This question was asked last offseason too. Is it time for the Raiders to move on from Derek Carr? Last offseason it wasn’t a question for me. He needed to be back. He deserved to return to see what he could do with Gruden and a season under his belt and that was the best thing for the Raiders, especially with glaring needs at other positions. This offseason? I’m not so sure.
At the end of another lost season, Jon Gruden and Derek Carr were both asked about the future of Carr and the Raiders. Carr said he felt great about his meeting with the coaches and was looking forward to being the team’s quarterback next season when they relocate to Las Vegas.
The most complimentary Gruden got of Carr was to say he improved at being “a coach on the field with all the change that we had around him,” adding that Carr “did some good things, no doubt.”
Gruden was asked point blank if Carr was his QB going forward, and his response was non-committal.
“Yeah, he played good. I’m not going to get into all the next year scenarios,” Gruden said of Carr’s status with the team, adding “we got a lot of things to look at and evaluate before we start making any assumptions.”
Gruden isn’t making any assumptions about his quarterback moving forward, so neither should anyone else.
Make-or-break made or broken?
Going into last season, I was asked many times if I thought 2019 was a make-or-break year for Carr. I said absolutely.
He was entering his second season with the same offensive coordinator for just the second time in his career. The only other time was his magical 2016 season. That season he also had the best offensive line in football protecting for him. One could argue he had another great Oline this season. He also had Josh Jacobs, who is probably the best back he has ever had in his career, or at least his best since 2017 when Latavius Murray ran for over 1000 yards.
The one thing lacking for Carr was his wide receiver corps, but can we keep saying at the end of every season that Carr can’t be blamed because one facet of the offense wasn’t great? At some point does he not have to be the X-factor? The only time we could say that was in 2016 and that season is becoming more and more of a distant memory.
Results in the scoring column (24th in the NFL) and the win column (7) were not what the Raiders needed from Carr. Still, you could look just his overall stats and say Carr isn’t the problem. He threw for over 4K yards, completed over 70% of his passes, and had a passer rating over 100.
For that reason, usually the finger is pointed at the defense. Dive below the surface a bit and it gets murkier.
The Raiders lost five of their last six games. In those final six games the Raiders scored a total of one TD in the third quarter (a DeAndre Washington run) and Carr did not throw a single second half touchdown pass that actually mattered. He threw two — one with 39 seconds left and the Raiders down 38-3 to the Chiefs, and the other on the final drive of the season, gifted to them by a stupid Broncos penalty, after it was announced the Raiders were officially out of playoff contention.
The defense hasn’t been great, there’s no denying that. But as for whether Carr has been the difference in those times the defense has held up their end, you need only look at this statistic provided by Josh Dubow of the Associated Press: Carr is 12-9 (.571 winning %) since entering NFL in 2014 when the Raiders allow less than 20 points. That’s 24th in the NFL in that span. League average is .827.
Three of the Raiders five losses to end this season happened on the road in cold weather, bringing Carr’s career record in sub 45-degree temps to 1-10. When Gruden was asked what he thought the common denominator was in the Raiders late season collapse, he went on fairly long about cold weather being a factor, which sounded a lot like he was talking directly to Carr considering the criticisms Carr has gotten in that regard.
Gruden likes grit. He likes grinders. Like Rich Gannon, who played in Delaware, Minnesota, Washington DC, and Kansas City before coming to Oakland at age 34 and thriving in Gruden’s offense. Carr has never left California. He and Gannon are about as different as they come both in attitude and playing style.
There is a tendency for fans to rebel against the idea of a switch at quarterback for fear of the unknown. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, as they say. But teams do it all the time. There’s always some risk involved. Often times that risk pays off. And at this point, many fans are still living off the visions of the miracle 2016 season. A season that ended with Carr breaking his fibula after which he has never really been the same.
One big problem last offseason when it came to the question of whether to move forward with Carr was the dead cap money left behind should the Raiders cut or trade him. Last offseason it would have cost them $27.5 million in dead money. This offseason that number is just $5 million with a 2020 cap savings of $19 million. That opens up the possibility a lot more than before.
You also figure his salary used to be among the highest in the league, making any potentially interested team reluctant to take on his contract. Well, with other QB salaries rising, the one-time highest paid player is now middle of the pack. He’ll make a somewhat modest $22 million next season.
What to do with Carr
Some have wondered if the Raiders might add a quarterback, whether through the draft or in free agency, and keep Carr. I’m no so sure that’s a good idea. If the Raiders are looking to make a change, best to make a clean break from Carr. Having Carr looking over his shoulder all season or clinging to him until he is benched and holds no trade value is just not the best strategy. You either stick with him, or you move on.
How much could the Raiders get for Carr in a trade? Well, he is a six-year starter and managed to just inch over 4K passing yards at the end of the final game. Offensive Coordinators and head coaches usually have a potent mixture of confidence and uneasiness. Uneasiness in their current situation and confidence they could be the one to get all the best qualities out of a clearly physically gifted quarterback like Carr. When uneasiness turns to desperation a team could easily send a 2nd round pick to the Raiders for Carr. By the way, the Raiders don’t currently have a 2nd round pick, so that would come in handy.
Fans want a safety net in place before taking a leap of faith. They want to know for sure there is an equal or better QB ready to step in. Usually only a catastrophic QB situation and/or having the number one pick would suggest throwing caution to the wind. So, Bengals fans are probably feeling pretty good about their QB plans going forward. They’re already taking LSU Tigers QB Joe Burrow from yellow to orange stripes.
Whether the Raiders move on from Carr may be contingent upon whether they think there is a QB in the draft who they like and who they think they will be able to get. That’s a conversation they need to have among themselves and can be picked apart in the court of public opinion as well.
Before the draft comes free agency. There are some pretty big names set to his free agency at QB including Drew Brees (41), Tom Brady (43), Philip Rivers (38), Ryan Tannehill (32), Dak Prescott (27), Teddy Bridgewater (28), and Marcus Mariota (26). If you want a safety net, someone from this group is probably where you find it.
Remember Gruden had the most success in his career with a 35-year-old Gannon and a 34-year-old Brad Johnson.
So, here are your potential scenarios, if you like. Trade Carr for hopefully a high round two pick and start fresh with a new starting QB in a new city.
To replace him, sign a veteran as insurance, then draft a QB in the first two rounds, either with one of their picks in the mid-first (14, 19), with that presumed second round pick from the Carr trade, or package a couple picks to move up for their guy.
Or, just stick with Derek Carr and see if adding talent to the receiving corps and the defense can be enough to carry the Raiders to a winning record and a playoff run.