Marcus Mariota and the Eagles are a perfect match for 2023

Eagles nfl preseason
ATLANTA, GA – NOVEMBER 06: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) watches the game clock run out from the sidelines during the 2nd half of Sunday afternoon NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Chargers on November 6, 2022 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

Eight years have gone by since the Philadelphia Eagles almost pulled off a shocking draft-day trade for Marcus Mariota. He was the apple of Chip Kelly’s eye — a green and yellow one, with a neon sheen from their Oregon days — and the former coach wanted to take a bite.

According to multiple reports, Kelly did try and orchestrate a blockbuster deal ahead of the 2015 NFL draft. It didn’t happen. Instead, Mariota went to the Tennessee Titans that year and the Eagles fired Kelly with one game left during a disappointing regular season.

Now Mariota is finally donning the midnight green he was always destined to wear, in a weird sort of way. He officially inked a one-year contract on April 5 to be the backup quarterback to Jalen Hurts. Here are some takeaways from his opening press conference in South Philly.

Almost an Eagle?

NASHVILLE, TN – OCTOBER 27: Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) looks on from the sideline as Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith calls plays during a game between the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, October 27, 2019, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire)

Mariota went No. 2 overall to Tennessee in 2015, 18 spots before the Eagles selected Nelson Agholor. Philadelphia had reportedly offered them an “aggressive offer” for the pick, one that included multiple first-round picks and anyone on defense. The Eagles dodged a bullet; everyone was on edge.

Mariota said: “Well, there was a lot of different scenarios and it was such an interesting time for me. You know, as the process goes your agent will sit down with you usually the night before the draft and say like, ‘Hey, this is where I think you’ll end up.’ My agent at the time was like, ‘I have no idea. Just be prepared for everything.’ We really didn’t have any idea about where I would go. But I’m grateful for the opportunity I had in Tennessee, just appreciate the support from all the teams during that time.”

Veteran experience for the Eagles

Mariota understands his role in 2023 begins and ends with making Jalen Hurts a better quarterback. He is not trying to steal the starter’s job, or cause unnecessary drama. The 29-year-old believes his veteran experience and leadership can benefit the locker room.

Mariota said: “My role is just to provide information and just share experiences. I think as a guy who has played in the league now for 8 years — I’ve been cut, I’ve been a starter, I’ve won playoff games, I’ve been benched … so I just really believe that I can relate with a lot of guys, and to just continue to build that chemistry in the locker room and be a voice in any way I can.”

Back to full health

Mariota opted for knee surgery last December after being benched by the Atlanta Falcons in favor of rookie Desmond Ridder. He left the team to rehab and spend time with his wife and their newborn child. Four months later, he’s on a different team and the knee feels great.

Mariota said: “Knee feels great. I had to go in and get it cleaned up, spent a couple of months just rehabbing, and the last month or so I’ve been able to get back to training and my body feels good.”

Praise for the Eagles O-line

PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 07: Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (62) looks on during the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles on November 7, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

He knows where his bread is buttered. Mariota went out of his way to praise Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson, while calling Jason Kelce a future Hall of Famer. He is a big fan of the All-Pro center and the Eagles’ vaunted offensive line in general.

Mariota said: “First and foremost they are led upfront by a future Hall of Famer. I think it always starts upfront with the center, just from a guy who’s watched from afar, a lot of cross-over 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.”

Familiarity for Mariota

Alex Tanney was a practice-squad quarterback for the Titans during Mariota’s rookie year. Six years older, Tanney was already giving out unsolicited advice and dissecting scouting reports for teammates. Now the two will be reunited; Tanney is the new quarterbacks coach for the Eagles.

Mariota said: “I was a young guy when we were working together and he was very influential in how I was reading certain route combinations, different patterns. He was like, ‘Hey, this is how I see it.’ And from early on I could tell, there was coaching in his future, and I really think he helped me jump-stat my career pretty fast. Fortunately for me, my first couple years are probably my best years and he was a part of that.”

Embracing a new role

Mariota has started 74 games (34-40 record) over his 8-year NFL career while throwing for 15,656 yards and 92 touchdowns. He has also been a part of three playoff teams and even earned an improbable come-from-behind 22-21 victory over Kansas City in the AFC Wild Card Round in 2017.

Mariota said: “I’m at a point in my career where I just want to enjoy the game. I just want to have fun doing it. The scheme is very exciting for me and the fact of the matter is I feel like I can help Jalen [Hurts] and if I can make Jalen a better player, this team is going to be better.”

Lastly, it had to be asked: does Mariota have the desire to be a starter again?

Mariota said: “I try to just be the best version of myself day in and day out. Best teammate. Best quarterback. Best father. Best husband. And when it comes down to that, I can just take those little days one at a time, you know, hopefully, I’ll get another opportunity.”

Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire