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With Derek Carr Benched, Where Do the Raiders Go from Here?

Brad Gagnon@@Brad_GagnonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 29, 2022

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24: Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks on during the national football league game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 24, 2022 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Smack dab in the midst of his prime and with elite talent at his disposal at wide receiver, left tackle and running back, Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had a 2022 season to forget. In fact, it was his worst since he was a rookie in 2014.

Carr's abysmal 2022 campaign now appears to be over. The Raiders announced Wednesday that they're benching him for far-from-promising backup Jarrett Stidham.

According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the Raiders are benching Carr in part to keep him healthy so they can explore all of their options this offseason. His $32.9 million salary for 2023 and $7.5 million of his 2024 salary would be fully guaranteed if he were to be injured at the conclusion of this season.

"There's a lot of evaluating that's going to take place here once the season's over in terms of how we make the most progress, what makes the most sense for everybody and how we move forward," first-year Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said Wednesday.

That could mean a trade is on the table, even though Carr has a no-trade clause in his contract. An outright release might be within the realm of possibility as well.

Carr just signed a three-year, $121.5 million extension this past offseason, but he's performed so poorly this season that the Raiders must be cringing over his $34.9 million salary-cap hit for 2023. If they cut him this offseason before Feb. 15, they'd be left with a dead cap hit of only $5.6 million, per Spotrac.

In his first year with McDaniels, Carr leads the NFL with 14 interceptions. While quarterbacks sometimes need an adjustment period with a new coach, a new offense and a new No. 1 receiver, Carr had played with Davante Adams in college. That makes his downward trajectory even more concerning.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 24: Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders warms up prior to the start of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images)
Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

Carr has the third-worst qualified completion percentage (60.8) in the NFL and is tied for the eighth-lowest passer rating (86.3). In the month of December, he completed only 53.4 percent of his passes and posted a 66.8 rating as the Raiders' season crumbled.

That doesn't appear to be an aberration. The Raiders are 16-16 in Carr's last 32 starts. During that period, he ranks 20th out of 34 qualified quarterbacks with a passer rating of 90.5. Nobody has thrown more interceptions in that span, which is particularly troubling considering that Carr isn't exactly a gunslinger.

Do the Raiders really want to double down on Carr at this point? He's had some nice moments, but he's guided them to zero playoff victories in nine years and only two seasons above .500.

Think of what the Raiders could do with the savings they'd generate by parting with Carr. Impending free-agent quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Geno Smith rank among the top five in qualified passer rating this season. Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff ranks seventh in that metric and could become available as well. It's also possible Tom Brady might consider reuniting with McDaniels in Vegas. (According to UFC President Dana White, Brady nearly joined the Raiders instead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020).

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 15: Tom Brady #12 and Josh McDaniels offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots talk before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Only eight teams are currently projected to enter the 2023 offseason with more cap room than the Raiders, per Spotrac. They would climb further up that list with the lion's share of Carr's salary off the books. Throw in what they could get for Carr from potential trade partners like the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, and it would seem hard to justify sticking with the status quo.

They'll have some work to do elsewhere with running back Josh Jacobs, right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and safety Duron Harmon all slated to hit free agency, but none of them should be bank-breakers. They're also currently on track for a top-10 pick in April's draft.

Bryce Young might be a pipe dream for now, but they could be in play for C.J. Stroud, Will Levis or Anthony Richardson. Imagine any of those guys with cogs like Adams, Kolton Miller and whoever else the front office has splurged on with all of those savings? McDaniels would have one of the most intriguing and talented offenses in the league, even with a rookie under center and even if they lose the clearly disenchanted Jacobs.

There's no right answer as to how they should replace Carr. The Raiders would know what they're getting with a veteran, but they would be sacrificing elsewhere, even with the savings they earned from Carr's release. A rookie would require more patience, but the Raiders could better support him with their heaps of cap space.

The former approach likely means going all-in on the current core while Adams remains in his prime as one of the sport's top weapons. The latter could mean a rebuild sans Carr, Jacobs and even Adams, who could be one-and-done in Las Vegas considering that playing with Carr was a huge selling point for his move from Green Bay. Still, his hefty contract likely keeps him there for a while, and the Raiders likely don't want to tear down their entire roster with so many quality pieces in place for McDaniels.

Either way, keeping Carr seems like the wrong answer. Now that he's been demoted, it's doubtful anything can change that.

Logic supports the end of the Carr era in Las Vegas, and the Raiders seem to understand that. It's now a question of which route they take to replace him.