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Evaluating the important decision Las Vegas Raiders face with Derek Carr

Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders have a critical decision to make that may be connected to Derek Carr’s future before February 15, which is the date that locks him into a fully guaranteed contract for the 2023 season and $7.5 million for 2024.

On Monday, head coach Josh McDaniels answered a question from Hondo Carpenter of SI.com in a way that suggested the Raiders may not start Carr for the final two weeks of the season.

“I think there’s a lot of things that are going to go in that bucket once we kind of sort through [things] after tonight…,” McDaniels said. “I think there’s a lot of things that you start to talk about relative to taking care of the people that are dealing with things like that, injuries or contracts whathaveyou. I think you got to consider all that stuff.”

Related: Las Vegas Raiders QB options in 2023

In translation, the Raiders may sit players with nagging injuries, and they’ll consider stipulations in contracts. As Carpenter pointed out, if Carr suffers an injury in the final two weeks of the season, he would lock in those guarantees for 2023 and 2024 before February 15.

Why would the Raiders bench Derek Carr?

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

If the Raiders bench Carr, it indicates that he may have an injury that’s not worth the risk of playing through with the playoffs realistically out of reach, or the team would like to keep him healthy to preserve his trade value. After all, it only takes one play to tear up a knee, ankle or another part of the body.

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With that said, Vegas can sit Carr and publicly point to an injury as the reason for its decision. The 31-year-old signal-caller has appeared on the injury report with a back issue this season. For what it’s worth, Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Carr’s back injury had “been more troublesome than thought” at the beginning of November.

Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room. Carr hasn’t played at a high level for over a month now. Over the last four weeks, his passer rating has dipped below 90 and his completion rate has dropped below 56 percent. Every day you look up, another statistic illustrates how much he’s struggled through December:

QB RatingCompletion RateTD-INTPFFPass DVOA
Derek Carr (Week 13-16)66.853.4%6-758.1-28.1%
Derek Carr stats via Pro Football Reference, PFF and Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz

Of course, as McDaniels said, a poor passing game isn’t all on “one person” (the quarterback), but he acknowledged that the Raiders’ aerial attack struggled even in the team’s victories:

“For us to be able to win at this time of the year and be productive offensively, you have to throw the ball better than what we’ve thrown at times here in the last month and a half. We’ve been able to win some in spite of that.”

Las Veegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels on QB situation

Related: Derek Carr plummets in NFL QB rankings

With Carr’s numbers on the decline at this point in the season, he could play his way out of Vegas into some trade scenarios if he hasn’t done so already. If the Raiders choose to shut him down, his lasting impression won’t look good as the team mulls over a decision to keep him on the books with a 2023 cap hit that’s close to $35 million.

In addition to Carr’s performances, the Raiders have likely taken a peek at potential quarterback options in the draft and free agency. Are they better off with a cheaper bridge signal-caller and a rookie for the short and long term? McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler must answer that question within the next seven weeks.

Why Derek Carr may walk away from the NFL

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On the other side of the coin, Carr can also make a decision that impacts the Raiders’ future. While many people dismiss this possibility, he may choose to walk away from the league on his own account. In that scenario, the team could recoup money from his deal, but obviously, it wouldn’t fetch any draft capital or players in return for him.

Yes, Carr has a no-trade clause that gives him veto power, but he also has a life outside of football that may become his focus if McDaniels and Ziegler let him know they’re headed in another direction at his position.

Related: Winners, losers from Las Vegas Raiders’ heartbreaking loss

After Carr signed an extension this past offseason, he talked about his options if Vegas didn’t offer a new deal, which involved playing golf as opposed to suiting up for another team.

“I’ve only wanted to be a Raider,” Carr said. “I told my agent, ‘I’m either going to be a Raider or I’m going to be playing golf. I don’t want to play anywhere else.’ … I was dead serious when I said that. I had one year left on my contract. If it was one year, it was going to be one year. Thankfully, it’ll be four more.”

Derek Carr after signing his contract extension

Sometimes, players say things like this to rally the fanbase once they lock in a new deal, but Carr publicly shared this thought on multiple occasions, suggesting he would rather move on from the NFL than wear another team’s jersey.

“I’d probably quit football if I had to play for somebody else,” Carr said. “I am a Raider for my entire life. I’m going to root for one team for the rest of my life — it’s the Raiders. So, I just feel that so strong in my heart I don’t need a perfect situation … to make things right.”

Derek Carr on his NFL future if he isn’t playing for the Las Vegas Raiders (June 2021)

Other than playing golf, Carr, who’s deeply into his faith, may decide to put more time into his ministry through the Altar Conference, which would be a higher calling for him.

For one, Carr has dealt with instability throughout his career with the Raiders, playing for four different head-coaching regimes, which includes two interim head coaches. Will he want to go through more changes with an entirely new roster and learn another system? If he goes elsewhere, the quarterback would have to deal with wholesale change that may involve moving his family to another location, which adds another layer of difficulty in a string of career adjustments.

Also, keep in mind that Carr credited the late Kobe Bryant for shaping his career, and the NBA great played for one pro team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

If the Raiders ramp up trade talks for Carr, his competitive nature may kick in and lead him to another situation on the hunt for playoff wins and a Super Bowl title. However, we shouldn’t take his desire to play for one team lightly. If the Raiders let him know that they plan to sit him, it gives the ninth-year veteran plenty of time to think about what he wants going forward and that may lead him on another pathway away from football.

Both the Raiders and Carr will have a lot to think about after a disappointing 2022 campaign, though the team can knock over the first domino with a decision to insert Jarrett Stidham over Carr on New Year’s Day against the San Francisco 49ers.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.

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