Las Vegas Raiders Should Commit to Marcus Mariota, Trade Derek Carr in 2021

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystFebruary 10, 2021

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 throws a pass in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)
Jeff Bottari/Associated Press

With four straight seasons at .500 or worse, the Las Vegas Raiders' approach isn't working. Fortunately, a seller's market is emerging around the league for quality quarterbacks, and the Raiders have a pair of enticing options in Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota

On Monday, Ben Standig, Joe Person and Zak Keefer of The Athletic cited multiple sources, including one general manager,  who said "the Raiders' preference is to move Marcus Mariota and keep Carr, unless someone makes them a ridiculous offer for Carr." However, Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last week that "several NFL insiders expect the Raiders to field calls from teams inquiring about Carr's availability."

That stance is understandable considering Carr has started all but two games for them over the past seven seasons. But to change the trajectory of their franchise, the Raiders should keep Mariota and trade Carr rather than the inverse.

Moving on from Carr wouldn't be an indictment of his talent. He's still an excellent starting option with three straight 4,000-yard seasons, and the 2020 campaign was arguably his finest yet. 

"I never know what Jon's gonna do," Jay Gruden, former Washington head coach and Gruden's brother, told The Athletic. "But I'd be shocked, really. The way that Derek played this year, I don't know why he’d want to get rid of him. But who knows, if there’s another guy out there that they really, really like, it is a business at the end of the day." 

The difference between Carr and Mariota isn't great enough to ixnay the possibility of moving on from the former this offseason.

As well as Carr has played in recent years, the Raiders have been to the playoffs only once in his seven seasons. They could save nearly $20 million in salary-cap space by trading Carr this offseason, per Over the Cap, and he should net a sizable return.

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

By Carr's own admission, the team put forth an unacceptable effort when it fell short of the postseason in a year where the league expanded the playoff format: 

"This is a team game. It doesn't matter what one side of the ball did and what one side of the ball didn’t. As a team, we did not accomplish anything close to what we wanted to accomplish, so it's not good enough. ...

"Not making the playoffs just can't be accepted."

The quarterback receives the lion's share of credit when a team wins and bears the brunt of disappointment when it doesn't. It's the most high-profile job in professional sports. By not making any changes of consequence, the Raiders could be relegating themselves to mediocrity moving forward.

Carr sat on the fringe of the top 10 quarterbacks in passing yardage, passing touchdowns, QBR and quarterback rating this past season. While that caliber of signal-caller would be a welcome addition to some downtrodden franchises, the Raiders are looking to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. The Los Angeles Chargers are also a team to reckon with after Justin Herbert's explosive rookie campaign. 

David Becker/Associated Press

Mariota, the 2015 second overall pick, could experience a career revival much like Ryan Tannehill did in his stead. It's a risk, but the potential return is well worth the exposure the team might endure. The 27-year-old is entering his second year in a system that can expand thanks to his athleticism.

In his lone appearance last season, Mariota extended plays and carried the Raiders offense with a team-leading 88 rushing yards. If not for poor late-game decisions by Gruden, Las Vegas could have emerged victorious against the Chargers. 

An anonymous general manager told The Athletic that Carr should be worth more in a trade than Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Multiple teams—the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Washington Football Team, Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Coltsshould show interest in him if the Raiders will listen to offers.

The Panthers offered the eighth overall pick, a fifth-round pick and Teddy Bridgewater in an attempt to pry Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. New England, Washington, Chicago and Indianapolis own the 15th, 19th, 20th and 21st overall selections, respectively. 

A first-round pick alone probably won't get a deal done. However, the value of that pick shouldn't be overlooked. The Raiders could have at least three selections in the top 50 to address multiple areas, including quarterback. 

Mariota would step into a starting role, but the organization could hedge its bets by drafting a quarterback with one of those picks. If Mariota doesn't evolve as hoped, the next signal-caller would already be in the pipeline. 

The Raiders aren't in a great place financially, either. The 2021 salary cap is expected to come in around $180-181 million, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, which means Las Vegas is projected to be roughly $18-19 million over the cap. The Raiders would single-handedly fix their cap issues with a Carr trade, while trading Mariota would save them only $11.35 million.

Steve Marcus/Associated Press

Continuity often facilitates success, and Carr and the Raiders have showed incremental improvement over the last three seasons. But Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just obliterated the idea of continuity being a vital component to a winning season. An organization can come together in short order after making impactful offseason changes.

The Raiders won't be bringing in Brady this offseason, but complacency shouldn't be an option. 

The desperation of quarterback-needy teams should drive up Carr's price in a potential bidding war. The Raiders already have an adequate replacement on the roster. Something needs to give.

By trading Carr and moving on to Mariota, the Raiders would take the drastic step they'd need not to be a middling franchise anymore. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.