The Resilient Raider: Derek Carr’s Legacy

With Josh McDaniels essentially shutting Derek Carr down on Wednesday morning, his time as the starting quarterback of the Las Vegas Raiders is over. Whether he’s cut or traded, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever suit up in Silver and Black again. Derek Carr did a lot of good during his tenure with the Raiders, but tragically, much of the discussion about him will surround what he didn’t do. Today, I’m going to take a closer look at Carr’s legacy, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.

The Resilient Raider: Derek Carr’s Legacy

For a franchise that prides itself on helping revolutionize the deep passing game, the Raiders surprisingly don’t have a very rich history of quarterback play. Daryle Lamonica was a star in the AFL, and Ken “Snake” Stabler is a legend, but outside of that? Rich Gannon had a brief run where he a MVP, and Plunkett did win two Super Bowls, but neither guy really put a full body of work on the table as a Raider. Outside of that, the Raiders have a long, sad history of journeymen, nutcases, and of course, the worst bust in NFL history.

So when they drafted Fresno State product, Derek Carr, in the second round of the 2014 draft, Raider Nation was cautiously optimistic. Easily the best prospect in his class, Carr slid down the draft because A. his older brother was a bust in Houston, and B. there were some red flags. He tended to throw off of his back foot too often, he could be shaken by a good pass rush, and was a bit undersized. But he was very football smart, surprisingly athletic, could make all the throws, and interviewed very well.

After Carr lit up the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason finale of his rookie season, he was named the starter and the Raiders never looked back. For the next nine years, if Carr was healthy, he was the starting quarterback of the Oakland, and then Las Vegas Raiders. Before we get into everything that went wrong, I want to talk about what went Carr endured.

A Hard Job

The Raiders went through a lot during Carr’s tenure. When Carr was drafted, Dennis Allen was the head coach. He was fired and Tony Sparano stepped in. In the following off-season, Jack Del Rio stepped up. He was fired for Jon Gruden. When Jon Gruden was forced to step down, Rich Bisaccia stepped up. In his final season with the Raiders, Josh McDaniels was head coach. That’s six head coaches in nine seasons. That’s not even including the turnover in offensive coordinators, of which he sat through even more.

And it’s not like that was all. Carr’s promising 2016 season was cut short by a broken fibula, robbing him of the opportunity to start in a playoff game. The team announced, and then later completed, a relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas. His draftmate, and the team’s best player, Khalil Mack, was controversially traded. Antonio Brown brought an entire circus to Oakland and never took a snap for the team. Gruden’s emails cast shame on the entire team. Henry Ruggs III, his most gifted playmaker at that point, killed someone in a drunk driving accident and was released from the team. Derek Carr has had to endure no shortage of controversy, none of which was his fault, but somehow became his responsibility.

His supporting casts were a revolving door. When Carr came to the Raiders, it was on a squad that had been scrapped for cap space, trying to restore a franchise weighed down by bad contracts. Jack Del Rio gave Carr a good offensive line and weapons, but Jon Gruden decided to reshape the roster in his image. The efforts to find Carr a reliable number one receiver saw a circus, two first round picks, and a couple of washed up veterans before they traded for his best friend this spring.

And defensively, the Raiders rarely received support. His defenses were always putrid, and beyond just allowing a lot of points, they rarely forced turnovers. Despite that, Carr started more games for the Raiders than any other quarterback in the franchise’s history, and will leave as the leader in just about every statistical category. Passing era or no, Carr’s name will stand at the top of the record books in Las Vegas for a long, long itme.

A Good Man

I know that as an outspoken Christian, and someone who doesn’t show a ton of attitude, Carr is easy to pick on. He’s more than a little vanilla, and certainly isn’t going to inspire people with his swagger or attitude. But I don’t think I’m stepping on anyone’s toes by saying that he’s a good man. As a rookie, he picked up a hitchhiker, his faith is as synonymous with his person as football, and he’s never given up on the Raiders. He’s beloved by many of his peers and is often leading the prayer circles after games.

Last season, Carr’s play might not have gotten the Raiders to the playoffs, but it could be argued that his leadership did. When the franchise was under a ton of scrutiny, fighting losing battles on and off the field, Carr took center stage and kept the ship steady. He might be boring, he might not produce a lot of clipworthy press statements, but what you see with Carr is what you get. He’s a family man who just wanted to help the Raiders win, preach his faith, and support his family.

There is no rational debate that says that Derek Carr was the main reason the Raiders were bad during his tenure. As a fan, I will always fondly remember what Carr gave to this franchise. His blood, sweat, and tears define the last decade of Raiders football. The Raiders have been the epitome of dysfunction since the turn of the decade, and there’s no arguing that Carr desperately loved the team and tried his best.

