You kind of knew this was how it was going to end for Derek Carr and the Raiders.
Back when the quarterback got booed by the home fans in the Raiders’ last game in Oakland in 2019 …
Back when the Raiders gave him a “long-term” extension in April with a small signing bonus and a peculiar opt-out clause …
And back in November, when Carr broke down in a postgame news conference, overcome with frustration over how this season has gone and also his nine years here …
On Wednesday, with the 6-9 team still having a mathematical albeit minuscule chance at making the playoffs, the Raiders benched Carr for the season’s final two games, beginning Sunday against the 49ers. They don’t want to be on the hook for $32.9 million guaranteed next season (and another $7.5 million in 2024) if Carr gets injured in the next two weeks.
That tells you all you need to know about the team’s feelings about Carr. Coach Josh McDaniels said he wanted the opportunity to evaluate backup Jarrett Stidham (who he also had with the Patriots). That’s as plausible as some national reports that the Raiders haven’t made a decision on Carr for next season and wanted to preserve his health for a possible trade … if that’s what they end up doing.
In truth, Carr has been a marked man for a while — and it’s something he would joke about, saying that he was supposed to be traded years ago whenever a new rumor popped up.
Reed: Derek Carr is taking the fall, but pressure is now on Raiders’ brass
Owner Mark Davis has in fact been lukewarm on Carr for a while, apparently thinking the quarterback should have overcome all the disastrous draft picks and free-agent signings and all the coaches that Davis has hired and fired since 2014. When Davis hired general manager Dave Ziegler and McDaniels in January, he let them make the call on continuing on with Carr.
During that interview process, Ziegler and McDaniels had to be a little taken back by what they heard about Carr. Davis turned over the reins of the two-week search to former vice president of player personnel Ken Herock, and Herock, now 81, is not one to mince words. Other GM and coaching candidates were shocked by how despairingly Raiders officials in the interview room spoke of Carr, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Carr, after all, had been the face of the organization for nine years — never saying a bad word despite all of the franchise’s embarrassing 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 became the first QB in Raiders history to pass for 30,000 career yards and only the fifth player in NFL history with at least 30,000 yards in his first eight seasons.
But he didn’t win. The Raiders had two winning seasons and two playoff appearances in Carr’s nine years, and he missed one of those playoff games (in 2016) with a broken leg. Last year, Carr’s leadership was a big reason the Raiders overcame some horrible off-field incidents and coach Jon Gruden resigning over racist, homophobic and misogynistic e-mails to make the playoffs, but Davis lingered on the playoff loss to the Bengals (and some Carr decisions on the last drive).
There have always been questions about Carr’s toughness in the pocket — ironic because he has been one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league, only missing three games in nine seasons — and while Gruden warmed up to him in his 3 1/2 years here and was a big supporter in the end, Davis never really was.
The Raiders flirted with Tom Brady in the 2020 offseason before Gruden decided Brady was too old. They wound 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 was even becoming more aggressive scrambling and extending plays in the pocket — and the Raiders started 3-0 in 2021. But Gruden was gone two weeks later, when the e-mails leaked, and then No . 1 receiver Henry Ruggs III was released after his car crash that left a woman and her dog dead and led to multiple felony charges for DUI and reckless driving resulting in death and bodily harm.
The Raiders still made the playoffs but Davis decided not to retain interim coach Rich Bisaccia despite his success and popularity with the players. He went with the Patriots model and hired Bill Belichick proteges Ziegler and McDaniels. Davis then let them make the call on 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 a former teammate at Fresno State.
But the Raiders underachieved, becoming the first team in NFL history to blow four double-digit halftime leads. It was clear that McDaniels and Carr were never in sync. Carr would make a point early in the season to say that he was only trying to do exactly what McDaniels wanted, and the more times he said it, the more people upstairs bristled. Carr’s completion percentage of 60.8 and passer rating of 86.3 are his lowest since his rookie season and his 7.0 yards per attempt and 235 yards per game are his lowest since 2017, and while McDaniel owns some of that, he is not going anywhere.
Ziegler and McDaniels met for two nights to discuss Carr’s status, and my read is that Tuesday night, they were leaning toward keeping Carr as the starter. They have, after all, been preaching the importance of winning and are still technically alive for the playoffs (though it’s possible they are eliminated before they take the field Sunday). Carr is a team captain and very respected by teammates in the locker room, and teammates may not think making him a scapegoat is fair or honorable. I think that is when Davis stepped in and decided it was time for a change.
What happens now?
Carr misses his fourth and fifth games in nine years, and the first not due to injury. He will not practice with the team and won’t be at either of their final two games to avoid being a distraction.
The Raiders can cut Carr after the season because that combined $40.4 million for 2023 and ’24 becomes fully guaranteed on Feb. 15, three days after the Super Bowl. But a more likely scenario is that the two sides agree to a trade to another team. Carr was given a no-trade clause while accepting the deal with the one-year exit plan and would have to approve any trade destination.
“We’ll see how this goes going forward. I’m not going to sit here and predict the future,” McDaniels said Wednesday of Carr’s future. “There is a lot to be sorted once the season is over.”
Carr once said that he would retire before he played for another team, and while he certainly could — he is a rare NFL player who has his future mapped out as he will be a pastor, a family man and a golfer — I don’t think that’s what happens. He is very competitive and will want to prove the Raiders made a mistake.
His friend, Adams, came to 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 here he was Wednesday after practice, staring at Carr’s empty locker.
“Obviously, I don’t think anybody was excited about it in here,” Adams told reporters. “Him being one of my really good friends and the reason I came here in the first place. I wouldn’t be here right now if he wasn’t here.
“I think everybody knows how I feel about him and with that said, there is a process to how things go. I am not going to sit here and go on and on. I support my guy and we have to finish this season out the best way we can.”
(Top photo: Jeff Bottari / Getty Images)
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