Derek Carr leaves Las Vegas.
It’s not a question of if at this point. Just a question of when and how. The nine-year-old Raiders quarterback bid farewell on Thursday after the franchise that drafted him in 2014 benched him for the final two games of the season in an apparent effort to avoid an injury that would guarantee his salary of $33 million next season.
The decision marked the end of his tenure with the franchise, and reports indicate the Raiders have begun testing the trading waters for a potential suitor. An exchange might be hard to find. Carr has a no-trade clause in his contract, and the $121 million owed to him over three years for the duration of the deal is more than he would likely command on the open market.
In the event he isn’t traded, the Raiders intend to cut Carr by Feb. 15. according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic. The move would precede a deadline that would fully guarantee his contract next season if he remains on the Raiders’ roster. One way or another, Carr will play for another team next season. So which team will it be?
There are plenty of NFL teams that need a quarterback. Carr caters to a specific set of needs. At 31, he is what he is as a player. There is no burgeoning advantage waiting to be exploited by a new team. He’s a solid veteran with a Pro Bowl past who is valued and respected in the league and brings stability and leadership to the locker room. It’s an attractive but unexciting profile for a team with the potential to win now but lack stability at the game’s most important position.
For a minute this season, the Jets got ahead of the schedule amid a 6-2 start that sparked talk of an unexpected playoff streak. Six straight losses to end the season have sprayed those hopes with a cold dose of reality. 2021 first-round pick Zach Wilson isn’t the answer to quarterback.
The Jets have a strong, young base on defense anchored by All-Pro rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner and 25-year-old All-Pro defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. They have untapped potential on offense in receivers Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson, the latter of whom posted negative reviews of his quarterback mid-season. Wilson is a young quarterback who fell short of expectations and seemed to lose the locker room in the process when he refused to take responsibility for his mistakes.
Carr checks many upgrade boxes in New York and could help the franchise end its 12-season playoff drought.
There’s a lot wrong with Indianapolis, which just saw a season start with playoff hopes and end with seven straight losses. But there’s also reason to renew hope in 2023 if the Colts pull off the right moves in the offseason. They must hire a competent head coach. They must pass their draft pick (No. 4). And they need to find a quarterback.
The latter two could be resolved in one fell swoop if the Colts choose to sign a rookie quarterback. Check out top prospects Bryce Young, CJ Stroud or Will Levis. But there’s enough veteran talent on this team where bringing Carr in might prove a more attractive option. The defense should come back stronger next season with a healthy Shaquille Leonard and a developing Kwity Paye alongside stalwarts like Stephon Gilmore, DeForest Buckner and Yannick Ngakoue..
The offense has playmakers in emerging receiver Parris Campbell and 2021 running champion Jonathan Taylor, who has seen his 2022 derailed by injuries. But he has dire needs on the offensive line and on the wide receiver depth chart. Bringing in Carr could bring stability to a position that has vexed the franchise since Andrew Luck’s retirement while allowing him to meet other needs with premium draft positioning.
The Carson Wentz experiment should be over. It is time to move on. Does this mean that a perpetually dysfunctional franchise will make the right decision? It’s not. But if they do, COs will have a number of options at quarterback.
Give 2022 rookie Sam Howell a shot after his impressive NFL debut in the season finale in Washington. Return to Taylor Heinicke after head coach Ron Rivera lost confidence late in the season. Watch the draft, where premium options will be left out of the draw at No. 16. Or watch a veteran like Carr.
Giving Howell a shot makes a lot of sense, but leaves COs at risk of another quarterback dilemma if he doesn’t win the job. Chasing Carr instead would inject quarterback stability into a team with talent on both sides of the ball that narrowly missed the playoffs at 8-8-1.
The Panthers somehow emerged as late-season playoff contenders after a 1-5 start that saw them fire head coach Matt Rhule and franchise trade player Christian McCaffrey mid-season. They didn’t make the playoffs, but a 5-3 finish under interim coach Steve Wilks salvaged a 7-10 campaign and provided promise for next season and calls on Carolina to hire Wilks at full-time.
Like the other teams on this list so far, the quarterback wasn’t a strong position. The Panthers bounced from Baker Mayfield to PJ Walker and back to Mayfield before settling on Sam Darnold to end the season. Did Darnold do enough to earn another shot after going 4-2 in six games as a starter? His five-year NFL resume suggests he didn’t.
The Panthers would be better off with an upgrade at the position, and Carr could be enough to keep them competitive in drafts that would be another mediocre season of NFC South football. Trading from No. 9 to draft a quarterback is also an option in Charlotte.
This is the most intriguing option on the list. That would mean Tom Brady has gone elsewhere – possibly even to Carr’s future former Raiders. Whether he leaves for the Raiders, retired or elsewhere, Brady’s exit would create a clear quarterback void in Tampa Bay that could prove a good fit for Carr.
The Bucs have one of the best receiving tandems in football with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, whose ability to stretch the field is a big reason Tampa Bay is in the playoffs. While the rest of the roster isn’t what it was when the Bucs won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, there’s enough here for Tampa Bay to avoid a rebuild in case Brady walks, including a top-10 defense. It is especially in a weak NFC South that will be up for grabs.
Carr’s profile is not the right one for a team like the Houston Texans. The Texans definitely need a quarterback. But they are far from competitive and have the second pick in the draft. Drafting Young or Stroud — which have tantalizing benefits and a long-term horizon — is the only piece that makes sense.