But at the end of the day, by his fault or not, his best was not enough. Because that decade of football defined by his effort ultimately leaves behind a sad story of missed opportunities and sustained mediocrity.

Very Good Isn’t Good Enough

Derek Carr is, to this very day, a very good quarterback. And I believe that on the right team, with the right weapons, and the right scheme, he could be successful, even winning a Super Bowl… but that’s not what the Raiders need.

Because even if the Raiders were a well-run franchise, and again, I’ll state that they’re not, you need ot be elite to compete in the AFC. The AFC West goes through Kansas City, and Patrick Mahomes is far and away the best quarterback in football. Justin Herbert will make his first playoff start this season, and it feels like he’s only scratching the surface of his potential. Josh Allen has the Bills firmly entrenched atop the AFC East, and Lamar Jackson will be the most in-demand quarterback in football this off-season. Trevor Lawrence has taken a team that has finished the last two seasons with the league’s worst record to a division title in only his second season.

An elite quarterback masks a lot of the team’s weaknesses. A bad defense looks a lot better with the lead. Teams become one dimensional in shoot-outs, and it’s not like Carr has consistently put up points. If the Raiders hope to be relevant in the next decade, they need someone who can consistently go toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes, who is going to put up 30 points against even the best defenses.

That isn’t Derek Carr.

And while Derek Carr has every gift a quarterback could ever hope to ask for on paper, a great arm, a high football IQ, functional athleticism, he also has some shortcomings. Carr personifies the modern mush that is ranking quarterbacks between 8th and 20th best. On a good day, he can make any throw look easy and play at a high level, like he did against Denver and Kansas City this year, and on a bad day, he can look like a rookie taking his first snaps, like he did against the Chargers and Steelers.

It’s not hard to see where Carr struggles. He has consistently failed to show up in cold weather games, and his play does falter after he gets hit a few times. He either plays hero-ball, making headscratching throws in big moments, like overthrowing Renfrow against Pittsburgh or throwing into triple coverage against the Bengals, or chickens out, essentially giving up on the play, like his repeated fourth-down throwaways. He has a propensity to fumble, though he has cut down on that this year, and is unbelievably bad in the redzone.

Carr would be an All-Pro in the early 2000’s, but in the era where most quarterbacks are extending plays with their legs, Carr is all-too eager to give up when the pocket collapses. In short, all of the reasons that teams were hesitant to make him a first round pick nearly a decade ago are still true. All the good, all the bad, he’s the same guy that came out of Fresno State. And that guy is good enough to start in the NFL, even win on the right team, but that team is not, has not been, and never will be, the Raiders.

Hope That Can Be Seen Is Not Hope

The Raiders need to move on because as long as Derek Carr is their quarterback, they will have false hope. Hope that if the defense gets a little better, if the protection is a little stronger, if the receivers are a little faster, they’ll get to the promised land. The hope that a championship roster can be built with a few band-aids and elbow grease. That maybe, just maybe, everything will finally fall into place.

It won’t. Even with the defense giving up under 20 points a game, the Raiders still lose. Even with the best receiver in football, they still come up short. The roster isn’t “one or two pieces away” and the prestige of being the Raiders coach that John Madden establish has long lost sight of redemption. This team needs to fix the offensive line, determine the future of the running back position, repair the defensive line, and revamp the secondary. This is a team that needs premier prospects and to reevaluate the foundation, and as long as Carr is the quarterback, the false hope will prevent them from doing what they need to do, and that’s start over.

We won’t know the truth about how the last week unfurled for a long time. Maybe Carr asked to leave the team, maybe he was forced, but in any event, such an abrupt ending to a divisive career almost seems typical in the context of Carr’s Raiders tenure.

Carr will have a second act in the NFL. Hopefully he goes to a team where he doesn’t have to be the answer, where he can be a missing role player and get them over the hump. He would be a great fit in San Francisco or Los Angeles, teams that seem to succeed despite their quarterbacks, not because of them. On a personal note, as long as it isn’t at the Raiders expense, I hope he enjoys a fruitful twilight to his career and even catches that elusive post-season success, but it is time for the Raiders to move on.

Maybe the Raiders will find the next “it” quarterback and rise to Kansas City’s level. Maybe they’ll find the next JaMarcus Russell and have to start all over. Either way, Derek Carr was never going to be the whole book. Even if he’d become all that it seemed like he would be, he was only ever going to become a chapter in the Raider historia. He’ll always have a special place in the hearts of Raider Nation, whether they can see it now or not, and while his legacy may be shelved as incomplete, his heart will never be questioned.

Now the only question becomes whether he will allow the Raiders to trade him, getting draft capital as a farewell gift, or if he’ll force them to release him.

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