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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson

IN MARCUS MARIOTA, THE EAGLES APPEAR TO HAVE THE RIGHT BACKUP PLAN

A look at the backgrounds of the former Oregon star and a guy named Nick Foles, reveals some interesting similarities.



Marcus Mariota and Carson Wentz talk after Mariota and the Titans defeated the Eagles 26-23 in overtime in Nashville on September 30, 2018. Photo by Andy Lewis.

Eagles’ fans know how important quality roster depth can be for a team with realistic goals to win a Super Bowl.


The forever example in Philadelphia will be at quarterback and Nick Foles.

While his performance in the 2017/2018 playoffs will never be forgotten, Foles had an up-and down career in the NFL after being drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Eagles.

After the Eagles made a coaching change, Foles was traded to the then St. Louis Rams in 2015. After just one season, he ended up in Kansas City under Andy Reid, who had drafted him.

Foles did not prosper in Kansas City either and was available after the 2016 season.

Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman reached out and brought Foles back to back up then highly touted first round pick Carson Wentz.

Does anyone reading this story need me to type out what happened with Foles in 2017?


Then Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota makes a diving play against the Eagles in 2018. The Titans won the game in overtime 26-23 in Nashville. Photo by Andy Lewis.

There were other players brought in that year who considered part of the Eagles depth and came up big that magical season including running back Corey Clement, tight end Trey Burton, offensive linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Stefen Wisniewski plus defensive end Chris Long and cornerback Patrick Robinson, to name a few.

They all were keys in delivering a Super Bowl to Philadelphia.

On March 20, 2023, Marcus Mariota signed a one-year, $5 million deal to back up another Eagles high touted quarterback, Jalen Hurts. The similarities are hard to deny.

Foles was 28 at the time, Mariota is 29. Both were starters who had their moment of greatness and moments they’d like to have back.

Last year’s backup Gardner Minshew came up short when he had to step in when Hurts was injured.

So the Birds made the switch.

There have been other free agents picked up this offseason including RB Rashaad Penny, CB Greedy Williams, S Justin Evans, LB Nicholas Morrow and DT Kentavius Street.

They will all have their chance to contribute. But the backup quarterback is so key to the success of a football team with these kinds of aspirations.


Marcus Mariota talks to Eagles media corps on April 5, 2023. Photo from philadelphiaeagles.com

A QUARTERBACK LOOKING TO REBOOT HIS CAREER

Like Foles, Mariota has bounced around the NFL over the last few years.

Mariota was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.

He was a starter until 2019 when, after accumulating a 29-32 record, the Titans did not offer Mariota a new contract.

After two uneventful seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders as a backup, then as a starter for the Atlanta Falcons in 2022 where Mariota finished with a 5-8 record, he ended up at NovaCare looking to resurrect his career, not unlike Foles in 2017.

The eight-year veteran said he thinks his experiences – good and bad – can help the Eagles quarterback room and the team in general. He already knows All Pro wide receiver AJ Brown, who came to the Birds in a trade with Tennessee in 2022.

“I think first and foremost, just being around a group of young guys who were still just trying to learn,” Mariota said in a recent teleconference press conference. “I think being around AJ (Brown), DeVonta (Smith) and those guys, they’re just so eager to learn. My role is just to provide information and share experiences.

“I think for a guy that’s been playing in the league for eight years,” he continued. “I’ve been cut, I’ve been a starter, I’ve won playoff games, I’ve been benched…so I just really believe I can relate with a lot of guys. I want to continue to build that chemistry in the locker room. And be a voice and make an impact in any way that I can.

“You have ups and downs. You’re going to face that throughout your career. Just being a guy for Jalen and being a resource. I want to do what I can to make him better and make the team better.”


There are a number of similarities between the careers of Marcus Mariota and a guy well known to Eagles fans...Nick Foles. Photo by Andy Lewis.

EARLY CONNECTIONS TO THE BIRDS, JUST LIKE FOLES

Mariota was almost an Eagle in 2015. The 6-foot-4, 222 pounder played for former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly while both were at Oregon in 2012.

Kelly left the Ducks program after the 2012 season, when Mariota was a red shirt freshman sensation.

By the 2014 season, the Hawaii native was projected as a top-five pick in the NFL Draft.

