Is Derek Carr the Las Vegas Raiders franchise quarterback? It’s a question that’s been asked in both Northern California and Sin City since he entered the league back in 2014.
Is Carr a difference-maker? Is he a mere game manager that can’t up the performance of his team?
These are going to be questions we’ll see raised throughout the 2022 season and beyond after the three-time Pro Bowler signed a massive three-year, $121.1 million extension with the Raiders before he was set to hit free agency in March of 2023.
For the Raiders, it’s all about continuity following the hiring of head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler. Carr’s extension also came mere weeks after Vegas acquired his former Fresno State star teammate, wide receiver Davante Adams, in a trade with the Green Bay Packers.
Coming off a drama-filled 2021 season that culminated in a surprising playoff appearance, Carr and his Raiders have their eyes on conference championship contention next season. It’s been his focus since joining the Raiders as a second-round pick all the way back in 2014.
He’s also made it clear multiple times that remaining with the organization throughout his career has been a goal of his.
“I’ve only wanted to be a Raider and I told my agent I’m either going to be a Raider or I’m going to be playing golf,” Carr said after signing extension. “I don’t want to play anywhere else. That’s how much this place means to me.”
For Carr and Raiders fans, it has not always been an exceptional connection. He’s led the team to a 57-70 record as a starter. If you discount the two playoff years, he’s 35-60 as a starting quarterback. Will these fans turn on him if struggles define the early stages of the McDaniels’ era?
Derek Carr and his relationship with Las Vegas Raiders fans
“There are a lot of fans out there who love to pile on,” host of Just Pod Baby, Evan Groat, tells Sportsnaut. “I could see a situation where if this team does not perform up to expectations, people are going to start to point the finger at Derek Carr and say ‘I told you he wasn’t worth the extension.’ Number two, the pessimists look at the other quarterbacks in the division. You have Patrick Mahomes, Justin Hebert, Russell Wilson. They are going to say Derek Carr is the fourth-best quarterback in that division.”
Fans are a reactionary bunch. In this hot-take society, nuance can oftentimes be lost. Despite the eye-opening numbers related to Carr’s extension, the Raiders’ brass set themselves up well should he struggle. That includes a mere $5.63 million dead cap hit if the Raiders trade Carr after the 2022 season.
It clouds Carr’s long-term future in Vegas and questions whether the Raiders’ new brass is really committed to him beyond 2022. At the very least, the pessimist in us will point to this.
As for the fans, said extension coupled with Carr’s history tells us a story. This on-again, off-again relationship has led to a ton of talk in the past that Carr wouldn’t be the face of the franchise once the Raiders relocated from their native, hard-working Oakland to a more glitzy Las Vegas.
Was this the quarterback to lead the organization into a new era with Al Davis’ torch still lit bright in Sin City? Prior to 2021, common reasoning seemed to suggest that this wouldn’t be the case.
The Raiders were being led by a head coach in Jon Gruden who flirted with pretty much every quarterback outside of Kenny Stabler’s hologram (and would have if technology had advanced to that point). Every NFL Draft Combine was filled with rumors of an upgrade in Oakland and Las Vegas.
Now that the ground has shifted beneath him, let’s look at why. In doing so, we’ll hear from more insiders on the topic of Mr. Carr and his future with the Raiders.
Las Vegas Raiders 2022 outlook with Derek Carr
In addition to bringing in Adams, the Raiders were active on other fronts to open the 2022 NFL year. That included signing Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones and acquiring cornerback Rock Ya-Sin in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts.
The new Raiders brass is doing everything possible to build a team around Carr, knowing full well that previous front office heads in Oakland/Vegas failed miserably.
“Derek Carr has played at a high level throughout his career. I’ve always said it wasn’t Derek Carr letting the Raiders down, it was the Raiders letting Derek Carr down. Throughout his career with the Raiders, there’s been roster deficiencies, turnovers in coaches, offensive staffs and teammates,” Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal told Sportsnaut.
Bonsignore points to roster overhauls as being the Modus operandi under the Gruden-Mayock pairing. That’s indisputable when looking at how this duo blew up the offensive line in front of him following the 2020 season, including moving off the likes of former Pro Bowlers Trent Brown, Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson.
