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The case for Marcus Mariota as a low-risk quarterback option in the 2021 NFL offseason

Dec 17, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

All signs point to the NFL starting quarterback landscape looking very different in 2021 compared to 2020. 

Philip Rivers and Drew Brees, longtime stalwarts at the position, are set to retire, and there remains a possibility that Ben Roethlisberger follows suit in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears and New York Jets must make decisions on underperforming former first-round quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Darnold, trade rumors abound regarding Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford and four quarterbacks could very well come off the board within the first 10 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft. 

The Watsons, Staffords, Lawrences, Wilsons and Fields of the world make it easy to overlook the deep second tier of quarterbacks that may become available via free agency or trade. It’s a list that includes players such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. In that group, Marcus Mariota is the quarterback I would have the most interest in as an NFL general manager who doesn’t have the resources to chase a high-end signal-caller this offseason.

Mariota isn’t actually a free agent after signing a two-year, $17.6 million contract prior to the 2020 season to serve as Derek Carr’s backup. However, it seems unlikely that an interested team wouldn’t be able to pry him away from Las Vegas. 

Carr is coming off a season where he ranked among the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL in PFF grade, and he’s under contract with the Raiders for two more years at reasonable cap hits of $22.1 million in 2021 and $19.9 million in 2022, per Over the Cap. Chances are good he remains in place as the starter moving forward.

That leaves the door open for either a release of Mariota this offseason — which would save the team over $11 million against the cap in 2021 — or a trade that would come with similar savings.

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