NFL: Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders

Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders are parting ways after nine checkered years. How did that happen, was the split inevitable and where is the quarterback now?

It’s safe to say that the way the Raiders handled the split from their franchise quarterback, Derek Carr, couldn’t have been more clumsy.

It started with the contract extension last year, which was basically just a salary increase, but otherwise worked like a ticking time bomb. Originally, Carr’s contract would have expired after this season anyway, the extension signed at the time changed little. Rather, it was just an insurance policy for the team in case Carr had a strong season under new head coach Josh McDaniels and was the answer for the future.

Instead, things turned out differently and the Raiders were ultimately forced to fire Carr on Tuesday. Otherwise, he would have been guaranteed around $40 million of the $120 million extension over the next two years.

Rather, Carr’s contract is a prime example of how much appearance and how little reality there is in such NFL contracts. And that’s an indication of the free agency that will start in mid-March: only rate the contracts once you know all the details and don’t let the figures, which are mostly leaked by agents, blind you!

Derek Carr: Two playoffs and many disappointments

But back to Carr. A year ago, he was apparently aware of what the Raiders wanted to achieve with this contract and accordingly negotiated a no-trade clause that would not leave him completely out in the rain, at least in the event of failure. And with that clause, and after apparent disappointment at his essential sacking two weeks before the end of the season – he was released and replaced by backup Jarrett Stidham – Carr was then allowed to block any trades, leaving the Raiders with only a sacking.

So what can you say about Carr’s work so far after nine years in Oakland and Las Vegas? The 2014 second-round pick certainly hasn’t had a bad career so far. He only had two winning seasons and one 8-8 season. In addition, Carr only started one playoff game after the 2021 season. But it has to be said that it wasn’t just his fault.

During his time there, the Raiders had a whopping six different head coaches, some almost catastrophic draft classes and rarely presentable defenses.

Carr himself presented himself mostly at a consistently good level. He scratched the top 10 NFL quarterbacks for a few years, but was mostly in the top 15. Among other things, he had three seasons with 4,000 passing yards and fewer than 10 interceptions. Only three others have done it that many times alongside him: Aaron Rodgers (9), Tom Brady (7), and Peyton Manning (4).

Carr would have done it a fourth time if he hadn’t broken his ankle in the penultimate game of the season in what was probably his best season of 2016 (3937 YDS, 6 INT). The Raiders were 12-3 at the time, made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and then lost to the Texans in the wild card game with backup quarterbacks.

Carr is the first quarterback to lead the Raiders to the playoffs since MVP Rich Gannon. And even twice.

Ultimately, though, Carr’s time in Vegas shouldn’t be overly romanticized either. There were and always are good reasons to criticize his game. For example, there is his risk aversion. Especially in the first two years under McDaniels’ predecessor Jon Gruden, he was once third from last (2018) and once second to last (2019) in the average intended air yards. In other words, he mainly threw short, safe passes instead of taking more risks and thus forcing big plays.

That got better over time, but it wasn’t until McDaniels’ arrival that brought a drastic shift – in 2022 he averaged 9.3 air yards for passes, which was the fifth-highest in the league.

Derek Carr: Depth of pass over the last 5 years

season Average Intended Air Yards League Rank
2018 6.7 third to last
2019 6.5 penultimate
2020 8.2 18
2021 8th 12.
2022 9.3 5.

(Pay from NFL Next Gen Stats)

However, more risk did not only bring benefits. Carr basically played his worst season since his rookie year and equaled his career high with 14 interceptions. To be fair, it has to be mentioned that in 2021 he was already slowly on the decline in terms of efficiency, even if he threw much more precisely with passes that were only 1.3 yards shorter on average.

His footwork has often been the focus of criticism, as has his habit of holding the ball too long, swallowing up unnecessary sacks. The latter was better this year than in 2022, which was also due to an overall improved offensive line. Weak offensive lines have also been a problem for the Raiders in the last few years, which was not least due to the draft classes mentioned above.

