Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Marcus Mariota to begin Falcons’ offseason as starter: Arthur Smith expects ‘best version of him’ in Atlanta

This offseason has been the most wild one in NFL history. From quarterback movement to the wide receiver market being completely reset, no one could have anticipated what we’ve seen over the past few months. One of the more underrated signings this offseason had to do with the Atlanta Falcons, as they signed quarterback Marcus Mariota.

There’s an obvious connection between Mariota and Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, who was an assistant in Music City when Tennessee drafted the Oregon product with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. But what’s not as obvious is that Smith benefitted from Mariota’s benching back in 2019, when he was in his first season as an offensive coordinator. 

After a 2-4 start, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel made the decision to bench Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. It proved to be the right call, as Tennessee closed the season on a 7-3 run and found itself in the AFC Championship game just three months after the quarterback change. While Smith found professional success after Mariota’s benching, he’s still high on the 28-year-old and believes he can be the franchise quarterback the Titans hoped he would be.

“If we ever had to go back to Marcus that year, and [Mike] Vrabel said it to me at one point, I think he would’ve played well,” Smith told Albert Breer of SI.com. “There were some tough lessons learned, he’d had some really good moments at certain points of his career, we certainly hadn’t been stable around him, if you go back. And I’d been with him the whole time, a lot of coaches in and out, there were a lot of assistants changing, ’16, ’17, ’18, when he was the full-time starter.

“And he led us to a playoff win in ’17 in Kansas City. I think the effect of everything, where he was at, he’s in a completely different place now. Just the way he sees that position, the way he sees that job, I think we’re going to get the best version of him. Even getting to sit behind Derek Carr, he sees things a lot different than he did at that point of his life in 2019.”

The Falcons were the second team to select a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft, taking Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati in the third round. Smith has preached competition at every position, but Mariota will get the first crack at the job. 

“We’ve added competition certainly,” Smith said, via The Athletic. “Marcus being the veteran gives us a chance going forward. As with any position on this team, the best player is going to play, but obviously Marcus being the vet, that’s the way it’ll go starting out.”

While Mariota couldn’t hold onto the starting job in Tennessee, he had plenty of good moments. In his second NFL season, he threw for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. Consistency and health are two things to watch moving forward for Mariota, but it says something that Smith wanted him in Atlanta. 

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