Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota, who signed a two-year, $18.7 million deal Thursday, was not promised the starting job.
“It really came down to the opportunity,” Mariota said Friday on a virtual call with the local media. “Obviously, (Falcons coach Arthur Smith) said, there’s a chance for (me) to play. A chance for (me) to start right away. You know, and really, for me at this point in time in my career, that’s what I was looking for.”
Mariota, 28, was the second player taken overall, by the Titans, in the 2015 NFL draft. Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing at Oregon, went 29-32 as a starter in the NFL with the Titans. He was a reserve the past two seasons with the Raiders.
The Falcons traded Matt Ryan and his contract to the Colts on Monday for a third-round pick and quickly agreed to terms with Mariota, who’s 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds.
“No matter what the situation is, I’ve got to do my best to lead these guys and help these guys (achieve to) the best of their abilities,” Mariota said.
The Falcons, who heavily scouted Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder on Thursday, likely could draft a quarterback. They also scouted Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Mississippi’s Matt Corral over the past week.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that, you know, that I’m the starter,” Mariota said. “I can very well be the backup and do those types of things. And that’s what I’ve learned. But I know that with Art, he’s always going to be honest with me. I can just really put my best foot forward and see what I can do.”
Mariota was 3-9 as a rookie in 2015. (Ryan was 11-5 in 2008.)
Mariota was 8-7 his second season and 9-6 in his third. In his third season, the Titans beat the Chiefs 22-21 in the wild-card round of the playoffs before getting blasted 35-14 by the Patriots in the divisional round.
Mariota has completed 1,128 of 1,795 passes (62.8%) for 13,437 yards. He has a less than 2-to-1 ratio of touchdowns (77) to interceptions (45). His career passer rating is 89.5.
Mariota’s last win as a starter was over the Falcons, 24-10 on Sept. 29, 2019. He was 18-of-27 passing for 227 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 129.7. After losses to Buffalo and Denver, he was benched by Smith and the Titans’ staff as they switched to Ryan Tannehill.
Mariota seems to hold no bitter feelings from the benching.
“He’s a guy that has always been truthful and honest with me and somebody that I could always rely on really, to just kind of talk to,” Mariota said of Smith, who was his offensive coordinator with the Titans. “I appreciate that relationship that we have. That was definitely one of the draws for me to come here.”
Following Ryan, the greatest quarterback in Falcons history, figures to be a tough task.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” Mariota said. “I think for me, something I have definitely learned over the course of my career is you can’t compare yourself to other people. What Matt did here, what he’s accomplished here, was truly greatness.”
But the Falcons had fallen on hard times. Ryan was not able to carry weak squads to the playoffs over the past four seasons.
“For me, I just got to kind of carve my own path,” Mariota said. “I appreciate what he’s done. Appreciate what he’s been for this organization. And the best thing that I can do is try to put my best foot forward and be the best player that I can be.”
This is an opportunity to Mariota to resurrect his career.
“I’m looking forward to this opportunity,” Mariota said. “Whatever that may be. I feel like the experiences that I’ve had throughout my career have given me kind of a foundation. I’m looking forward to just kind of showing what I’m capable of and seeing what we can do.”
Mariota said he was mentally and physically exhausted when he was benched in 2019. The Titans would go on to make the playoffs with Tannehill at the controls.
The Titans finished 9-7 and reached the AFC title game against the Chiefs.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired during his rookie season and replaced by Mike Mularkey, who was fired after the 2017 season. He was replaced by Mike Vrabel.
“So, during my time in Tennessee, we went through a lot of different things,” Mariota said. “Went through coaching changes. I went through a broken ankle. I went through some of these things that people would call adversity, and for me, I really, at that point in my career in 2019, I was tired.
“I was just kind of tired of all the turnover. I was tired of playing beat-up. And I wasn’t playing well. At the end of the day this is a performance-based business. When you’re not playing well, things happen and I understood that.”
Mariota feels like he got to reset his career while with the Raiders backing up Derek Carr and working for coach Jon Gruden, before he was fired last season.
“I was in just a great quarterback (meeting) room,” Mariota said. “You know, it’s not like that across the league, and to have the relationships that we had was very important. I learned a lot.
“Derek is someone that’s playing at a very high level. Sometimes maybe doesn’t get the credit that he deserves, but he’s a guy that’s kind of always put his team in position to win. He’s found ways to win at the end.”
Gruden, who some consider a quarterback guru, was fired in disgrace last season when his racist and misogynistic emails were discovered in an investigation of Washington owner Daniel Snyder.
“It’s just his communication with everybody across the board,” Mariota said. “He always had guys on the same page. Coach Gruden made sure of that. Hopefully, that’s something that I can bring here.”
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