For a franchise so deeply connected to the advent of the vertical passing game, the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders have a peculiar history with quarterbacks. Sure, Ken Stabler is an icon and a Hall of Famer, but what about the mad bomber, Daryle Lamonica, a multi-time league MVP who dominated the AFL? What about George Blanda, who took turns throwing passes and converting kicks? The second acts of Jim Plunkett and Rich Gannon epitomize the Raider mystique. JaMarcus Russell, arguably the worst first overall pick of all time, capped off maybe the best draft class in NFL history.
And then there’s Derek Carr, who lives somewhere in the middle. The team’s all-time leading passer, a champion without a ring, bleeds silver and black. And yet, I fear his time may have come. The Las Vegas Raiders and Derek Carr should split up.
The Las Vegas Raiders and Derek Carr Should Call It Quits
My own personal perspective of Derek Carr is one that has changed a lot over the years. I audibly celebrated when the Raiders drafted him in 2014, I declared him a MVP candidate in 2016, and I was one of his biggest defenders in 2017. I adamantly opposed the Jon Gruden hiring for many reasons, but in large part, I bought the media-driven rumor that he could never be happy with a quarterback, and I was afraid that he would move on from Derek. The fun thing about being a sportswriter for the entirety of Carr’s career is that my opinions of him are documented. It is not hard to go back and find all the times I said “this is it, no more excuses” in August, only to turn around and say, “okay, but for real this time” the following season.
I do not embody the strawman who actively roots for Carr’s failure. All I have ever wanted is for the Raiders to be competitive, and yet, I can’t honestly say there’s been a time since I was a child where that was the case. Even in 2016 and 2021, the Silver and Black were luckier than good. People point to close losses as an excuse, but by the same token, the Raiders barely won some games. Last year, seven of their ten wins were by seven points or less, and in 2016, eight of their 12 wins were by a touchdown or less. The “this was a playoff team last year” and “we shouldn’t have fired Rich Bisaccia” fans probably think the outcomes of games are determined by whether or not they wear their lucky socks. These Raiders really haven’t been as good as you remember.
And I hear you, wins aren’t a quarterback stat. The Raiders have had, objectively, some of the worst defenses in the NFL over that span. This isn’t a hit piece on Derek Carr. This isn’t me sending out a call for pitchforks and torches, and I certainly don’t have the audacity to point at one player and say “you’re the reason we’ve been awful for twenty years.” The only people who could say they singlehandedly doomed the Raiders have the last name Davis.
But Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, Jack Del Rio, Jon Gruden, Rich Bisaccia, and now Josh McDaniels all had varying levels of success and different philosophies for how to operate, and despite the revolving door at every other skill position on offense, the song has remained the same. The offense doesn’t show up against bad defenses, they don’t put games away when they have the lead, and all scoring power freezes in cold temperature. At some point, you have to look at the common denominator, and since 2014, everything, even the field, has changed, except for the quarterback.
I have reached the point where the relationship between Derek Carr and the Raiders is no longer mutually beneficial. In the big picture, it would be better for both parties if they split sooner rather than later. Let me explain.
Derek Carr is a good quarterback. Last year, he proved that he can thrive, even if things aren’t perfect. The offensive line was in shambles, the only reliable target he had was a slot receiver, and the defense was characteristically bad, but he still played a major role in getting the Raiders to the post-season. The problem with most dialogues about Carr is that they tend to end up being pretty binary. Either you think he’s the best thing since sliced bread, trapped on an eternally inept franchise or you think he’s budget Andy Dalton in eyeliner, killing coaches and stealing millions. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Carr is a capable quarterback who can win with the right pieces but won’t elevate the roster beyond his means the way other quarterbacks do.