Kelly did not hide his desire to draft his former signal caller.

Mariota was asked if he ever thought he would be drafted by Kelly and the Eagles?

“There were a lot of different scenarios (at the time),” Mariota said. “It was such an interesting time for me because, as the process goes, your agent will sit down with you the night before the draft and be like ‘hey this is where I think you’ll end up.’

“My agent at the time was like, ‘I have no idea.’ He said to just be prepared for everything. I really didn’t have any idea where I’d go. But I’m grateful for the opportunity I had in Tennessee. I just appreciate the support from all the teams at that time.”

At that time, Nick Sirianni was the San Diego Chargers quarterbacks coach. The Chargers were very interested in drafting Mariota.

He was asked if he remembered meeting the future Eagles head coach coming to his Pro Day at Oregon.

“I do,” Mariota said like he was expecting the question. “We had dinner at a small restaurant in Eugene. It was part of the whole draft process, the combine. I did a workout for him as well.”

In late March, at the owners meeting in Phoenix, Nick Sirianni talked to reporters about the Birds free agent haul. He was asked about Mariota.

“I’ve been wanting to coach him for a long time,” Sirianni said. “Frank [Reich] and I went and worked him out in 2014 at Oregon at a private workout and we just thought the world of him as a person — obviously his play spoke for itself, but you know he’s very talented in a lot of different things that he can do. He’s played good football in the NFL.

“I’m not a guy that says you always have to have the same type of quarterback,” the third-year head coach went on to say. “And you just want the best quarterback available to be able to go out there and win games. Now, with that being said, there’s a lot of things that we can recapture with Marcus being the backup that Jalen brings too.”

Mariota said he knows his role with the Eagles. The Birds just signed Hurts to a five-year $255 million extension.

“I’m at a point in my career where I just want to enjoy the game,” He said. “I want to have fun doing it. The scheme (here) is very exciting for me. The fact of the matter is, I feel like I can help Jalen. If we can make Jalen a better player, this team’s going to be better. To be part of a team that was a play away from winning the Super Bowl, was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m very excited to be in this quarterback room. I think it’s important to have a strong quarterback room. I’m going to do everything I can to help him out.”

Mariota has a history with several current Eagles assistant coaches including TE coach Jason Michael, Assistant QB Coach/Offensive Assistant Alex Tanney, Passing Game Coordinator: Kevin Patullo and Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay.

Mariota was asked how much their presence on the coaching staff influenced his decision to sign with the Eagles.

“I played with Michael Clay at Oregon, T.J. Paganetti (run game specialist/assistant tight ends coach) was there with me in Oregon as well. At the end of the day, I was really looking for an opportunity to be part of a team that just enjoys playing the game that I love. The relationships that I have here, I was very fortunate.”

MARIOTA LOVES EAGLES O-LINE…WHAT QUARTERBACK WOULDN’T?

Odds are Mariota will play this season for the Birds. With the physical nature of Hurts' style of play, he will likely get banged up and miss some time. No one wants him to, but the Eagles are doing their due diligence in securing a quality backup to deal with that scenario.

Mariota was asked what he knew about the guys who will be charged with keeping him safe including Jason Kelce, Jordan Mailata, Lane Johnson and Landon Dickerson.

Dickerson made the Pro Bowl his first full season as a starter. Johnson and Kelce were selected to the NFL All Pro team again.

“First and foremost they’re led up front by a future Hall of Famer,” said Mariota, who was asked to clarify which future Hall of Famer he was referring to. “Whether it’s Lane or Jason…but I always think it starts up front with the center. And just from a guy from afar, I watched a lot of crossover games…his natural ability and the way he communicates and gets everybody going on the same page, I think is like no one else in the league.

“Then when you have Lane, who is anchoring along with Jordan, it’s really cool to be a part of . Just the physical abilities of those guys up front, is what’s always captivated me. I don’t know Lane much, but the fact of the matter is, he started out as a quarterback and now he’s playing tackle. Just physically the way he’s been able to dominate that position is very, very impressive. I’m excited to work with these guys.”

Eagles fans hope that never happens, but in the event that it does, and history is called on to repeat itself, it seems the Eagles have the right guy in place. *

Stats and other bio information from Wikipedia.com & pro-football-reference.com.

Email Al Thompson at al.thompson@footballstories.com





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