With Kyle Trask set as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting quarterback for now, the team still needs at least one veteran to compete with him.
NFC South rival Atlanta may have unloaded the right quarterback for the Bucs in Marcus Mariota, whom the Falcons officially released on Tuesday, February 28. CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan suggested the Bucs as one of the best destinations for the former Heisman Trophy winner.
“The Buccaneers are in need of a quarterback following the retirement of Tom Brady,” Sullivan wrote. “They could decide to go with Kyle Trask as its starter in 2023, but could use a veteran with starting experience as insurance. Mariota could come in and possibly even compete for the starting job in Tampa as the team may not be in the running for a higher-profile quarterback on the market due to their rough cap situation.”
Tampa Bay sits at $58.5 million over the salary, and recently-announced player cuts will only clear $13.4 million per Spotrac. The Bucs will cut running back Leonard Fournette and offensive tackle Donovan Smith before the start of the new NFL year on March 15.
Mariota, a former No. 2 pick by the Tennessee Titans, didn’t live up to becoming a franchise quarterback in his first eight seasons. He realistically will only command backup quarterback money, which fits with the Bucs’ financial situation.
Bucs a Likely Proving Ground for QBs
Bucs general manager Jason Licht noted that the team will welcome “on-year, prove-it deals” in free agency during his NFL Combine press conference on Tuesday. He also emphasized that he wants a quarterback to compete with Trask.
“It’s a different time for us. We understand we lost the greatest of all time, but whoever we bring in here will have a chance to compete, Kyle will have a chance to compete, and we will see where that goes,” Licht told reporters.
Trask, a second-round pick by the Bucs in 2021, has only 10 snaps of NFL regular season experience. His six preseason game appearances didn’t wow, either, with two touchdowns versus four interceptions.
Mariota has proven starting experience with a 34-40 record amid 15,656 yards passing for 92 touchdowns versus 54 interceptions. He also makes plays with his legs, a consistent feature throughout his career. He tallied 2,0212 yards rushing for 17 touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry.
Despite his numbers, he left much to be desired in Tennessee where the Titans replaced him with Ryan Tannehill. He served as a backup behind Derek Carr with the Las Vegas Raiders for two seasons, and then the Falcons benched Mariota in favor of rookie Desmond Ridder after 13 games in 2022.
Canales Could Unlock Mariota’s Potential
New Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales could utilize Mariota’s mobility, a trait Trask doesn’t thrive in. Trask only averaged 0.4 yards per carry in three college seasons at Florida.
Canales, previously the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach, helped quarterback Geno Smith excel as a runner in addition to a passer in 2022. Smith tallied 366 yards and a touchdown on 68 carries, but he also had a monster year with throwing the ball. Smith threw for 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions on the way to the Pro Bowl and NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
“Really, Geno put me on the map [with] how well he played this year,” Canales told reporters on February 22.
For Canales to do anything similar with Mariota, it will take helping the former Oregon star to revive his passing game. Mariota only threw for 2,219 yards and 15 touchdowns versus nine interceptions in 13 games last season. He completed 61.3% of his passes, but he only averaged seven yards per attempt. The top starters in the league average 7.5 yards or more per attempt.