Last season the Las Vegas Raiders signed former number 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota to a two year contract with an outside chance that the team could bench Derek Carr at some point and insert Mariota into the lineup. As things worked out Carr had a solid season, seemed to entrench himself as the starter and Mariota only appeared in one game, which would seem to make him expendable this season. He had been rumored as a trade possibility but the guys at NFL Now seemed to say that the trades have hit a snag in the road.
From NFL Now: #Raiders QB Marcus Mariota has generated a lot of interest from teams, but the max value of his contract has been an issue for teams. Trade talk has slowed considerably. Could he be eventually released? pic.twitter.com/pPlwOSS3Yk— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 24, 2021
A number of things work against the Raiders trade of Mariota. One is his salary which is $10.725 million this year. While that is relatively cheap for a starter Mariota falls into that no mans land of not being much more than an expected one year stopgap. Salaries for those type of players are much lower, generally not exceeding $7 or $8 million.
Rapoport alluded to the incentives in his contract also being a problem and that is something that I also discussed on the podcast. However the number itself may be a little overblown. Mariota has a pretty complex contract that was basically designed to pay him based on participation and wins but doing it in a manner that essentially capped off the incentives at one year. Since Mariota barely played last year all those incentives exist this season.
Mariota’s incentives are more player friendly than most players. Typical incentives are for cumulative playtime. For example 60% playtime on the year gets you $3 million, 70% gets you $4 million, and so on. This gives the teams a level of control of the outcome if the player busts as they can just sit him as the season goes on to help ensure he hits the lower numbers.
Mariota’s incentives are effectively massive per game bonuses designed to avoid a cap hit. While this is not entirely unique to Mariota it is a much stronger incentive for a player. He earns $625,000 for each game he plays a significant amount of time, up to a maximum of $7.5 million. This clause at the least would make Mariota’s salary in the $15 million range for a team looking for him to start since it would probably take a half a year to pull the plug. He can earn up to $1.875 million for wins. This total number likely wont be reached (he would need 12 wins to achieve it) but 6 wins would get half the number so we just keep adding to the price. The rest of the money alluded to in the video clip is incentives for playoffs. That should not be a concern since for most teams they would be happy to pay the player if he leads them to a Super Bowl.
The bottom line would be if you thought Mariota was a playoff quality QB you should be willing to trade for him. If he isn’t, financially it makes no sense.
Mariota’s trade prospects grow dimmer when you look at free agency this year and the Raiders cap situation. Free Agency is loaded with stopgap kind of players. In our free agency guide we identified Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Mitchell Trubisky, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor, and Andy Dalton as the top stopgap types. Each should have a far lower price tag than Mariota and can be signed for no draft compensation.
It is also worth noting that while the Raiders do have a lot of salary cap flexibility their number right now is nearly $20 million over the cap. While they will have no issues getting under, saving $11.4 million for a bench player is a likely move for a team with so many holes. That would give teams access to him for no compensation and likely a more team friendly contract.
As for who might trade for that contract? It is probably very few teams. In hindsight I think last year the Raiders wound up misreading the market for QBs when Newton and Winston sat around forever and signed for pennies. Mariota should have been in that same discussion. So basically 31 teams last year has a chance at Mariota and took a pass on this type of contract.
For those teams to now want him on that contract you would likely need to have seen a fundamental change at QB from 2020 to 2021 and you still see yourself as a playoff team. Would would fit that description? In no particular order I would guess the Bears, Broncos, 49ers, Eagles, and Football Team.
I doubt Denver and LV would be trade partners so we can throw them out. San Francisco already has an expensive, keep your fingers crossed he can be healthy, type of QB. I cant picture the Eagles going this route. So basically the cap strapped Bears and the Football Team. That is probably the realistic market and both can find cheaper options if they want in free agency.
So it is kind of hard to see a trade when you add it all up. The cost is high. There are plenty of other options available. The Raiders likely are not going to pay him again as an insurance policy against Carr nor are the Raiders picking up any of the salary to buy a late pick. My guess is we see Marcus Mariota the free agent in a few weeks rather than news of a big trade.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.