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Las Vegas Raiders quarterback situation is shaping up to be a must-watch battle at training camp

Las Vegas Raiders
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Barring a move into one of the top-five draft spots, the Las Vegas Raiders may take a patient approach with their next addition to the quarterback room, perhaps a second-round pick, which would set up a training camp battle for the starting job.

The Raiders haven’t experienced this level of uncertainty with their starting quarterback in quite some time.

Yes, we read about Derek Carr trade rumors during Jon Gruden’s second tenure with the team, but that’s all it turned out to be—just chatter.

In fact, Carr was the last Raiders quarterback to earn the starting job with his offseason performances. As a rookie, he had an impressive showing through the preseason, and then-head coach Dennis Allen named him the starter over two-time Pro Bowler Matt Schaub in 2014. 

The Raiders need to get into the spirit of competition with their quarterbacks again. You can view that perspective in a couple of different ways, both positively and negatively.

On one hand, a quarterback competition means the team doesn’t have a surefire starter, which leads to question marks about the entire offense. 

On the flip side, a legitimate quarterback competition can get the best out of the contenders. The club won’t hand anyone a position on the depth chart, and coaches can make unbiased decisions about the best signal-caller to lead the offense. 

Related: Where do the Las Vegas Raiders land in Sportsnaut’s NFL Power Rankings?

The incumbent contender: Aidan O’Connell

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Early in the week, head coach Antonio Pierce spoke highly of Aidan O’Connell and his standing with the team, but he also talked about the need for competition.

“At the end of the day, listen, Aidan O’Connell played his ass off. He did a helluva job for us,” Pierce said to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche (starts at 20:06). “You’re talking about a kid that has the mental toughness to play in the National Football League. Whatever happens and whatever we do it has to go through Aidan O’Connell. Being honest with you because he’s earned that right.

“Like anybody else it’s all about competition. And if we can make that room the most competitive room on our team, the quarterback room, we’ll be a good football team.”

Related: Las Vegas Raiders want Aidan O’Connell to compete for starting QB job in 2024

Amid coaching staff changes and with a first-time offensive play-caller, O’Connell navigated an unstable situation better than most rookies, including first-round draft picks. 

As a fourth-rounder out of Purdue, one can make the case that O’Connell exceeded expectations, throwing for 2,218 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, finishing his last four outings with eight touchdown passes without a turnover.

So yes, regardless of what the Raiders do at quarterback, O’Connell has played his way into a summer position battle, and he’s been prepared to compete all along.

With that said, be careful about calling him the front-runner for the position. 

He’s going to learn a new offense and compete against a more experienced signal-caller in Gardner Minshew whom the team signed to a two-year, $25 million contract that includes $15 million in guarantees, which is a salary that aligns with most low-end starters or high-level backup players at the position. 

The incoming contender: Gardner Minshew

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Gardner Minshew has teetered between a starter and a backup through five pro seasons, starting in 37 out of 49 contests. He has a decent track record when he starts more than half of the games in a season though.

Last season, as a fill-in starter for Anthony Richardson, Minshew nearly led the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs but fell short against the Houston Texans in Week 18.

Minshew isn’t always the most technically sound quarterback, and he can be frenetic in the pocket at times, but the Raiders may have been drawn to his ability to make plays in less-than-ideal situations. He also has some functional mobility with a touch of swagger that Pierce likes in his players.

Keep in mind that Minshew posted decent numbers for a couple of basement-dwelling Jacksonville Jaguars teams, one of which finished 1-15. Yet he threw for 37 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions in 23 games (20 starts) with the club. 

At 3-5, Indianapolis didn’t show up in many midseason playoff scenarios with Richardson sidelined for the season and running back Jonathan Taylor battling injuries, but Minshew helped lead the Colts to six wins in their last nine games for a shot at the AFC South title.

A former sixth-round pick from the 2019 draft, Minshew has faced some career adversity and mostly handled it well, which is why you shouldn’t count him out of a quarterback competition. He’s a viable contender for the job. 

Related: See where Gardner Minshew lands in Sportsnaut’s NFL QB Rankings

Las Vegas Raiders mystery contender: A rookie QB?

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Here’s where the excitement comes into the discussion. Most assume that the Raiders will draft a quarterback, but when will it happen?

Again, general manager Tom Telesco may exercise some patience with that decision.

Despite the sizzling rumors about the possibility that the Washington Commanders and New England Patriots trade back, the Raiders aren’t in the best spot to make a deal with those teams.

The Minnesota Vikings can provide a better immediate return with their two first-round picks (Nos. 11 and 23), and their top 2024 pick is two slots higher than the Raiders’ first selection.

Unless the Raiders really have googly eyes for J.J. McCarthy, they’re more likely to take a quarterback at 13 or 44 rather than trade up for one. 

Take Pierce’s comments about McCarthy with a grain of salt, we’re in the thick of draft smokescreen season.

Can the fifth or sixth quarterback to come off the draft board earn the starting job in an open competition? Sure. And that is what makes the Raiders’ next choice at quarterback an intriguing yet pivotal decision.

Even if the Raiders wait until the second round to take a signal-caller, just remember Carr’s pathway to the starting job started as the No. 36 overall pick out of Fresno State. 

In an open quarterback competition, a team may not have the answer at the beginning of training camp, but someone can make it crystal clear by the end of the preseason.

Regardless of who the Raiders draft at quarterback, they must let the competition settle everything on the grass, which is all you can ask for in this situation.

While some people will take a side and root for a specific player to win the offseason battle, the Raiders just need the best quarterback for the job. 

With the foundation of this defense in place and the addition of defensive tackle Christian Wilkins on one side of the ball, the Raiders offense may be good enough to push for a playoff spot with O’Connell, Minshew or an impressive rookie who isn’t one of the top-tier quarterback prospects in this year’s class.

If the best quarterback in the room isn’t good enough to get this team off to a good start, in-season development could be the ultimate key to getting the Raiders out of quarterback purgatory.

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

Related: 2024 NFL mock draft: Broncos, Vikings get QBs, projecting J.J. McCarthy’s landing spot

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