After the Atlanta Falcons traded longtime starting quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, they moved very quickly to find his successor. The man they landed on was Marcus Mariota, a former No. 2 overall pick who has spent the last few seasons as a backup quarterback, but has a connection to their head coach, Arthur Smith.
Smith was previously the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, where he oversaw an offense that replaced Mariota with Ryan Tannehill and then took off to become one of the most efficient units in the league. Still, Mariota developed a good enough relationship with Smith that he wanted to play for the coach again, which played a role in his signing with Atlanta.
"Well, he was always honest," Mariota said of Smith, per NFL.com. "Even to the point where in 2019 when things weren't going well for me, he always shot me straight. I think, for me as a player, I truly appreciate that. He's always been focused on making sure I can get better; in and out of the pocket, how I'm digesting the offense, how I'm seeing defenses, he always made it a point just to find little areas of improvement. Art is somebody that's always been there for me, always shot me straight, and I knew what I was getting into, what kind of culture he's building here, so that's why I'm excited to be here because I really do believe in Art and what he's doing."
Of course, the chance to be a starting quarterback again also played into Mariota's decision to head to the Falcons. Since being deposed at the Titans' starter early in 2019, Mariota has been used sparingly, with the Raiders largely utilizing him as a short-yardage, read-option rushing threat.
"It really came down to the opportunity. Obviously, he said there's a chance for you to play, a chance for you to start right away," Mariota said. "Really, for me, at this point in time of my career, that's what I was looking for. No matter what the situation is, I have to my best to lead these guys and help these guys become the best of their abilities. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm the starter. I can very well be the backup and do those types of things, and that's what I've learned. But I know that with Art, he's always going to be honest with me and I can really put forth my best foot forward and see what I can do."
Atlanta is clearly in a rebuild phase with its roster at the moment, and Mariota is somewhat obviously a bridge to whomever they decide will be their quarterback of the future, whether they find that player this year or next. He signed a two-year contract worth up to $18.75 million, a total that befits his in-between status as a starter who may well end up being a backup at some point down the line.