Analyst Projects Ex-No. 2 Overall QB to Steelers: A ‘Buy-Low’ Opportunity

Mike Tomlin

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images Head Coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the sidelines against the Tennessee Titans on August 25, 2019.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have two new quarterbacks on the team by the time minicamp rolls around this spring, with free agency, trade, and/or the draft the possible avenues of acquisition. In the estimation of CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin, one of those quarterbacks should be unrestricted free agent Marcus Mariota, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, who has served as Derek Carr’s backup in Las Vegas for the past two seasons.

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Marcus Mariota: More Mobility

“Mariota offers more of the mobility they’d like to incorporate into an offense built around Najee Harris,” offers Benjamin, making reference to Mike Tomlin’s comments about the importance of a quarterback being mobile in this day and age.

Benjamin isn’t the only NFL observer who likes Mariota as a free agent pickup. Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus (PFF), recently went in search of “free agents who the NFL could be down on but also who could bounce back in a new environment next season and provide real value on the deals they sign.”

He identified Mariota as the top “buy-low” opportunity at his position, calling him “one of the more intriguing bridge options in free agency,” noting that the 28-year-old’s career was on an upward trajectory before an elbow injury in Week 1 in 2018—and then a slow start to the 2019 season—yielded the starting job to former Miami Dolphins first-round pick Ryan Tannehill.

“Mariota earned career-high 76.2 and 76.8 PFF grades in 2017 and 2018—not elite play by any means but a good enough performance to win with,” adds Linsey. And while he might not be Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray in terms of running and scrambling, his “87.0 PFF rushing grade across the 2017 and 2018 seasons led all qualifying quarterbacks, and he showed that again at times in Las Vegas when called upon.”


Mariota Got the Titans Back to the Postseason

While Marcus Mariota’s career record as a starter doesn’t look good (29-32), one has to remember that he was drafted in the wake of a 2-14 season and did a lot of losing in his rookie year before posting a winning record during the next three seasons. It’s also worth noting that in 2017, he led Tennessee to its first postseason victory since 2003, one in which he managed to throw a touchdown pass to himself, helping to spark a come from behind road victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

As for his career passing numbers, Pro Football Reference reveals a 62.8% career completion percentage with 77 touchdown passes and 45 interceptions, good for an 89.5 passer rating. He also has a career rushing average of 6.0 yards per carry and has produced 13 rushing touchdowns.

From Mariota’s perspective, the Steelers might very well look like an attractive destination, as he’d have a good chance of coming in and winning the starting job over former third-round pick Mason Rudolph and former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, neither of whom has a contract beyond 2022. And despite the Steelers being linked to Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, it seems doubtful the team would use a first-round pick on a quarterback who has been compared to former Steelers QB Kordell Stewart, whose accuracy issues kept him from being anything more than a below-average starter.

According to overthecap.com, Mariota was paid $1.75 million in 2021 and had a cap number of $3.5 million.

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