That’s what Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer sees in the Bucs signing Marcus Mariota through free agency. Mariota, a former No. 2 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner, had three winning seasons as a starter in Tennessee before a stint as a backup in Las Vegas.
Mariota “had some flashes filling in for Derek Carr and also saw some wrinkle snaps as a dedicated rusher” Iyer wrote. The former Oregon star rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in limited playing time with the Raiders. He only threw 30 passes during that time for 230 yards and a touchdown.
“With Las Vegas turning the page to [head coach] Josh McDaniels to operate the team and the offense, Mariota will try to get into a more favorable spot to compete for a bridge starting gig, too,” Iyer added. “He can help a team for sure with his athleticism but they also have to trust he can return some of his best efficiency he showed in his best days with the Titans.”
In five seasons with the Titans, Mariota threw for 13,207 yards and 76 touchdowns with a 62.9% completion mark in 63 games. He also rushed for 1,399 yards and 11 touchdowns on 242 carries in those games.
Mariota made $3.5 million with the Raiders last season per Over the Cap. The salary cap website lists him at a value of $1.19 million in free agency.
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Mariota Ranking Second Looks Familiar
Iyer ranked Mariota second among free agent quarterbacks. The top ranking went to New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, whom the Bucs drafted No. 1 ahead of Mariota in 2015. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, who coached Winston in 2019, more or less ruled out a Winston reunion.
The Bucs looked at drafting Mariota instead of Winston in 2015 but ultimately went with the former Florida State Heisman Trophy winner according to John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times. Romano noted that Mariota may not have panned out any better than Winston in those first five year in Tampa Bay.
More Help for Mariota in Tampa Bay
Mariota could thrive in Tampa Bay with potentially a stronger supporting cast than the Bucs had from 2015 to 2019.
He didn’t have Bucs star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to throw passes to in Tennessee with no Pro Bowlers in five seasons there. Corey Davis joined the Titans in 2017 and A.J. Brown came around in 2019, but neither produced Pro Bowl seasons with Mariota at quarterback.
Titans star running back Derrick Henry supporting Mariota with 1,000-yard rushing seasons and double figures in touchdowns also didn’t happen until 2018. That was Mariota’s last full season as a starter with the Titans.
The Bucs may not succeed in re-signing Leonard Fournette, but the team will return promising third-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Bucs backs Giovani Bernard and Ronald Jones are also headed for free agency. Tampa Bay could add depth to the backfield through free agency and the draft.
Improving the tight end room via offseason moves will look similar for the Bucs — barring free agent Rob Gronkowski‘s return. The Bucs meanwhile can keep most of its second-ranked offensive line intact with re-signing center Ryan Jensen and guard Alex Cappa.