Derek Carr was never the problem with the Raiders, but in his last act as a member of the organization, he'll need to solve what's wrong with it. After a loss to the Steelers left Las Vegas with less than a 1% chance of making it to the postseason, coach Josh McDaniels & Co. decided to cut bait on the season and bench their longtime quarterback, signalling that they expect to move on from him in the offseason.
In doing so, the Raiders are protecting themselves from being stuck with Carr in 2023. As I wrote about back in June, the three-year, $121.5 million "extension" Carr signed during the spring was really a totally different deal. The team gave him $5.1 million in new money and a no-trade clause.
In return, the Raiders retained the right to keep Carr on a three-year, $116 million deal starting in 2023, one that didn't produce any real guarantees until after the 2022 season ended. In other words, they gave themselves a window to move on from him if this season didn't go as planned. Carr's new contract does have injury guarantees, so by benching him for the season-ending games against the 49ers and Chiefs, the franchise is ensuring he doesn't get hurt.
It has been an uneven season for the 6-9 Raiders, who have had 12 of their games decided by seven points or fewer. Unsurprisingly, as I wrote about in August, they were unlikely to win as many of those close games again. A team on the cusp of contention would be smart to trade first- and second-round picks for Davante Adams, as the Raiders did in February. Again, as I wrote at the time of that deal, the star receiver wasn't likely to offset Vegas' issues elsewhere on the roster and give it a chance of competing in the AFC West.
Carr threw three interceptions in the Steelers loss and has nine picks over his past five games, but on the whole he has been his usual above-average self this season. He ranks 13th in QBR after ranking 14th in 2021, 11th in 2020 and 10th in 2019. His interception rate, a career-high 2.8%, is likely to regress back toward the mean after the season. His completion percentage and yards per attempt dropped way below his averages under former coach Jon Gruden between 2018 and 2021, but he is averaging more yards per completion this season.
The 31-year-old is one of the few remaining members in the quarterback middle class, a group that seems less valuable than it ever has. Every team wants a Patrick Mahomes or a Josh Allen, but there are only a few of them on the planet, and they're not available via trade. With the top of the market growing more and more expensive, meanwhile, quarterbacks on rookie deals have become even more valuable for teams looking to spend money throughout their roster.
Carr, a solid quarterback on a deal just below the top of the market, costs more like the stars and plays more like the rookies. He has a higher floor than most other passers, but that's not an exciting combination. Alongside quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill, his stability seems tantalizing to some teams and uninteresting to others.
Now, with the Raiders struggling through a frustrating season and missing an entire core of talent because of the mistakes made in the Gruden era (and the Adams trade), they will bring Carr to the trade market and hope they land something in return. Carr has a no-trade clause, which will allow him to maintain plenty of leverage as the Raiders negotiate, but both sides have something to gain. He will make more on the deal he has negotiated than he would on the open market. Las Vegas would love to get some draft capital to replenish its roster and cap space to go after Carr's replacement.
Let's run through what the Carr benching means for the rest of the league. There are organizations that will pursue Carr and teams that will want other teams to go after Carr so they can get the quarterback they really want. There are also passers who suddenly have a lot more leverage than they did yesterday. We'll start with Carr himself.