It’s not a remarkable concurrence of events that Carr was sacked the second-most times in his eight-year career this past season. First-round pick Alex Leatherwood struggled as a rookie and is seen more as a guard moving into the future. Despite the Raiders’ previous brass giving Kolton Miller a massive extension, he’s merely a league-average starting left tackle in the NFL.
These are the misses that defined the Mayock-Gruden era with the Raiders — blunders that deterred the Raiders from having consistent success. It’s also why confidence has to be sky-high for the Raiders now that the Ziegler-McDaniels pairing will change things.
“They’ve been super awesome. They’ve been great,” Carr said about Ziegler and McDaniels. “I’m just looking forward to getting to know them. We’re doing the whole business relationship thing, but hopefully, we can get our families together and start getting to know each other and start building that unity that we had last year.”
Valuing his relationhips with those in his professional life has been a major component of Carr’s career. It’s also why he’s seen as a team leader within the Raiders’ locker room. With a newly-minted supporting cast, things are looking up.
Carr has more weapons this coming season than he’s ever had with the Raiders. It’s not necessarily close. Running back Josh Jacobs joins tight end Darren Waller and wide receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow in creating one of the best skill-position groupings in the NFL. That’s not an overstatement.
- Josh Jacobs stats (2021): 1,220 total yards, 4.5 yards per touch, 9 TD
- Darren Waller stats (2021): 55 receptions, 665 yards, 2 TD, 59% catch rate
- Davante Adams stats (2021): 123 receptions, 1,553 yards, 11 TD, 73% catch rate
- Hunter Renfrow stats (2021): 103 receptions, 1,038 yards, 9 TD, 81% catch rate
Both Jacobs and Waller are coming off down 2021 campaigns. With more weapons around them, the expectation is that they’ll pick up where they left off in 2020. As for Carr, his connection with Renfrow is something special.
“I think Hunter and I have spent more time together than any receiver I’ve ever had on the field and off the field. Just the level of communication that we have, it’s very high-level. It’s one thing for me to go to him, or to a receiver, and be like, ‘Hey, I need you to do it just like this,” a glowing Carr said of his relationship with Renfrow, via Pro Football Talk.
Carr even recently “joked” that the Raiders shouldn’t acquire a certain star wide receiver because that money should go to Renfrow.
This sense of team-building that has defined Carr’s career dating back to his Fresno State days. Why else would Davante Adams want to leave a championship-contending Packers team for a Raiders’ organization that has had some of the least continuity in the NFL over the past several years?
These relationships are great. But they don’t do much if they don’t translate to on-field success. Derek Carr has what he needs to elevate the Raiders in a division with elite talent vying for a title.
Related: Updated NFL power rankings
Building up a defense to help Derek Carr
The Raiders’ hiring of former New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was an absolute coup for this organization. He’ll also have a lot more to work with than Vegas’ past two coordinators in that of Gus Bradley and Paul Guenther.
The addition of Chandler Jones was immeasurable for the Raiders. He’s recorded the most sacks in the NFL (101.5) since the start of the 2013 season. Teaming him up with Pro Bowler Maxx Crosby is going to give Vegas one of the best pass-rush tandems in the entire NFL.
Even if the Raiders’ defense is league average next season, we fully expect Mr. Carr to hold up his end of the bargain. He’s done on that on a consistent basis throughout his career.
Derek Carr career stats
As you can see, Carr threw a career-high 14 interceptions a season ago. He also put up career-highs in completions, attempts and passing yards. In short, the Raiders were too dependent on the three-time Pro Bowler due to a less-than average defense and some struggles in the run game.
Despite this, Carr was able to overcome some major team-wide off-field drama (more on that later) and lead the Raiders to just their second playoff appearance of his tenure.
Projecting Derek Carr’s 2022 stats
Assuming Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs return to 2020 form, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that Carr can’t put up a career-best performance. He has dynamic skill-position players and a new head coach in Josh McDaniels who has done wonders with quarterbacks in the past. Just look at what Mac Jones did as a rookie for his former Patriots squad a season ago.
- Mac Jones stats (2021): 68% completion, 3,801 yards, 22 TD, 13 INT, 92.5 rating
Astonishingly, those are similar numbers to what we saw from Carr with the Raiders a season ago. This tells us a lot about McDaniels as an innovative offensive mind. For his part, McDaniels envisions a great relationship with Carr moving forward.