I think that Derek Carr could have a nice second act on another team. Teams like the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, or even the San Francisco 49ers would benefit from having someone like Carr under center. The New England Patriots don’t seem happy with their quarterback situation, and they tried to make a move for him in the past. And doesn’t “Indianapolis Colt, Derek Carr” just make a lot of sense? There’s still time for Derek Carr to ride off into the sunset with a ring, but I don’t see that being with the Raiders. The offensive line is still bad, the defense isn’t stopping anyone, and even with his best friend out wide, they’re still not blowing teams out on offense.
He is not getting any younger, and if this team isn’t going to contend for a championship, he should consider going to a team that is. He’s 31, and at the rate things are going, he’ll be in his mid-30’s by the time the Raiders have undergone yet another rebuild. And then what? They need to look for another quarterback anyway? If Carr wants to hoist a Lombardi before he retires, he needs to leave Sin City.
By that same token, Carr is more of a hindrance than an asset to the Raiders. He’s not so terribly inept that the Raiders are a three, four, five win team every year, but to this point, his legacy is that he lucked into playing in the pass-happy 2010/20’s and passed Ken Stabler in the record book. The Raiders overextend themselves trying to create a roster that Derek Carr can win a championship with, and the results tell the whole story. Every new regime that has come in has gone out and tried to build something that utilizes Carr’s abilities, and yet it rarely comes to fruition.
Carr has had fewer seasons with 30 touchdowns than Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, and Kirk Cousins. He’s never led the NFL in any kind of meaningful passing stat, he’s never even been a second-team All-Pro, and he hasn’t had three touchdowns in a game since that wild Hail Mary bout against the Jets in December of 2020. You can’t look around the league and see what other quarterbacks are doing and think that Carr’s performance is something you build a franchise around.
Even last year, during that run to the playoffs, Carr was a game manager. During that four game winning streak, he had 219 yards per game, five total touchdowns, and six turnovers. That’s not even including his abysmal playoff performance where he averaged five yards an attempt and turned the ball over twice. In reality, it was “wishy washy” Josh Jacobs averaging over 100 yards per game and Daniel Carlson kicking seven fields goals over that span that drove them in. As much maligned as the defense is, they only gave up about 19 points a game over that stretch.
I understand the rhetoric that the Raiders would be abysmal without Carr, and to a point, I even agree, but I think that at some point, the forest must be burned to the ground to grow back stronger. For the Raiders, I think the path to the promised land leads not through purgatory, but hell. The Raiders average seven wins a season under Carr, just enough to miss the playoffs without getting a prime draft pick. At this point, I’m tired of sitting there on Christmas Eve, hoping the Raiders win out and six teams lose so the season can end in the wilcard round instead of week 18. Maybe it’s time the Raiders follow the path of the Bills and Bengals and start over.
The Sad Truth
The Baltimore Ravens moved on from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson. The Buffalo Bills moved on from Tyrod Taylor to Josh Allen. The Kansas City Chiefs moved on from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes. The Cincinnati Bengals moved on from Andy Dalton to Joe Burrow. “Good enough” isn’t good enough when the champions are great.
Derek Carr is never going to be Patrick Mahomes for the Las Vegas Raiders, and in today’s NFL, it’s becoming more and more obvious that you need a guy like that to be competitive. Someone named Mahomes, Brady, Rodgers, or Manning has been in 16 of the last 21 Super Bowls. The occasional outlier like Joe Flacco or Matthew Stafford exists as the exception to the rule, not the proof against it. At this point, the Raiders need to accept that information and start over. Nobody wants another rebuild, but the Raiders tried to “win now” and they’re 2-5. They added All-Pros at key positions and made sure everyone got paid and they’re alone at the bottom of the AFC West. For all the jokes about Russell Wilson, he’s found ways to win where the Raiders haven’t.
The Raiders love Derek Carr. Derek Carr loves the Raiders. But this marriage is not a functional one, and both parties would be happier and more successful with someone else. Whether that’s Carr picking his new team via waiving the no trade clause, taking the opt out on his contract, or retiring to preach the gospel, 2022 should be the last time the Raiders start the Carr.