As the NFL approaches free agency, the rumor mill is heating up.
Keep this in the back of your mind – with all the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady, the New England Patriots are showing interest in soon to be free agent quarterback Marcus Mariota. The former first-round pick is being courted by several teams who may have an open competition at quarterback. I'm told the Indianapolis Colts have also shown interest in Mariota – just in case.
The report comes on the heels of Ian Rappaport of NFL Network saying that the New England Patriots are going to allow Tom Brady to test the free agency market by not franchise tagging him. However, he made it seem like the Patriots will be also looking at the market with their best fit in mind, and it'll ultimately be Bill Belichick's decision: "If Bill Belichick, who is making the decisions for New England... decides that Brady is his best option at [Brady's market value] then in the end... it's meant to be."
From NFL Now: #Patriots owner Robert Kraft felt the best outcome for all parties in 2020 would come after Tom Brady tested free agency. An explanation for why he agreed to let it happen 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/9UkM6aZp2w
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 10, 2020
If Brady receives a large contract offer from a quarterback needing team in a large market, such as the Los Angeles Chargers or Las Vegas Raiders, then the Patriots may not want to match that deal and will let the 42-year old Brady walk away. Belichick and his staff have been able to develop quarterbacks well as evidenced by the entire QB room from 2016 being starters last season: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett.
Perhaps the Patriots staff sees the potential in Mariota that made him the second-overall pick in 2015 and believe that he is able to be groomed. Mariota's coming off a season where he got benched after seven games will certainly be less than what Brady will receive on the open market. If the former Heisman winner works out, then he could be the longtime starter for New England given he's only 26 years old.
Pauline also mentioned the Colts as a potential landing destination, a season after Andrew Luck's sudden retirement from football. Many felt the team was poised for a Super Bowl run after a successful rookie coaching campaign from Frank Reich, but Luck's decision changed everything. Now-starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett has signed a two-year, $30 million contract. He finished with 2,942 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and six interceptions along with four rushing touchdowns in 15 games, but his team only went 7-9 and missed the postseason. With Brissett entering the final year of his deal, the Colts could bring in Mariota to compete with him like how the Titans brought in Ryan Tannehill to compete with Mariota entering the final season of his rookie contract.
Shortly after a loss in the AFC Championship ended Mariota's season, he said he has "no doubts at all," about being a starter next season.
Mariota has shown flashes throughout his professional career, including an impressive sophomore campaign when he threw 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions with a career-best 7.9 yards-per-attempt until a broken leg ended his season. His junior season saw massive regression as he threw 13 touchdowns to 15 interceptions while playing through a hamstring injury. That regression would continue into his fourth season under first-year head coach Mike Vrabel.
Before being benched, Mariota has a 29-32 record in 61 games as a starter with 13,207 passing yards, 76 touchdowns, and 44 interceptions. After being benched Mariota was a consummate professional until the end. Head coach Mike Vrabel praised Mariota's professionalism throughout the season.
Vrabel on Mariota: Talked to him this morning and told him how proud he is with how he handled everything this season. Said he's a great leader, and he improved.@Titans
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) January 20, 2020
It's not entirely Mariota's fault, however; few young quarterbacks would succeed with four offensive coordinators and five different play-callers during their rookie contract. When he hits the open market in March, he can seek out a better opportunity to turn his career around, perhaps in New England.