The veteran quarterback market has been completely flipped on its head this week. The Seattle Seahawks agreed to trade Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos in one of the largest trades in professional football history that included multiple first-round draft picks and veteran players headed to Seattle. On Wednesday, the Indianapolis Colts dealt struggling quarterback Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders in a move that largely takes Washington out of the signal-caller market while thrusting the Colts into its clutches. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also announced his intention to return to the Packers in 2022 in a move that removes his name from outside consideration.
With the Deshaun Watson legal situation still playing out, any remaining teams searching for a new starting quarterback may be forced to turn their attention to the NFL draft and free agency periods. Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota easily qualifies as one of the more intriguing reclamation projects available in free agency. Mariota has spent the previous two seasons backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas but is now expected to depart the Raiders in search of an opportunity to compete for a starting job. He’ll likely find one.
The former Heisman-winning quarterback still possesses an intriguing amount of upside and untapped potential. With next week’s free agency period beginning to loom large, we’ve identified three natural fits for Mariota.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard received national acclaim for managing to rid himself of Wentz’s bloated contract on Wednesday, but it’s worth remembering Ballard parted with a first-round selection in 2022 when dumbfoundedly acquiring Wentz in the first place. The Colts now head toward the draft and free agency period without a starting quarterback, and without a first-round pick as well. It’s a situation that will force Ballard to get creative as he attempts to solve Indianapolis’ longstanding signal-caller woes once and for all.
Acquiring Watson is extremely unlikely, as the Texans won’t trade a superstar quarterback within the division. The Colts likely lack the draft capital to acquire Kirk Cousins from Minnesota, who is expected to remain with the Vikings anyhow.
It represents a dire situation that will leave Ballard exhausting all options. Mariota is a highly intriguing one. Ballard and the Colts reportedly attempted to trade for Mariota prior to setting their sights on Wentz. Ballard can now acquire Mariota without the need to part with even more draft capital. Mariota previously spent five seasons as the starter in Tennessee, three of which crossed divisional paths with Ballard’s current tenure as Indianapolis’ chief decision-maker. The Colts have few realistic options at quarterback. Signing Mariota should certainly be on the table for Ballard.
Future Canton-bound quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement at the conclusion of the campaign in a move that means the Steelers will have a new starting quarterback under center in 2022 for the first time since in nearly two decades. General manager Kevin Colbert shrewdly signed backup quarterback Mason Rudolph to a one-year contract extension that runs through next season, and early indications are that Rudolph will receive a fair opportunity to earn Pittsburgh’s starting job. Rudolph has performed in a rather pedestrian manner throughout his starting sample sizes, and the Steelers would be foolish to simply hand him the gig without adding legitimate competition to the fray. The draft provides a potential avenue to achieve this, but the Steelers could miss out on their target, as they’re not set to make their selection until the 20th overall pick.
Matt Canada returns as the offensive coordinator. The aging Roethlisberger was a poor fit for Canada’s scheme that prioritizes window dressing and a plethora of pre-snap movement. The much more athletic Mariota is a better fit for what Canada sets out to achieve offensively. Pairing Mariota with Najee Harris in the backfield could potentially lead to a much more exciting and effective Steelers offense than the one we witnessed a year ago.
The blockbuster trade that sent Wilson to the Broncos has left the Seahawks with an obvious-sized hole at quarterback. The Seahawks received Drew Lock in the trade, but Lock has rarely looked capable of serving as a quality starting signal-caller. At the very least, Lock should be forced to wrestle away the starting job from a legitimate contender throughout impressive training camp and preseason showings. General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll seem to be embracing a rebuild period in the wake of the Wilson trade, an intention that was further signaled by the release of veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner.
The Seahawks now own the ninth overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft as a result of the Wilson trade, and they could potentially identify their next signal-caller with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Liberty’s Malik Willis, and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett all qualifying as viable candidates.
This draft class of quarterbacks is however typically perceived as weaker, and we just witnessed Washington, who owns a pick in the similar range as Seattle’s selection, opt to trade for a veteran signal-caller instead of drafting one. Seattle could plausibly follow the same line of thinking. Bringing Mariota back to the Eugene/Seattle area where he once dazzled audiences at nearby Oregon would be a popular move by a Seahawks organization that must regain the trust of their fan base.