Prior to the 2015 NFL draft, Ryan Pace was discussing the crop of players coming to his first combine, and especially the quarterbacks.
"I think you have to watch a lot of tape on those guys to feel good with it," Pace said about the quarterbacks. "And we've done enough research on him that I think he's a good quarterback."
Pace was speaking specifically about Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback.
Mariota's accurate passing and running ability seemed obvious to all but the fact he was playing in a spread offense deemed by some snoody NFL types as too gadgety seemed scary.
The same thing was said of Patrick Mahomes, too.
"That (system) doesn’t scare me away from it at all," Pace said.
It shouldn't have scared him or anyone else. The Bears later had that team's head coach as their offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich.
In the end, Pace didn't have the chance to nab Mariota because Tennessee took him second. There was no way to trade above them because Jameis Winston was the consensus No. 1 and already heading for the Bucs.
Besides, Pace had his eyes on that fantabulous wide receiver Kevin White.
Would Pace be willing to acquire Mariota now after declining to pursue him last year in free agency?
It creates plenty of intrigue over the way discussions went last year when they decided instead to trade for Nick Foles as a competitor for Mitchell Trubisky. Did Matt Nagy want Foles and Pace acquiesced? This would seem logical but we'll never know—at least until the end of this coaching and GM regime.
It's hard to believe Pace wouldn't have wanted to sign Mariota. However, the Bears just finished firing Helfrich and it's possible this could have been a factor in not bringing in a quarterback who had such ties to Helfrich and to that offensive approach. Who knows?
Mariota Ready to Roll?
Regardless of the past, Mariota has had training now in both styles of offense used by Nagy last year.
His college training came in RPO/spread. At Tennessee, he became involved with the bootleg style of passing game the Bears implemented in the second half of 2020.
Both styles tend to simplify the quarterback's read, RPO style with a quick look and pass or run, or in the booleg by limiting the read to half the field.
Sometimes Nagy's offense can get rather complex, though.
Mariota has been under a coach who has always been able to get something out of quarterbacks. For all of Jon Gruden's idiosyncrasies, he definitely can coach offense and understands quarterbacks. Derek Carr seemed adrift until Gruden took over.
Last year Mariota got into only one game for the Raiders. It was a loss to the Chargers.
Mariota wasn't overly impressive. He went 17 of 28 for 226 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He did run nine times for 88 yards. He always could run, but chanelling his energy to the passing game was preferable. Mariota runs the way Mitchell Trubisky used to run. Once he decides he's going, he goes. Trubisky over his last two seasons felt it was important to stay behind the line as long as possible and try to find receivers coming free rather than take off. He seemed hesitant to carry it.
No one knows how much Carr has improved over his Tennessee days, if any. There isn't enough of a sample size.
He had four seasons with passer ratings in the 90s with the Titans and has a very healthy average of 7.5 yards per pass attempt. Only once has he been below 7.5, and that came in 2017 when he was at 7.1. Bears quarterbacks would be hailed as heroes if they could get the ball downfield at 7.5 yards an attempt for their career.
The problem Mariota had was the inability to get the ball in the end zone after his second season, when Mike Mularkey was Titans coach and Terry Robiskie the offensive coordinator. Mariota had 45 TD passes his first two seasons, 19 as a rookie when coach Ken Whisenhunt was replaced at midseason by Mularkey. Then he had 26 and suddenly started to decline in his third season. In 2019 he was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill.
What's a Fair Price?
What exactly a team gives up for a backup who really never accomplished much other than to get a few decent numbers is uncertain.
Last year the Bears surrendered a fourth-rounder for a Super Bowl MVP and he had almost no time to prepare for the season, then they gave him very little blocking support. Foles eventually went to the bench with an injury and stayed there.
Is Mariota worth more than a fourth-rounder, maybe a second- or third-rounder?
Trading Mariota would be no problem for the Raiders because his 2021 cap hit is $10.625 million of unguaranteed salary. There's only about $725,000 in guaranteed money counting and the Raiders would realize a total cap savings of $11.35 million if he got shipped out.
The acquiring team could easily take that contract and turn the salary into prorated bonus, get him a longer-term deal and make the cash work in a tight 2021 salary cap.
It seems an ideal setup for the Bears, if they can: 1) get beyond the fact they didn't want Mariota last year when they could have had him for a few bucks and no picks; 2) if they can arrive at fair draft pick compensation for the Raiders; and 3) if they really are convinced he can play at an elevated level.