Should the Bengals Go “All In” on Marcus Mariota?


Jan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) passes the ball during the second half of the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game against the Florida State Seminoles at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get started, please don’t judge this as another “blame Dalton” article.  It’s undeniable that this article will reflect upon Andy Dalton‘s shortfalls and his impact on his team, but this article isn’t to slander Dalton nor blame him for the Bengals’ inability to win when it matters.  These moments cannot be attributed to a single player, nor should they be.

Nonetheless, Andy Dalton, as this team’s quarterback, plays a major role in this team’s leadership and offensive planning.  As we head into the 2015 off-season all too early, reflecting upon the roster is a natural thing to do.  And as he has been unable to find a playoff win after four appearances, judging Dalton and the quarterback position is just as natural.

Andy Dalton has been at the offense’s helm the past four seasons.  He’s undeniably helped this team turn itself around from its deplorable past.  He’s brought a team first attitude to the Bengals while helping them win a few games along the way.  The problem with Dalton is the opposition has clearly figured him out.  He’s seemingly plateaued and the opposition knows that forcing him to throw is the way to beat his team.

Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This past year, the Bengals decided to lean on the running game offensively.  The team was looking to take pressure off Dalton in hopes that he’d prove to be a better quarterback when being a complement to the offense.

Despite being asked to throw a career low number of times (481 total, 35 less to be exact), Dalton was unable to make the kinds of strides the Bengals were hoping for.  Actually, one could argue that Dalton looked nearly the same or worse than his rookie year self.  He finished with identical throwing yards, but with more interceptions to boot. But regardless of these minor details, Andy Dalton simply hasn’t taken his game to the next level, and the opposition has noticed.

This while one must consider how his performance and the team’s approach to Dalton effects the Bengals as a whole.  As the team’s quarterback, Andy Dalton is in a leadership position.  How many leaders require their followers to account for their shortfalls on a daily basis?  Understandably, leaders at times need help, but the Bengals took the minimizing Dalton approach this year consistently.  Quarterbacks, especially by their fourth year, are generally ready to start taking on more responsibility, not less.  But this isn’t the case with regards to Dalton.  It would be one thing if Dalton flourished within the new game plan, but analyzing Dalton’s 2014 performance within this approach can’t possibly instill confidence amongst the Bengals’ ranks.

So understanding that opposing team’s have seemingly figured out Dalton while reasonably assuming confidence in him within the locker room isn’t high, a change at the position should be considered.

If the Bengals are to go “all in” and make a significant trade for Marcus Mariota, it seems they’d get a much more dynamic quarterback when juxtaposed to Dalton.  Although it would be a gamble as all rookie quarterbacks are, Mariota presents the kind of “dual threat” that often helps young quarterbacks find success in the NFL before they inevitably must become pocket passers.  The positive of Mariota is he wants to throw the ball before running.  His skill-set likens that of Russell Wilson.  He can run when he must, but seems capable of making the necessary throws when asked to.

When it comes to fitting in with the Bengals, Marcus Mariota’s skills would match their game plan very well.  Hue Jackson has employed a run-first approach, which includes employing the quarterback’s athleticism at times.  The Bengals wouldn’t ask Mariota to be the focal point of the offense right away either.  And when asking him to throw, the Bengals would offer him numerous weapons to work with.  Having a receiver like A.J. Green to lean on is a huge advantage for a young quarterback.  This while the Bengals have Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert.  The point is Mariota wouldn’t be throwing to subpar targets or only a few of them.

More than the match of skill-set and game planning, Marcus Mariota can bring a new life to the Bengals.  With the fan base waning in light of yet another playoff failure, Mariota’s presence would bring a new excitement to Who Dey Nation.  Also, one must consider how long the Bengals can maintain the level of talent they currently possess.  Inevitably the youth of the Bengals will need to be paid while some important veterans will command new deals or their skills will begin to decline.  With only so much money to go around and time to work with, should the Bengals strike now before the window closes any further?

But this discussion is entirely moot if a deal cannot be struck.  It just so happens that this year the draft order may allow this hypothetical deal to happen.  The Buccaneers have the first pick this year and they desperately need a quarterback.  Recently, Gil Arcia of reported that Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith was very impressed with Jameis Winston.  It seems the Bucs are sold on Winston, but weren’t sure whether or not he’d declare for the draft.  Winston solved that issue earlier this week though after officially declaring.

This brings us to the second pick where the Titans sit.  Some have speculated they may take a quarterback, but Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean believes different.

It seems the Titans may allow Zach Mettenberger the opportunity to lead this team into the future.  So if in fact the Bucs take Winston and the Titans pass on a quarterback, the Jaguars and Raiders pick next.  Both of these teams just invested in a quarterback, so taking another seems entirely unlikely.  And at number five sits the Redskins, and this is where things become possible for the Bengals.

Just about three years ago now, the Redskins took a similar risk when trading for the Rams’ second pick in order to acquire Robert Griffin.  Since, this trade has turned into a disaster for the Redskins and they’ve struggled trying to get out from under it.  Owner Dan Synder is a prideful man and has refused to give up on Griffin.  But if he were presented with a set of picks and/or players that would help him recoup his losses, would he take the bait?

The Redskins need a quarterback desperately, but taking one would be equivalent to giving up on Griffin.  Is it possible the Redskins were prefer a deal that would allow them to rebuild their franchise while finding a serviceable quarterback in the interim?  Maybe even Synder’s dream in Griffin?

And it just so happens this year, the Bengals possess a ton of picks this year.  They will receive two likely high compensatory picks due to the losses of Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins this past off-season during free agency.  With nine picks and so little room of their deep roster, the Bengals may want to consider moving some of these picks anyway.

These compensatory picks would still allow the Bengals to draft players that would provide the rotational depth they’ll need in the coming year.  Not to mention, the Bengals possess a great ability to turn undrafted free agents into quality players.  It seems losing a couple of picks this year wouldn’t hamstring the Bengals the way it did the Redskins.

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Trading for Marcus Mariota would undeniably be a risk for the Bengals.  No rookie quarterback is a sure thing, and Mariota does possess some downsides (i.e. working primarily from the shotgun in Oregon’s spread offense).  Yet, Mariota would bring life to a franchise that is slowly losing momentum and support despite its plethora of talent.  He wouldn’t need to be rushed in quickly like other rookie quarterbacks.  Andy Dalton’s contract ensures his spot at least through next year, yet Mariota could take the starting job if he earns it.  Mariota’s skill-set would match the creative offense of Hue Jackson while he can still make the necessary throws in the Bengals’ run-emphasizing offense.

Most of all, the Bengals’ risk in this hypothetical trade would be a calculated one rather than the franchise-saving one the Redskins intended with their trade in 2012.  The Bengals have few needs for next year and, as stated earlier, the talent on this roster can only dissipate from here due to salary requirements and age.

Striking now may be a prudent move before this team loses it’s momentum entirely.  And as pointed out by Sports Xchange (via Lindy’s Sports), Marvin Lewis made a statement recently which in theory would support a radical and un-Bengal-like move.

"“We’re going to tread new ground and we’re going to tread new water.”"

“Treading new ground and water” and “building it back up,” sounds like the Bengals could be ready to make a splash unlike we’ve seen previously.