Derek Carr, named the Oakland Raiders' starting quarterback six days before the team's Week 1 clash with the New York Jets, enters the first game of his NFL career carrying the weight of two families on his shoulders.
The first family is obvious. Derek Carr is the brother of former NFL quarterback David Carr, widely recognized as one of the biggest quarterback busts of the 21st century. As the first pick in the 2002 NFL draft by the expansion Houston Texans, David Carr was supposed to provide the one thing every franchise—expansion or otherwise—needs: a franchise quarterback.
Instead, the Carr name became synonymous with NFL failure.
Turned gun shy after taking beatings that should have resulted in a call to children and youth services, David Carr devolved into a checkdown artist and leader of a constantly sputtering offense. The Texans were never better than the 15th-best offense in football during Carr's tenure, per Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, ranking outside the top 20 in four of his five seasons at the helm.
Houston paid more than $20 million for a quarterback who never threw more than 16 touchdowns in a season and accumulated more turnovers than scores.
Derek is not David. He was not the first overall pick—he wasn't even a first-round draft choice. Taken No. 36 overall, he comes with neither the heavy burden of a massive contract nor the statistical likelihood of superstardom. As Grantland's Bill Barnwell wrote, "the second round seems to produce about one superstar quarterback and nine busts each decade."
David and Derek are incomparable. Except that everything about both of their careers invites comparison.
Houston moved on from David Carr before the 2007 season. His replacement? Matt Schaub, the man who Derek Carr beat out for the Raiders' starting gig. The synergy—David's NFL exit, Derek's NFL arrival, the possible end to Schaub's career facilitated by the family that helped start it—is almost too eerie to comprehend.
The other family is much more difficult to describe. One might say it's the most dysfunctional family in professional sports, a family on the verge of packing their bags and leaving—this time probably for good.
The Raiders have been a franchise that could nicely be described as "hot garbage" for more than a decade now. Their last winning season came during their 2002 Super Bowl run, and they've compiled a 49-111 record since. They've spent these last 11 seasons hopping from one rebuilding plan to the next, emphasizing rebuilding through the draft before loading up on past-their-prime veterans when seats started warming.
Carr joins an organization in the midst of its latest veteran splurging. General manager Reggie McKenzie, no doubt fearing for his job security, went out and dropped buckets of money on veterans Austin Howard, Justin Tuck and Schaub to make progress in a strong AFC West.
As all this is going on, the Raiders' lease on O.co Coliseum is due to run out at the end of this season. For the last decade, O.co Coliseum has been a stadium befitting of the franchise it hosts. The building has been flooded with sewage leaks—multiple sewage leaks—and is a relic in a time where state-of-the-art facilities are cropping up across the league.
Glen Perkins @glenperkins
Visitor dugout in Oakland. Probably 4" of standing water/potential sewage. http://t.co/kAZGQx0cfr2013-9-21 18:45:12
The Raiders, unwilling to extend their lease in Oakland, have reportedly begun searching elsewhere. San Antonio and Los Angeles have both cropped up as potential suitors, undoubtedly causing the Bay Area to recoil with horror.
While the Raiders previously moved to Los Angeles from 1982-1994, this time would be different. NFL teams, now billion-dollar enterprises by their sheer existence, do not relocate. The last franchise to successfully move was the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) in 1997. Relocation fees, millions of dollars worth of subsidies granted by cities to keep their teams and the league's excellent revenue-sharing program eliminate the incentive to move.
If the Raiders leave, they're gone. This time for good.
People expect Derek Carr to fail in the NFL because his brother did. It's an inescapable comparison, one not made any better by the fact they're so similar. David went to Fresno State; so did Derek. David became one of the nation's best quarterbacks as a senior; same for Derek. David stands 6'3"; you'll never guess how tall his brother is. Both came in praised for their accuracy but with questions about their top-end arm strength.
"Physically, we're the same build," Derek Carr told reporters in April. "He's probably eight more pounds. We run the same. We throw a little different, but we have the same mannerisms. At the same time, we're different. Our personalities are different. I'm a little more open. He keeps to himself. We're different in a lot of ways."
Teams and fans don't see personality on game tape. What they see is a player who looks remarkably similar and has the same last name as someone who tried and failed at this franchise quarterback thing.
"His brother (David) didn’t succeed, and there is a perception out there among football people that there could be common traits," ESPN analyst and former NFL executive Bill Polian told Bleacher Report's Jason Cole before May's draft. "It’s a fact: His brother did not succeed. You try to push that away and judge this man on his own merits, which are very good. But that doesn’t mean you completely forget the other part."
Fair or not—and it's most certainly the latter—the only way for Derek Carr to escape David's shadow is to prove his worth on the field.
People expect Derek Carr to fail in Oakland because everyone has. JaMarcus Russell did, Terrelle Pryor did, Andrew Walter did. Since the Super Bowl run, the Raiders' quarterback situation has been a laughable clown car of over-the-hill veterans and overwhelmed youngsters. Kyle Boller started a game for this franchise in 2011! The only thing that's keeping Oakland from having a reputation as the place quarterbacks go to die is the existence of a little blue-collar city named Cleveland, Ohio.
Fair or not—and it's most certainly the latter—Carr will have the ghosts of a decade's worth of quarterback futility chasing him Sunday alongside Jets pass-rushers.
Carr alone obviously cannot change everything. No matter how many touchdowns he throws, his brother will still be a bust. No matter how many behinds he puts in seats, Mark Davis will move his billion-dollar enterprise to whatever city he sees fit. And no person alive will ever forget the Russell era. (Because why would you?)
But Carr has the opportunity to change perception about his family and his franchise.
If he's good, maybe folks begin analyzing David's career in a different light. Maybe instead of an indictment on Derek's future, his similarities to his brother later lead to retrospective pieces wondering if David could have been great if he wasn't put in the worst possible situation. Maybe evaluators will start judging players on their individual talent and stop automatically ascribing similar traits to those in their gene pool—realizing that just because Peyton Manning is God QB doesn't mean Eli will do the same. (OK, that probably won't happen.)
Maybe, at the very least, when you hear the name "Carr" you won't imagine a quarterback careening a franchise off a cliff.
If he's good, logic dictates, so too will the Raiders become. A franchise quarterback—hell, even a pretty good one—can do wonders for a franchise's reputation. Just ask the pre-Peyton Colts. One season of Carr might not be enough to keep the Raiders in Oakland, but the citizenry is much likelier to fight for a franchise spearheaded by a young star than, umm, whatever they've seen since 2002.
It's unfair to put any of this at Carr's feet. As an individual, he's merely a second-round pick trying to overcome decades' worth of empirical data that says he's much more likely to flame out than succeed while trying to prop up arguably the worst supporting cast in football.
No pressu—actually, pressure everywhere. Let's see how Carr handles it.
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