They kind of knew it was going to end up like this for Derek Carr and the Raiders.
Back when the quarterback was booed by home fans in the Raiders’ final game in Oakland in 2019…
Back when the Raiders gave him a “long-term” extension in April with a small signing bonus and an odd release clause…
And back in November, when Carr collapsed in a post-game press conference, overcome with frustration at how this season has gone and also at his nine years here…
On Wednesday, with the 6-9 team still in a mathematical, albeit tiny, chance of making the playoffs, the Raiders benched Carr for the final two games of the season, beginning Sunday against the 49ers. They don’t want to be on the hook for a guaranteed $32.9 million next season (and another $7.5 million in 2024) if Carr gets injured in the next two weeks.
That tells you everything you need to know about the team’s feelings towards Carr. Coach Josh McDaniels said he wanted the opportunity to evaluate backup Jarrett Stidham (whom he also had with the Patriots). That’s as plausible as some national reports that the Raiders didn’t make a decision on Carr for next season and wanted to preserve his health for a possible trade…if they end up doing that.
The truth is, Carr has been a marked man for some time – and he joked about it, saying that if a new rumor surfaced, it should have been traded years ago.
Reed: Derek Carr takes the fall, but the pressure is now on the Raiders’ lead
Owner Mark Davis was actually lukewarm towards Carr for a while, apparently thinking the quarterback should have weathered all the disastrous draft picks and free-agent signings and all the coaches Davis has hired and fired since 2014. When Davis general manager Dave hired Ziegler and McDaniels in January, he let them make the call to move on with Carr.
During this interview process, Ziegler and McDaniels must have been a little surprised by what they heard about Carr. Davis handed the reins of the two-week search to former vice president of player personnel Ken Herock, and Herock, now 81, is not mincing his words. Other GM and coaching candidates were shocked at how desperately Raiders officials spoke in Carr’s interview room, according to people familiar with the discussions.
After all, Carr was the face of the organization for nine years — he never said a bad word, despite all of the franchise’s awkward moments — and was great in the community and pretty good on the field. He is the Raiders’ all-time leader in touchdown passes (with 217) and was the first QB in Raiders history to pass 30,000 yards in his first eight seasons and only the fifth player in NFL history to pass at least 30,000 yards .
But he didn’t win. The Raiders had two successful seasons and two playoff appearances in Carr’s nine years, and he missed one of those playoff games (2016) with a broken leg. Last year, Carr’s leadership was a big reason the Raiders overcame some horrific off-field incidents and coach Jon Gruden resigned over racist, homophobic, and misogynist emails to make the playoffs, but Davis stayed put in the playoff loss against the Bengals (and some others). Carr decisions on the last ride).
Derek Carr’s only playoff game as a Raider was a loss to the Bengals in last year’s wild card round. (Kareem Elgazzar / USA today)
There have always been questions about Carr’s toughness in the bag — ironic because he was one of the longest-lived quarterbacks in the league, missing just three games in nine seasons — and while Gruden has warmed up to him over his 3 1/2 years here and was on Ending a big supporter, Davis never really was.
The Raiders flirted with Tom Brady during the 2020 offseason before Gruden decided Brady was too old. They ended up signing Marcus Mariota to push Carr and Carr buried him. The competition was over before it started due to Carr’s arm talent.
Carr got better and better under Gruden — and even got more aggressive, climbing and extending plays in the bag — and the Raiders started 2021 3-0. But Gruden was gone two weeks later when the emails leaked, and then No 1 recipient Henry Ruggs III was released after his car accident that killed a woman and her dog and resulted in multiple felony counts of DUI and reckless driving resulting in death and personal injury.
The Raiders still made the playoffs, but Davis, despite his success and popularity with the players, chose not to keep interim coach Rich Bisaccia. He went with the Patriots model, hiring Bill Belichick protégés Ziegler and McDaniels. Davis then had them call Carr, and they not only decided to extend his deal, but also traded for receiver Davante Adams, a perennial All-Pro, one of Carr’s best friends and former teammate at Fresno State.
But the Raiders underperformed, becoming the first team in NFL history to squander four double-digit halftime leads. It was clear that McDaniels and Carr were never in sync. Carr made it clear earlier in the season that he was just trying to do exactly what McDaniels wanted, and the more times he said it, the more balked people upstairs. Carr’s 60.8 completion percentage and 86.3 passer rating are the lowest since his rookie season, and his 7.0 yards per attempt and 235 yards per game are his lowest since 2017, and while McDaniels owns some of it, he’s going nowhere to go
Ziegler and McDaniels met for two nights to discuss Carr’s status, and I read that on Tuesday night they were leaning towards keeping Carr as a starter. After all, they preach the importance of winning and are technically still alive for the playoffs (although it’s possible they’ll be eliminated before taking the field on Sunday). Carr is a team captain and is well respected by teammates in the dressing room, and teammates may not consider it fair or honorable to make him a scapegoat. I think that’s when Davis stepped in and decided it was time for a change.
What’s happening now?
Carr is missing his fourth and fifth games in nine years, and the first not through injury. He won’t train with the team and won’t be in their last two games to avoid being distracted.
The Raiders may cut Carr postseason as the $40.4 million total for 2023 and 24 is fully guaranteed on Feb. 15, three days after the Super Bowl. However, a more likely scenario is that the two sides agree on a trade with another team. Carr was given a no-trade clause upon accepting the deal with the year-long exit plan and had to approve each trade target.
“We will see how it goes on. I’m not going to sit here and predict the future,” McDaniels said of Carr’s future on Wednesday. “After the season there is a lot to organize.”
Carr once said he would retire before playing for another team, and while he certainly could — he’s a rare NFL player with a bright future as a pastor, family man, and golfer — I do don’t think that’s going to happen. He is very competitive and will want to prove the Raiders made a mistake.
His friend Adams joined the Raiders to play with Carr and be closer to his family. He left the Packers because Aaron Rodgers’ status was up in the air, and now he was standing here on Wednesday after practice staring at Carr’s empty locker.
“Obviously, I don’t think anyone in here was upset about it,” Adams told reporters. “He’s one of my really good friends and the reason I came here in the first place. I wouldn’t be here now if he wasn’t here.
“I think everyone knows how I feel about them and other than that there’s a process to the way things go. I’m not going to sit here and go on and on. I support my husband and we have to finish this season as well as possible.”
(Top Photo: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
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