With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Oakland Raiders:
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Derek Carr: $25 million
Connor Cook: $784,972.00
Pending free agents: EJ Manuel
Key stat: Carr, who joined the Raiders as a second-round draft pick out of Fresno State in 2014, will be playing for his fourth playcaller in Jon Gruden when the curtain lifts on the 2018 season. From Greg Olson to Bill Musgrave to Todd Downing to Gruden (Olson will be back as offensive coordinator, though Gruden will call the plays), that’s a lot to digest in a relatively short amount of time. Gruden himself has said that a lack of continuity has cost the franchise since he was traded to Tampa Bay in 2002.
Money matters: Carr’s five-year, $125 million contract extension, with $70.2 million guaranteed, was an NFL record when he signed it last June. Matthew Stafford got a five-year, $135 million deal ($92 million guaranteed) two months later, and then came Jimmy Garoppolo and his five-year, $137.5 million deal last month ($74.1 million guaranteed, including injury guarantees). Indeed, Carr’s deal seems a relative bargain in today’s marketplace, and he is locked up until he turns 30 years old. So long as Gruden gets Carr going as he was in 2016, when he finished tied for third in NFL MVP voting, it seems a wise investment.
Big picture: In an alternate universe, Matt Barkley is under center for the Raiders. Or did you forget that Oakland targeted him in the 2013 draft before the Eagles traded in front of the Raiders to get the USC product? Carr's falling into Oakland’s lap with the fourth pick of the second round a year later was just as fortuitous for the Raiders, who had been searching for a franchise QB since Rich Gannon took his last snap in 2004. In fact, before drafting Carr, Oakland’s 2014 offseason wish list went like this: 1) Matt Schaub, 2) Mark Sanchez 3) Michael Vick. Between Gannon’s exit and Carr’s arrival 10 years later, 15 players started at QB for Oakland. Only one, Jason Campbell, had a winning record (11-7). Carr is 28-34 after an 0-10 start and missing a game in each of the past two seasons due to injury, and his Total QBR dropped from 54.6 in 2016 to 47.2 last season. Was the JaMarcus Russell Error, er, Era really already a decade ago?
The game plan: This is Carr’s team, make no mistake about it, and Gruden is back in Oakland if for no other reason than to “fix” a backfiring Carr, who has been named to three straight Pro Bowls. But with Carr having suffered a broken right pinkie finger, a fractured right fibula and three fractures in his back in less than a calendar year, the Raiders would be wise to shore up the backup QB position. Cook, who was one of Gruden’s favorite pupils on his QB Camp show on ESPN, has something that Carr does not: a postseason start, but he could not beat Manuel last year, and Manuel is a free agent. Two more names to chew on, should the Raiders want to not only strengthen the backup spot but also break the internet, are Johnny Manziel and Colin Kaepernick. Simmer down. Neither seems likely, but unless Cook takes a massive step forward this offseason, the backup gig will have taken a step back. And Carr needs to be pushed and stay healthy.