But how did you come to the decision to draw a line now? This is where opinions differ. McDaniels-affiliated journalist Albert Breer (Sports Illustrated) reported about that the main reason for the separation was that Carr took too little responsibility for the weak season.

Derek Carr: Efficiency and precision over the last 5 years

season EPA/Dropback (League Tier) passer rating Catchable Percentage On Target Percentage
2018 0.01 (25) 93.9 (18) 87.8 (3) 83.7 (3)
2019 0.14 (9) 100.8 (9) 87.0 (4) 81.6 (3)
2ß2ß 0.08 (16) 101.4 (10) 86.5 (12) 80.2 (9)
2021 0.06 (14) 94.0 (14) 87.1 (11) 79.7 (3)
2022 0.04 (12) 86.3 (24) 82.6 (33) 73.7 (24)

(Pay from TruMedia and Sports Info Solutions)

That, however, contrasts with the public image Carr has projected for years. Because if someone has taken responsibility off the pitch with the Raiders in the difficult past few years, it was usually Carr. After all the coaching sackings, he came out in public, even speaking after team-mate Henry Ruggs was fired after his fatal car accident, when others preferred to remain silent.

And you can also give him credit for the fact that he didn’t make a fuss about his sudden release, but behaved professionally.

Ultimately, Carr was probably just not the right quarterback for McDaniels, even if McDaniels himself doesn’t want to know anything about Carr’s lack of understanding of his offense: “I don’t think so at all. I think that Derek has a lot of faith in what we’re doing, played. He’s had some really good games this year.”

And McDaniels doesn’t seem to have had a problem with Carr either: “We had a great relationship. He did some great things and everything that has been said to the contrary is incorrect.”

So what was it then? Money could have been a factor. Apparently, there was no certainty that Carr would be able to repeat the performances of a year or two ago in the second year. And guarantees worth $ 40 million are perhaps too high a risk for a team that is not necessarily blessed with unlimited funds – owner Mark Davis is not one of the richest team owners in the NFL.

Rumor has it that the main reason McDaniels was kept on for another year was because they didn’t want to pay double the head coach’s salary if he was fired. Apart from that, McDaniels and his hand-picked general manager Dave Ziegler are under pressure anyway and probably want to do better now your Bringing quarterback to Vegas – whoever that may be especially after Tom Brady’s retirement. Maybe Aaron Rodgers?

Derek Carr: Just two trade requests at Raiders

Either way, the Carr era has come to an end, and for the quarterback, that means moving on. The question is where the journey is going. According to multiple media reports, the Raiders only had two requests for Carr – from the Jets and Saints. And only the Saints were given permission to talk to the QB. He even went to NOLA for a visit, even if it didn’t come to a conclusion there.

Does that mean only these two teams are interested? Probably not, but other teams simply wouldn’t have been willing to send draft picks to Vegas for a player who, firstly, would have brought this too-risky contract for teams, and secondly, would have likely hit the market in mid-February anyway. Accordingly, more teams should now be interested in a deal.

The Jets, Colts, Saints, Falcons, Commanders, Panthers and also the Buccaneers should not be completely forgotten in various media.

They all need a new quarterback, even if the needs of these teams seem different. The Jets have already made inquiries and appear to be very interested in Rodgers should he emerge from the dark with a request for a transfer.

The Saints were already talking to him and Carr basically showed a few years ago that his actual playing style with rather short, precise passes could well suit New Orleans. Drew Brees functioned at a very high level in such an offense for years, the foundations of which are still in place after Sean Payton’s departure.

The Colts are possible, but after countless blunders in the past few years since Andrew Luck’s retirement, I’d have a strong expectation that they’ll try a rookie — maybe even an uptrade in the draft. The Falcons squint at Lamar Jackson while apparently teasing Desmond Ridder, and the Commanders do the same with Sam Howell. In both cases, however, that doesn’t seem set in stone, although in DC the question of who will be the new offensive coordinator has to be clarified first. Only then do you know what kind of quarterback you need.

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