It’s a situation nearly every franchise has found themselves in at one point or another — you could call it quarterback exhaustion. The question is: what do you do next?
Derek Carr has been the Oakland Raiders’ quarterback ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft — starting all 16 games as a rookie. Since then, he has been a bit of a rollercoaster — complete with MVP-conversation-highs (2016) and get-him-out-of-here lows (2018). With such an up-and-down career, the question Raider fans have been wrestling with of late is simple: which Carr is the real one?
What makes this conversation so fascinating is that Carr is a case of see-what-you-want. You can look at his numbers, his situation and his career and literally see whatever you want. If you want to see a good-to-great NFL quarterback, he’s in there somewhere! And if you want to find a below-average system quarterback, he’s in there too — all of which makes the next nine months’ worth of decisions so difficult.
Do the Raiders have their quarterback of the future? Or do they need to press the reset button?
For me the answer is simple: the Raiders can win with Carr — and if they want to win quickly, he’s the clear choice to move forward with. How did I get there? A look at some recent history, the current NFL landscape and Carr himself.
Recent Raider History
As I mentioned, Carr has been the Raider quarterback ever since the day he was drafted in 2014 — but does anyone remember what the decade before that looked like? If not, let me help…
Since Rich Gannon left, here is a year-by-year breakdown of the leading quarterbacks the Raiders have trotted out…
2004: Kerry Collins (56.3% completion, 3495 yards, 21 TD, 20 INT, 74.8 rating)
2005: Kerry Collins (53.5% completion, 3759 yards, 20 TD, 12 INT, 77.3 rating)
2006: Andrew Walter (53.3% completion, 1677 yards 3 TD, 13 INT, 55.8 rating)
2007: Josh McCown (58.4% completion, 1151 yards, 10 TD, 11 INT, 69.4 rating)
2008: JaMarcus Russell (53.8% completion, 2423 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 77.1 rating)
2009: JaMarcus Russell (48.8% completion, 1287, 3 TD, 11 INT, 50.0 rating)
2010: Jason Campbell (59% completion, 2387 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 84.5 rating)
2011: Carson Palmer (60.7% completion, 2753 yards, 13 TD, 16 INT, 80.5 rating)
2012: Carson Palmer (61.1% completion, 4018 yards, 22 TD, 14 INT, 85.3 rating)
2013: Terrelle Pryor (57.4% completion, 1798 yards, 7 TD, 11 INT, 69.1 rating)
2014-2019: Derek Carr (average): 64% completion, 3,798 yards, 23.8 TD, 10.3 INT, 90.7 rating)
Now, before we go much further let me acknowledge the obvious: passing in the NFL has changed. Comparing 2019 numbers to 2004 numbers isn’t apples-to-apples. However, that doesn’t mean what we’re looking at above is completely worthless.
I think that list does two things: first, it serves as a reminder of how bad things have been prior to Carr. Nobody is pining for the Kerry Collins or JaMarcus Russell era — and so it’s important to remember where we’ve come from. The second thing it does, I hope, is point to just how difficult it is to find a quality NFL quarterback.
Since 1993 here are the quarterbacks the Raiders have drafted: Marques Tuiasosopo (2001, second round), Ronald Curry (2002, seventh round), Andrew Walter (2005, third round), JaMarcus Russell (2007, first round), Tyler Wilson (2013, fourth round), Derek Carr (2014, second round) and Connor Cook (2016, fourth round).
Even if we take out Ronald Curry as a seventh-rounder, the Raiders were still just 1-for-6 on drafting quarterbacks! Put simply, drafting a replacement for Carr is a risky proposition.
The second thing to consider with Carr’s status is the current state of the NFL. Here is the list of starting quarterbacks that made the postseason this year: Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Ryan Tannehill, Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins.
Of that group, you’ve got the elite quarterbacks in the league for sure. But, you’ve also got a list that includes mediocre Brady, Cousins, Tannehill, Allen and Garoppolo as well. That’s almost half of the list (and it doesn’t include a down year from Rodgers either).
So what’s the point? When I look at that list, I don’t think Carr would stand out like a sore thumb. I think you can win with Carr if you surround him with the type of talent he has lacked ever since he showed up in Oakland.
Carr the player
No one here is arguing that Carr is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league — so no need to turn this into a straw man argument. All I’m saying is that Carr is in the ‘good-to-great’ range depending on what his situation looks like. Consider the following stats that Carr accumulated this season:
Some Derek Carr stats this season:
Rating: 100.8, 2nd in #Raiders history to Stabler's 103.4 in 1976
Yds/att: 7.9, 2nd highest for team in past 29 years to Palmer's 8.4 in 2011
Yards: 4,054, 2nd all time for team to Gannon's 4,689 in 2002
Completion %: team record 70.4
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) December 30, 2019
But what about how those stack up league-wide?
He was second in completion percentage, eighth in yards, ninth in yards per attempt, 19th in touchdowns and tied for fifth-fewest interceptions amongst guys with over 4,000 passing yards. He also finished 10th in QBR and ninth in rating.
Think about that. By just about any metric out there, Carr was a top-10 quarterback in the NFL this season statistically. Of course, some guys were out injured (Stafford, Brees, Roethlisberger) — but even still, he’s a top-half-of-the-league guy it seems, right?
Now, that’s statistically — but I understand the people who throw the numbers away and turn on the film to find reasons to dislike Carr. I’ll admit I’m annoyed by the throw-aways, the always-blaming-someone body language and the occasional dumbfounding turnover — but how do we jive all that with the numbers?
My take is that we can’t let one overshadow the other. Carr might be a bit irritating, but the numbers shouldn’t be ignored! At the same time, you can’t just point to a completion percentage and ignore everything else either.
One last note I’ll make because I think it’s significant: Carr has done everything despite an absolute dumpster fire going on around him. In six years, Carr has had four different head coaches and four different offensive coordinators (if you count Greg Olson twice). How in the world is a quarterback supposed to thrive with that kind of turnover?
But what about the offensive weapons? In 2014 his leading pass-catchers were James Jones and Mychal Rivera. Then came Amari Cooper (overrated) and Michael Crabtree thankfully. But after they left? Woof.
This year’s pass-catching list looks like an AAF roster on steroids. Zay Jones was the third-leading wide receiver — with 10 different wideouts catching passes from Carr this season, three tight ends, one fullback and three running backs. And Carr still put up the numbers he did. Crazy.
So what’s the point?
What do we do with all this information? Slow down.
The Raiders lost five of their last six games, but don’t let the last six weeks overshadow the last 20 years of historical evidence. It’s easy to think that you can replace the quarterback position better than everyone else in the league — but that doesn’t make it true! The Raider franchise was caught in an endless cycle of crappy quarterback play before Carr showed up — and as a fan myself, I’m in no hurry to get back to that place!
If it were up to me, I’d reload the roster with draft picks and free agents while giving Carr one more year of continuity with Gruden and Co. If you want to draft someone in the mid-rounds to develop, great. But for 2020?
Give me Carr and go from there.