough time seeing him as a culture fit. Can you imagine him dancing on opposing teams’ logos for TikTok with Belichick? Doubtful. Godwin, Golladay, and Robinson are strong candidates for the franchise tag while Hilton strikes me as a player past his prime that probably shouldn’t interest a rebuilding team.

If Cam Newton returns to the Patriots, I could see him recruiting one of his best friends in football to New England. Beckham wanted to play with Tom Brady but expressed his desire to play for Belichick in the past and is very tight with Newton. The Pats can’t offer an opportunity to play with Brady anymore, but Newton might be the next best pairing to Odell. We’ve discussed crazier things in our dream scenarios than this one. 

We’ve spoken about Erickson before as he fits the Amendola mold for the Patriots. But as you mentioned, Gunner Olszewski might be that guy now. I still like Erickson’s upside as a slot receiver in New England. He’s shifty, elusive after the catch, and will execute the route tree the Pats ask of him nicely. The question is, are they in the market for that level of receiver? Let’s hope they’re aiming higher this time around. 

Give me Pitts out of this group but passing on Waddle is tough. I have some concerns about Parsons off the field that might knock him down the board. Although not proven guilty, the optics of the hazing stuff with Parsons aren’t great, and he’s had a few other incidents where trouble seems to find him. Pitts would be one of the most versatile offensive weapons Belichick has had outside of Gronk with the ability to line up at tight end or wide receiver. His route releases and manipulation in his vertical stems are as good as any wide receiver in the class, while he can use his size and catch radius to win in tight. He’s a generational talent. 

Jaelon Darden and Tylan Wallace with some love for Amari Rodgers as well. Darden is similar to Florida’s Kadarius Toney but will go much later. He has tremendous speed and elusiveness as a ball carrier. Wallace is an alpha that plays a physical brand of football, wins on the boundary, and will throw his weight around as a blocker. Rodgers is a slot receiver that reminds me of Jamison Crowder. He’s smooth operating on a horizontal plane and knows how to get open between the numbers. All three would be good gets. 

Not sure if he’s the top priority, but I’ll reiterate my report that the Patriots have spoken to Adam Butler’s representatives, and there’s mutual interest in a return. The team wants Butler back, and my sense is the same is true with center David Andrews. Still, feeling out Joe Thuney’s market might be Belichick’s first domino. The organization loves Thuney, and he’s a perfect Patriot. Tough, dependable, talented, smart, and hard-working. They surprised us all by tagging Thuney last offseason, so don’t be surprised if they’re reluctant to let Thuney walk this offseason. 

I’ve given N’Keal Harry as long of a leash as anyone in Boston. However, if they’re going to salvage anything out of the Harry selection, they’ll need to rethink how they use him in the offense. He can’t get in and out of his breaks well enough to create separation, so the only answer is to limit his route tree to vertical patterns; fades (back shoulders), double moves, seams, deep crossers, etc. Maybe that allows him to win with size more often. Still, it’s in the teams’ best interest to seek an upgrade this offseason. Hopefully, that lights a fire under Harry, and both players are productive.

The Patriots were extremely pleased with Folk’s performance last year and Folk was on-board with a return at the end of the season. If I had to make an educated guess, Folk will be here next season. As for Rohrwasser, that pick has been a disaster from the start. Although, the team isn’t in any rush to cut him.

Although I had some of the best chili ever at Yats in Indianapolis with Austin once upon a time, I’m all set on tanking. I understand the thought process behind it, but good organizations don’t tank. When you have Belichick and a roster that somehow managed to go 7-9 a year ago, I think the Patriots are closer to being contenders than people think. 

There’s going to be a much different approach to free agency this offseason due to the salary cap’s decrease. I’d expect more cuts, restructures, trades, and prove-it deals than ever before. The elite players will still get paid, but aging stars or middle-tier guys might need to settle for one-year deals so they can hit the open market again when the cap corrects itself. I would expect Belichick, one of the few GMs with cap space, to take advantage of the market.