LAS VEGAS — So this is how it ends?
Wednesday, the Raiders and their franchise quarterback took the first step in their eventual divorce as 31-year-old Derek Carr was benched in favor of Jarrett Stidham. He has likely played his final game for the Silver and Black after nearly nine seasons, going back to when the franchise was still in Oakland.
In some ways, this was an easy decision by general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels. The Raiders are pretty much toast as far as the postseason is concerned, thanks, in a large part, to Carr’s inconsistent play this year. Though there is still a slim pathway to the playoffs.
Why not let Stidham, who has eight games’ worth of NFL experience, all with New England, get a chance to show what he can do, starting New Year’s Day this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium.
New year, new quarterback. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Carr has loved being a Raider, though Raider Nation didn’t always love him back. He has shown to be brilliant at times, discombobulated in others and downright terrible in still other moments. He and McDaniels may argue otherwise, but they never seemed to be completely on the same page and when your head coach and quarterback aren’t in lockstep, that’s a problem.
Even getting Carr’s old Fresno State teammate Davante Adams didn’t work out quite the way everyone hoped it would. There was a stat that said Carr and Adams failed to connect on 176 target attempts this season, a staggering number. And it would be even higher if not for Adams’ acrobatics that saw him turn certain incompletions into stunning catches.
Yes, Carr had to play for six different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators during his time with the Raiders. That couldn’t have been easy. Again, at times, he thrived, other times, he struggled. He’s only made two postseason appearances and lost both games.
This season, Carr had the best running back in the NFL in Josh Jacobs and Adams, one of the game’s premier receivers to work with. And while injuries to the offensive line, to tight end Darren Waller and receiver Hunter Renfrow limited Carr’s arsenal of weapons to a degree, the bad simply outweighed the good. Of course, the defense has more than its share of responsibility for what has transpired this season but that’s a column for another day.
From a business perspective, this isn’t a hard call for the Raiders. Assuming they cut Carr, who signed a three-year, $121.5 million contract extension before the season, by mid-February, the Raiders save $33 million for next season, which they could use to lure a certain quarterback from Florida to move to Las Vegas and reunite with McDaniels. We’ll get to him in a second.
Had Carr played the final two weeks — against the 49ers Sunday and next week against Kansas City — and had he gotten injured, the Raiders would have been obligated to pay him that $33 million for 2023 plus an additional $7.5 million in 2024. So despite having played hurt with a bad back, shutting down Carr was the financially prudent thing for the Raiders to do. Saving $40.5 million is not an insignificant amount of money. The hard cap hit the Silver and Black would take for moving Carr either by cutting him or trading him would be just $5.9 million. They can afford that.
And trust me, Carr will be appealing to several teams that need a QB. Think Carolina, Washington, the Jets, Indianapolis, Atlanta. Perhaps Tampa Bay. He won’t be out of work long.
So which way do the Raiders go? The idea of Stidham being the long-term answer is a long shot at best. But maybe he’ll get the fans excited for a couple weeks. My guess is they look for a veteran, even if it’s one who will be 46 years old when the 2023 NFL season kicks off next September.
Does Tom Brady in Vegas work? Does Jimmy Garoppolo? Would acquiring a younger guy like Zach Wilson or Daniel Jones be the answer? Or would the Raiders, who would pick ninth if the NFL Draft were held today, try to move up and take Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis, C.J. Stroud of Ohio State or Anthony Richardson of Florida? Or do they wait a year, then hope to land the big prize — USC’s Caleb Williams — in 2024?
There’s a couple of flaws to that last notion. One, the Raiders would have to overtake the Texans and Broncos and be the NFL’s worst team. They have too much talent for that to happen. Two, Brady or Garoppolo aren’t coming to Vegas to lose. Especially Brady. If Ziegler and McDaniels can’t convince TB12 the Raiders are close to being Super Bowl contenders (they’re not), I doubt he’s going to want to come to Allegiant Stadium and go into tank mode to get Williams as he prepares to exit the field for the television booth or studio.
Sometimes a change of scene is what’s best for all concerned. I believe it would help Carr’s career and he can finish things on a higher note than had he stayed in Las Vegas. As for who replaces him, I would lean toward someone young who has played several seasons in the NFL like Jones of the Giants. Though he has played well under Brian Daboll and while he might want to test the free agency waters (Jones is a UFA), the Giants may indeed believe he is their best option at quarterback going forward and he stays in the Meadowlands.
Or how would Baker Mayfield look in silver and black? Perhaps Lamar Jackson?
Raiders fans pay the highest ticket prices in the NFL. You’ve heard that before. They’re not going to want to sit through yet another rebuild. So it’s up to Ziegler and McDaniels to get it right through trades, through free agency and especially through the draft to make this team competitive immediately, not just in the AFC West, but to where they are legitimate playoff contenders. They’ll tell you had they managed not to squander those excruciating losses to the Cardinals, the Chargers, the Jaguars, the Colts, the Rams and the Steelers, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But the fact is, the Raiders managed to lose all those games, and then some. Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells famously said: “You are what your record says you are.” At 6-9, the Raiders are indeed what their record says it is. Something needs to change and if it means moving on from their franchise quarterback, both short-term and long-term, so be it.