Very early on Friday morning, the Philadelphia Eagles agreed with Marcus Mariota on a one-year deal worth $5 million, with up to $8 million in incentives, as confirmed by The athleticis Jeff Howe. Our Eagles writers Zach Berman and Bo Wulf review the move.
Wulf: Shiver to think what it means to the rest of the NFL that Howie Roseman has acquired the last infinite stone in his quest for ultimate revenge against Chip Kelly.
Mariota makes perfect sense as the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback, for the reasons we outlined when we called him the “best fit” for the position in our free-agency preview. First, there is familiarity. New quarterbacks coach Alex Tanney was a backup behind Mariota for parts of three Tennessee seasons, and tight ends coach Jason Michael was Mariota’s offensive coordinator for one season and his quarterbacks coach for two.
There is also some skill overlap with Jalen Hurts from a mobility perspective. This marks the first time in three seasons that the Hurts backup will be able to transfer some quarterback-including running play to the offense. Mariota’s 438 rushing yards in 13 starts last season were a career high and ranked sixth in the league among quarterbacks.
As a passer, the overlap isn’t as snug, but that’s why he’s not a starting quarterback anymore. Mariota’s 0.02 expected points added per dropback in 2022 was a respectable 18th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks, as he completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt, 15 touchdowns, nine interceptions and only 170.7 passing yards per game in one of the league’s most serious offenses. What Mariota especially struggled with were the passes on the field. According to TruMedia, he actually threw the ball deeper than any quarterback in the league on average, with 10.6 true air yards per attempt (excluding bat downs and spikes) in the league. But on passes 20 yards or more downfield, he completed just 24.5 percent of his throws for 7.5 yards per attempt, the second-worst mark in the league. Hurts, on the other hand, completed 40 percent of those throws for 15 yards per attempt, which placed third. Downfield passing hasn’t historically been the most difficult skill year-to-year, so there’s hope for the Eagles to get a positive bounce back there if Mariota is called into action. He also underwent surgery for a “chronic” knee condition in December and left the Atlanta Falcons after the team named Desmond Ridder as its starter.
When the Falcons leveled up Desmond Knight, they might have lost Marcus Mariota
During Super Bowl week, Jeffrey Lurie reflected on some of the most important decisions the Eagles made during his tenure as quarterback. One he was especially proud of was the decision to enter the 2017 season to release Chase Daniel, which brought with it a significant dead cap charge. Lurie recalls that he and Roseman wondered if they thought Daniel was capable of playing at a high enough level for a period of time to win a few playoff games. They decided the answer was no and signed Nick Foles instead. Now, for a team with Super Bowl aspirations and a starting quarterback who missed time in both of his years as a full-time starter in December, that’s the bar the Eagles want to set. Will Mariota be able to take his game to that level if called up? Compared to the other options available – Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Jameis Winston, Taylor Heinicke, Teddy Bridgewater, etc. – it seems like a fine bet.
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Berman: Eight years ago I thought the Eagles would trade a ransom to get number 2 and get Mariota. And I was willing to give that a high mark because he seemed poised to be a franchise quarterback. We all know what happened. The Titans didn’t agree to a deal, Kelly was fired before the season was over, and selfishly, I’ve never been to Hawaii. (Note to my editors: Interested in flying me to Honolulu for a backup quarterback story?)
Mariota is now a journeyman and the Eagles have been quite successful as a quarterback for the next eight years. Nevertheless, I like this step. Going into the week, Mariota seemed like the second best option they could get to become the Hurts No. 2 behind Jacoby Brissett. Naturally, Brissett found more money and a chance to compete for playing time in Washington. But Mariota makes sense for the reasons Bo mentioned. His running ability allowed some concepts to be transferred. This isn’t to say it’s the only part of the offense – or Mariota’s only attractive feature – but the fact that the Eagles can still use that part of the system is an advantage. Furthermore, Mariota has legitimate experience. He has started in 74 regular season games and two postseason games. That’s valuable for a backup quarterback in situations like this. Hurts has missed time in December in each of the past two seasons. It helps to have a quarterback who has played before, especially in high-stakes games.
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You pointed out the drawbacks, and the success efficiency could be better. He also needs to take fewer sacks and throw fewer interceptions on a percentage basis, although that may be situation dependent. And I need more information about what happened at the end of last season. The close history Tanney and Michael have with Mariota should give the Eagles an insight into his personality. (He’s also a subject of an upcoming Netflix documentary about quarterbacks. So we’ll learn more there, too.)
He’s only 29, in the same age range as Foles when the Eagles brought him back in 2017. Mariota can’t be compared to a Super Bowl MVP because they’re different players and the context is different, but I’d compare player Mariota’s profile is now to the profile of player Foles was then: You don’t want to build the franchise around him anymore, but you’re happy to have him as your backup. In fact, I’d rather have Mariota in this role than Gardner Minshew. And it’s a surer option than Ian Book. From an age perspective, this isn’t like bringing Josh McCown or Joe Flacco in near the end of their careers.
To piggyback on your point about Lurie, he once told me that he keeps a list of requirements for a winning organization in his bedside table. He said the checklist should include a formidable second quarterback — he wouldn’t call it a backup — to pair with a franchise quarterback. I’m not suggesting that Mariota will win the Super Bowl MVP if he has to replace Hurts in the postseason. But look at backups in the NFL. You can do much worse than Mariota, and you probably won’t do much better.
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(Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)