As I wrote earlier this week, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr should be playing for his job on Sunday.
A competent organization treats Raiders-Titans as a referendum on the sixth-year quarterback.
Because not only is the Raiders’ game against the Titans a de-facto play-in game for the postseason, on a more basic level, given the way Carr has played the last two games — given the way Carr has played the last three seasons — if he cannot beat Ryan Tannehill, at home, in a must-win game, then he’s clearly not the man for the Raiders’ job moving forward.
Tannehill might be playing really well — shockingly well — and the Raiders might have a shocking lack of wide receivers, but this is about principles.
This isn’t to say the Raiders would need to cut or trade Carr before their move to Las Vegas — only that if Carr cannot get the job done on Sunday (we’ll evaluate him again down the line if he can) he should at least face serious competition for the QB 1 job as the Raiders move into their new desert digs.
We could speculate for months on who that other quarterback should be (one thing I know, he’s not currently on the Raiders’ roster), but one name that you cannot discount in that endless conversation is Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The Raiders are going to have two first-round picks this year, thanks to the Khalil Mack trade — their own, and Chicago’s. It’s hard to say which one will be better, but both should slot in around the mid-way point of the first round.
That might not seem all that awesome, but for the Raiders, it provides massive flexibility.
They can use both picks to trade up. They can try to move one for another (or two) next year and beyond. Or they can trade one and move down with a level of impunity.
Tagovailoa is reportedly still debating returning to Alabama or going into the NFL Draft, but the likelihood remains that he goes into the player pool for April.
And while we don’t know where Tua will be drafted, it’s safe to say that a prospect that has been viewed as the No. 1 overall pick for years isn’t going to go in that spot, and probably won’t go in the top-10 given the hip injury that ended his season — the same hip injury that ended Bo Jackson’s career.
But he’s still a first-rounder in my estimation, and the Raiders — with all that flexibility — are in a perfect position to select him, wherever he might land.
And I think the fit between the Raiders and Tua could not be more perfect.
The Raiders can use an extra lottery ticket to buy into Tua’s possible generational talent, but they can also give him a redshirt year to heal up and learn Gruden’s offense behind Carr, who is nothing if not a classy guy who wouldn’t scoff — at least publically (…his brothers on the other hand…) — at the situation or hold a grudge.
In turn, the Raiders can sell the new fan base in Las Vegas on a young, star, household-name quarterback without rushing him into action. They can sell future hope in the present day.
Oh, did I mention that this year’s draft is in Vegas? What a way to make a splash.
And if Carr gets back to being a top-half NFL quarterback with better skill position players around him next year, that’s great — the Raiders can trade him instead of cutting him at only a $2 million dead-cap hit next year. Or they can go all-in on him, despite the fact that his ceiling is established and probably not nearly as high as Tua’s.
The parallels between Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes with Kansas City are strong, but that was a good problem for the Chiefs to have back in the day. The Raiders can have a similarly good problem.
But they need to do it now, in this draft, because the truth is that the Raiders won’t be in a position to get a quarterback of Tua’s caliber in future offseasons — they’ll likely be too good to be within a mile of drafting Trevor Lawrence next year with the first overall pick. If they wait to find Carr’s replacement, they might not be able to do much better than him — and it’s fair to say that he’s a known entity at this point, unless he can play his best football over the final four games of this season.
Yes, there’s risk — and a bit of uncomfortableness, too — there’s so much reward for Jon Gruden’s rebuilding team in going in for Tua this offseason.
And so long as the Raiders are not reckless, like they were in the past, that’s what the organization is all about, right?