Derek Carr is in an interesting situation in Las Vegas.
Earlier this calendar year, I wrote about the decision the Raiders should make with their quarterback as the 2020 season closed. In that column, I wondered whether Carr would try to get out of the Raiders system. The rookies that the team brought in to bolster the offense were underperforming, and the 2020 season had just ended in a collapse that left them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Not to mention the return of Jon Gruden as a head coach hadn’t panned out into a single winning season in three years.
At the same time, Carr had finished the 2020 season with a new career-high in passing yards. He had also continued the trend of looking more comfortable and being more productive in the Gruden system for a third straight year.
Obviously, Las Vegas decided to stick with Carr. The trade market for the seven-year veteran never really heated up in the offseason. Even if it had, the Raiders would’ve had to get a great deal for their young quarterback that has become one of the most underrated signal-callers in the NFL.
Yet here we are almost a full year later and there’s still a bit of uncertainty looming about Carr’s future. For one thing, Gruden is out, having resigned in disgrace earlier this season. For another, general manager Mike Mayock could be on the hot seat. The Raiders released both of his 2020 first-round picks—Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette—earlier this year after Ruggs’ horrific DUI crash and a video of Arnette holding a weapon and threatening someone’s life. Mayock’s other picks since taking over in 2019 haven’t been models of success, either.
If Mayock joins Gruden on the outs from his job in Las Vegas, it makes Carr’s future with the team foggier. Who’s to say the new brass won’t try to make a big move for a quarterback in the draft or in a trade?
Given Carr’s track record in production, that may seem like an extreme move to make. After all, he’s having another great year in 2021. His completion rate is (so far) higher than what it was in 2020, and he’s already set a new career-high in single-season passing yards with three games to go. So, what’s the issue?
Well, while he has been generally more accurate and has put up a bigger number in one good column of the stats sheet, it hasn’t all added up to wins. While some of that has to do with Las Vegas being a bottom-three scoring defense—only better at preventing points than the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets—they’re also in the bottom half of the NFL in scoring offense. That’s led to a lot of inconsistency in the win column.
The Raiders’ longest win streak matches their longest losing streak this season: three games. As a fitting reflection of that, Las Vegas is squarely at .500 with a 7-7 record after eking out a Week 15 win over a Cleveland Browns team that had lost a plethora of key players to COVID-19 protocols. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Raiders’ current record leaves them with an 11% chance to make the playoffs this season.
This season’s disappointment isn’t an anomaly, either. Carr’s performances from season to season—regardless of how much he improves—haven’t led to wins. Since he joined the Raiders in 2014, they’ve only had one winning season and playoff appearance: a 12-4 finish in 2016 before a wild-card round loss to the Houston Texans. So, while it may seem like the right move to keep Carr with a contract extension and continue to build the team, who knows what could happen under a new head coach and potentially a new GM? It’s possible whoever takes over drafts a quarterback in the upcoming draft, trades Carr for more draft capital to build up the team, and uses backup Marcus Mariota as a bridge QB.
The longtime Raiders starter has been a great quarterback statistically, so he could fetch a high price tag and give Las Vegas plenty to work with in the 2022 NFL Draft. In return, it could lead to more wins and sustained success in the future. Either that or Carr could stick around a while and help the only team he’s been a part of reach the playoffs again. What will dictate that decision mostly boils down to whether Mayock sticks around, and if not, whether the new brass will want a completely fresh start.