To this point, Derek Carr has earned an extension from the Las Vegas Raiders. However, many factors play into this decision. That being said, when should the front office pull the trigger?
For Derek Carr, head coach Jon Gruden’s return has worked wonders. Before the second “Gruden era,” Carr had never thrown for 4,000 passing yards in a season. Carr has done it in all three seasons since then, while also raising his passing touchdown total each year. This statistical improvement from Carr has coincided with rising win totals for the Raiders as well. With a 4-12 start in the first season under Gruden, Carr has led the team to 7-9 in 2019 and 8-8 in 2020. In both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, however, the team sat at 6-3 with the potential to do big things.
This improvement from year to year is the biggest reason the Raiders are exploring an extension with the veteran quarterback. In addition, Carr and the offense are often the biggest reason the Raiders win games due to the lackluster defense. As such, it’s clear the Raiders have bigger problems than Carr. Alas, while the numbers are being raised every year, they are still not in the realm of the elite quarterbacks in the game. This begs the question, what other choice do they have?
Barring a circumstance where the Raiders make a move for a star player like Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson, they are not likely to have many choices if they wanted to replace Carr. Of course, the draft will have its fair share of quarterbacks like always, Las Vegas is unlikely to be in a position to select a passer with a premium choice. This, in large part, is due to the level of play administered by Carr. Certainly, he does not elevate the offense to an elite level but he does do enough to win games and keep the team competitive. While the possibility of the wheels completely falling off exists, it is more likely that the team wins 7-9 games in 2021.
If the Raiders were to return with an improved 9-8 season, they would likely be picking in the range of 17-20 as they were in 2020. As we all know, the 2021 NFL draft featured an outstanding quarterback class with five first-rounders. None of these players was available past pick 15. In the incredibly unlikely event that the 2022 NFL draft features five more first-round signal-callers, the Raiders would likely still have to trade up and secure one to replace Carr, something they have not done in the Gruden-Mayock era. As far as free agency goes, none of the available options are even worth monitoring at this time.
Rest assured that Derek Carr’s camp understands the bind that the Raiders are in when it comes to the draft. As mentioned, if the Raiders are bad enough to secure a top ten pick, they would almost certainly entertain a quarterback in the draft. However, with Carr’s continued improvement in the offense, this is unlikely.
"I'd probably quit football if I had to play for somebody else. I am a Raider for my entire life."
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 16, 2021
Another layer of the Carr extension is the relationship he shares with Gruden. Not only are the two great friends, they think on the same wavelength as it pertains to Gruden’s offense. As the story is often told, Gruden’s offense is not for the faint of heart and can take several seasons to fully grasp as the quarterback. After three seasons, Carr has reached this point. While on the Cris Collinsworth Podcast he even noted that he was making adjustments at the line of scrimmage that Gruden wasn’t even noticing. This freedom at the line of scrimmage should not be taken for granted as it gives the Raiders offense great versatility. Adding a new passer would not yield the same results for several years, if ever.
All of @derekcarrqb's best throws from Sunday night.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) November 24, 2020
A rising market for Carr?
When Carr signed his last contract extension with the Raiders in 2017, it made him the highest-paid player in NFL history. The deal, a five-year, $125 million pact, has since been surpassed, and then some. Of course, Carr will not come close to the contracts signed by Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott for a bevy of reasons. The player the Raiders should have their eyes on is Baker Mayfield and his pending extension. Likewise, the Browns will surely be monitoring the Carr situation closely.
In addition to the looming Mayfield extension, several quarterbacks have passed Carr on average per year on their contract. Among these players are Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, and Jared Goff. The highest APY total among these four players is Cousins who signed a two-year, $66 million contract extension that was fully guaranteed, giving him $33 million per year. Carr will likely be aiming for that number or close to it.
Familiarity breeds contempt
Large sections of the Raiders fan base have taken Carr for granted. While he’s certainly not a top ten quarterback in the NFL, he’s the most steady force the Raiders have had at the position in the last 15 years. Typically, these types of deals are difficult to hammer out, however, that should not be the case in this scenario.
Carr wants to be a Raider for life and the Raiders seem to share that sentiment. Look for the new Carr contract to be in the neighborhood of three years, $102 million with about $65 million guaranteed with a team option after two years. This would make Carr the fifth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL at $34 million APY. Is Carr the fifth-best passer in the league? Absolutely not, but this contract would be passed quickly considering the amount of money that will be given to Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and whichever other quarterback decides he needs to get paid more.
Considering the progression Carr has shown when paired with Gruden, this contract extension seems like an easy choice. Both sides want to get a deal done and could even have it hammered out before the season. In addition, they could free up some cap space in the short term. Quite honestly, investing three more years in Carr may not just be their best choice, it might be their only choice.
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*Top Photo: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports