The Falcons have agreed to terms with free agent quarterback Marcus Mariota, the organization announced on Monday. Mariota agreed to a two-year contract.
The organization has quite the connection with Mariota already as Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was Mariota's offensive coordinator in 2019.
Mariota was the starting quarterback for the Titans from the time he was drafted as the second overall pick in 2015 until he was replaced by Ryan Tannehill in 2019. In those years, Mariota threw for 12,000 yards and 69 touchdowns. He had a 63.2 completion percentage during that time and threw 42 interceptions.
In 2018, the Titans picked up Mariota's fifth-year option on his rookie contract. However, he finished the 2018 season with a career-low 11 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 2,528 passing yards.
When Smith took over as the Titans' offensive coordinator in 2019, Tennessee had already traded for Ryan Tannehill.
At the time of Smith's appointment, Mariota was quoted saying he was excited to work with Smith even though Smith was Mariota's fifth offensive coordinator in just as many years in the league.
"Art has been steady support since I've gotten into the league," Mariota told TennesseeTitans.com's Jim Wyatt upon Smith’s promotion in 2019. "It's been a true blessing to have gotten to know him and I'm excited to work with him. His ability to consistently get our guys prepared week in and week out has been impressive. I'm looking forward to working with him in his new role."
Prior to the start of OTAs that year, Mariota said he and Smith spoke at length about how the offense would run. A major point of discussion during that time was that Smith wanted to do everything he could to make the offense "quarterback friendly," according to a report by Titan Insider Terry McCormick.
ESPN's Turron Davenport also reported during that time that when Smith and Mariota sat down before OTAs that they mainly discussed ways in which Mariota could make plays "when things go off schedule."
Fast forward about 10 months later, and although Mariota was the starter in the season-opener, by Week 6 of the 2019 season head coach Mike Vrabel (and Smith as the offensive coordinator) had benched Mariota in favor of Tannehill. The following week, Tannehill was named the starter, and Mariota became his backup for the remainder of the season.
"We're trying to get a little spark, trying to evaluate what we're doing and how we're functioning as an offense," CBS Sports reported Vrabel saying in response to the switch.
With Tannehill signing a long-term extension with the Titans after the 2019 season ended, Mariota hit the open market. He landed with the Raiders, signing a two-year, $17.6 million contract as Derek Carr's backup.
Mariota played sparingly behind Carr over the next two seasons. He played in 11 games, completing 30 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Which brings us to present day…
With Ryan heading to Indianapolis, the Falcons had limited options as to what they could do at the quarterback position.
They could have traded for someone like Baker Mayfield, who is looking for a new landing spot after the Browns acquired Deshaun Watson. The Falcons could have drafted Ryan's successor (an option that's technically still on the table). The Falcons had formal interviews with Matt Coral, Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis at the NFL Combine a few weeks ago. Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith and Dave Ragone were reportedly in attendance at Pickett's pro day on Monday.
However, the easier - and arguably safer - option was to grab a free agent off the open market to hold down the offense until the Falcons found a long-term solution. Enter Mariota.
Mariota reunites with his former offensive coordinator in Atlanta. As someone who has a connection to Smith and his offensive system, it may be safe to speculate that Mariota will be the starter for the Falcons in 2022.