The Oakland Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2002. One big reason for that painful truth has been the team’s inability to find a franchise quarterback since the retirement of Rich Gannon.
No matter how improved the defense or offensive line is in 2014, the play of the team's starting quarterback is going to dictate how the Raiders perform. If the Raiders get bad play from their starting quarterback, they may be looking at their 12th consecutive losing season and significant organizational changes next offseason.
If the coaches feel as though rookie second-round pick Derek Carr gives them the best chance to win, it would be reasonable to assume he would start over veteran Matt Schaub. However, just because Carr is already getting rave reviews, that doesn’t mean Schaub has looked bad.
Carr is impressing the team so far, but there is also a lot more to playing the position than what goes on during organized team activities. It’s a great thing that Carr is as good as advertised from a mental standpoint, but beyond that his performance thus far means very little, a notion supported by NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah:
Schaub will still have to falter first in order for Carr's solid showing so far to mean anything in 2014. If both players are strong or both players are weak, Schaub will get the nod. The only scenario where Carr starts early on in 2014 is one in which Schaub plays poorly in training camp.
This is why ESPN’s Jim Trotter said it would take something “catastrophic” for Carr to start in 2014. Schaub would have to falter for Carr to get his shot, even if Carr is presumably ready before then.
Per NFL Media’s Albert Breer, there is an internal belief that Carr will push Schaub for the starting job. While it may seem like it, this isn’t necessarily new information.
It would be more surprising if a second-round draft pick didn’t push a veteran who was coming off the worst year of his career and playing on what is—for all intents and purposes—a one-year deal. According to Spotrac.com, Schaub will make $8 million in 2013, and every dollar of it is guaranteed in 2014. In 2015, the Raiders will owe Schaub nothing if he is released, but they can keep him around for $5.5 million.
The monetary commitment to Schaub means that he’ll get every opportunity to earn the starting job in 2014, but there is little doubt that Carr represents the future under center. Unlike the situation with Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson in Seattle a couple of years ago, the Seahawks never committed to Flynn as their starter beyond the money they gave him, but the Raiders have said multiple times that Schaub is going to start.
As noted by Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News, just hours after acquiring Schaub from the Texans in March, head coach Dennis Allen quickly announced that Schaub would be his starter, even though he also acknowledged the Raiders could draft a quarterback early in the draft.
“It’s pretty obvious that we feel good about Matt Schaub as our starting quarterback,” Allen said a few days later, via Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. “We have a quarterback now that’s on par with the quarterbacks in this division.”
Even though Breer also reported that Carr has convinced the Raiders that he won’t need a redshirt season, the team’s comments on Schaub suggest they have faith that he can turn things around. If this happens, Carr may get his redshirt year even if he doesn’t need it.
If the Raiders were completely sold on Schaub, they don’t draft Carr. If the Raiders were very uncomfortable with Schaub, they move up a couple spots to make sure they get Carr. If the Raiders thought Carr was a Week 1 starter, they move up in the draft to get him.
The truth is almost somewhere in between, but it’s still Schaub’s job to lose at this point. Their performance in August—not June—is going to determine what the Raiders do at the position and how long of a leash Schaub gets.
“There’s a ton of things that aren’t set,” Allen said Tuesday, via Corkran. “Everything’s written in pencil right now. We’re going to continue to look, not only at (running back Darren McFadden returning kicks), but a lot of other areas where guys can help our team win.”
That would presumably include quarterback.
Per Breer, the Raiders are now thinking about turning to Carr sooner rather than later. Ultimately, the Raiders will want to do everything they possibly can to make sure Carr is successful. Turning to him too early or too late could be disastrous for a regime needing every win they can get.
The Raiders had planned to start Flynn last year until Terrelle Pryor won the job during the preseason. Oakland’s brass has been willing to admit their mistakes in the past in order to go with the player that gives them the best chance to win, but the scenario is much different in 2014 than it was a season ago.
Pryor had to look good and Flynn had to look bad last year. Had Flynn performed just a little better, chances are the Raiders would have stuck with their original plan to start him, but he would have been on a short leash. The gap in performance dictates how long that leash is.
Even if Carr dazzles in training camp, Schaub will also have to look bad in order for the former to earn the starting job Week 1. Like last year, it will have to be so clear that the Raiders can’t make any other choice.
The more realistic scenario is that Carr loosens Schaub’s grip on the job. Schaub’s leash could be as short as four weeks if the Raiders wanted to push the timetable up on Carr.
The schedule allows for a natural four-week trial period on Schaub along with a two-week preparation period for the rookie. That would be the ideal time to make a change if the Raiders wanted to do so.
The Raiders play two of their first four games on the road on the East Coast and a home game in London prior to their Week 5 bye week. If the Raiders wanted to set a rookie up for failure, that’s pretty much how you would draw it up.
After the first four weeks, the Raiders should have a pretty good feel for what kind of a season they are having and whether or not Schaub is performing up to standard. If he isn’t, the Raiders would have two weeks to prepare Carr to face San Diego’s weak secondary at home followed by another home game and a trip to Cleveland before the schedule gets even harder.
The Raiders have an extra-long preparation week in Week 13 coming off a Thursday night game, but they will play on the road in St. Louis. By this point in the season, the Raiders would know exactly what they have in Schaub, and it would still give the Raiders five games to evaluate Carr.
Right now, fans can feel good that Carr is getting rave reviews, but they should also pump the brakes on him leapfrogging Schaub. At some point, Carr is going to get his shot, but the last thing the Raiders should do is accelerate that timeline when they may have a perfectly good signal-caller already in Schaub.