“He certainly did a good job this year leading this offense,” Josh McDaniels told reporters in his intro presser. “We have the capacity and capability of winning here with Derek at quarterback. We know that.”
Carr’s performance in a do-or-die Week 18 game against the Los Angeles Chargers was a prime example of the quarterback leading his offense. He threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns while leading Vegas on two overtime scoring drives to come away with the win.
For many, it has not been as much about Carr’s inability to step up as it’s been about the Raiders’ organization-wide struggles during his career.
- Projected Derek Carr stats for 2022: 70% completion, 5,050 yards, 31 TD, 13 INT
Derek Carr as a Las Vegas Raiders team leader
Under normal circumstances the 2021 season would have been trying for Carr and the Raiders. COVID-19 impacted teams throughout the NFL for a second consecutive season. Back in 2020, their inaugural season in Vegas, the Raiders didn’t even have fans in attendance due to the pandemic.
Things flew even further out of control in Sin City during the 2021 season. That included Jon Gruden having to resign in disgrace after emails showing him to be homophobic emerged. Carr touched on his oftentimes volatile relationship with Gruden after the head coach had to resign five games into the season.
“It’s hard because I love the man so much. I have family members that have done things. I think more than anything coach needs people to love him. But at the same time what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong,” the quarterback said following Gruden’s resignation. “I love the man — but hate the sin. If we started opening up everyone’s private emails and texts, people would start sweating a little bit. But maybe that’s what they should do for all coaches, GMs and owners from now on. You have to open up everything, see what happens.”
We can argue about Carr’s take until we’re blue in the face. But one thing is certain. Wouldn’t you want someone like the quarterback in your corner through the darkest parts of your life?
A few short weeks later, the Raiders were also in the news for all the wrong reasons. Back on November 2 of 2021, former first-round pick Henry Ruggs was involved in a car accident off the Vegas strip. He was almost immediately arrested for a DUI resulting in death and released by the Raiders the same day.
Ruggs’ incident shocked the NFL world. And while the focus should be on the young woman who lost her life, it definitely had an impact within the Raiders’ locker room and on the field. Carr spoke to his relationship and that dynamic following news of the tragedy breaking.
“I will always be here for him. That won’t change. I’ll prove that over the course of time to him. Not to anybody else,” Carr told reporters. “He needs people to love him right now. He’s probably feeling a certain type of way about himself right now. He needs to be loved. If no one else will do it, I’ll do it.”
Again, there’s a team leader aspect to all of this. Ruggs made a life-altering decision to drive drunk. He killed an innocent young woman in the process. He’ll have to live with that for the rest of his life.
Carr isn’t diminishing the tragedy of a young woman losing her life. He’s showing unceasing emotional support for a man that he’s gone to battle with and built a relationship with throughout the years. Again, that’s leadership.
A certain type of confidence for Derek Carr heading into 2022 and the future
Among those we spoke to close to Carr and the Raiders, there’s a sense that he’s at a much happier place heading into the 2022 season. He has a best bud in Davante Adams joining the team. The new coaching staff brings a winning culture over from New England.
For Carr, this has not always been the case. His career has been defined by highs and lows, both from an individual and team-wide perspective.
“When you look at the highs and lows of Derek Carr’s career, you back to 2016 when he almost had an MVP season, breaks his leg when the Raiders are getting into the postseason for the first time in a long time,” Scott Gulbransen of 98.5 The Fan tells Sportsnaut. “That was sort of the apex. Then, you saw him struggle throughout the next few years with different coaches, different general managers…constant roster change if you will.”
A new front office and coaching staff isn’t necessarily the definition of continuity. Rather, it’s who the Raiders brought in to call the shots that changes the dynamics in a big way here. McDaniels and Ziegler would not have left their long-time job with six-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick if they were not sold on the Raiders.
They would not have signed Carr to the aforementioned extension if they were not sold on him. The Raiders certainly wouldn’t have exhausted a first and second-round pick on Mr. Adams if Carr was going to be a mere stopgap for the organization.
The pressure is now clearly on Carr, entering his age-31 season, to prove the skeptics wrong and lead these Raiders deep into the playoffs. Moving into the future, that’s what will define his legacy to fans of the Silver and Black more than working under regimes who have now be swept into the ash heap of history.