Why would the Las Vegas Raiders move on from Derek Carr?
The quarterback spent this season tugging the team to an improbable playoff appearance amid waves of organizational turmoil and tragedy. Carr morphed into the beating heart of the franchise while producing reels of largely positive tape.
Heroics noted, but the Raiders of today sit mired in transition. General manager Mike Mayock has been fired. Owner Mark Davis will hunt for his replacement, along with, presumably, a new head coach. Carr has openly pushed for Rich Bisaccia to return, but the interim leader is far from a shoo-in to land the job. Especially considering how Davis tractor beams toward starry big names -- the Jon Grudens and Jim Harbaughs of the world.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday that "Las Vegas and Carr have a mutual decision to make this offseason, and sources say the choice of the head coach will be a factor."
What if a new regime doesn't want to hand Carr -- who'll be in a contract year in 2022 -- the hefty extension many believe he deserves? Davis reigns over that verdict, too, but this is an owner who allegedly courted Tom Brady with Carr still planted under center.
It's hot-stove chatter for now -- a parlor game of the mind -- but where will Carr be taking snaps next season? Here's my list, beginning with the most sensible result:
Carr is set to make $19.8 million in the final year of his deal. Extension talks stay silent at least until Davis finishes this hiring cycle. How does the Raiders owner feel about Carr as his quarterback for another five years? Was he turned off by some of the passer's costly mistakes down the stretch, including a doomed final lob in Saturday's wild-card loss to the Bengals?
Carr isn't Aaron Rodgers. He's in that next tier of passers. Still, Carr is a solidifying force inside the locker room with the physical tools to roll as a top-10 signal-caller. He's a selling point to coaching candidates versus what's behind Door No. 2: Searching the vast wilderness for a better option. Unless you're angling to trade for a Russell Wilson-type figure, why the wandering eye?
Besides, Carr has talked repeatedly about his desire to remain a Raider for life. I don't see that changing unless he's vastly unhappy with the decision at head coach. Or maybe Davis ultimately gets cold feet about clinging to Carr for another half decade. No new money would almost certainly trigger a divorce.
Colts owner Jim Irsay telegraphed his distrust in Carson Wentz when he penned a letter to fans.
"We ended our season in perhaps the worst way possible and missed our chance to compete for history," he wrote, before adding: "The buck stops with me."
Indianapolis' apocalyptic Week 18 loss to the Jaguars ejector-seated the Colts out of the playoff picture and placed a burning spotlight on Wentz, who committed two crushing turnovers, threw for just 185 yards and absorbed six sacks by Jacksonville's defense. Trading for Wentz last offseason also wound up costing Indy a first-round pick.
Wentz and the Colts feel destined for Splitsville, but the quarterback market lacks juice. An available Carr would vibe with Frank Reich, a masterful coach searching for a long-term answer under center ever since Andrew Luck turned into a Force ghost before the 2019 campaign.
I imagine this makes Saints fans nervous. Any quarterback would cause jitters after eons of Drew Brees under center. New Orleans is learning how hard it is to find the next guy. It sure doesn't feel like Taysom Hill, who keeps netting new money from the team but fits better as a saucy Swiss Army knife than a 17-game starter. I don't see Jameis Winston returning.
Sean Payton endured a long campaign steering a quarterback clown car into the abyss. The Saints are a candidate to explore trades for everyone from Wilson to Rodgers to fill in the blank. Carr represents the next-best thing, but he's a viable option for a team expected to aggressively upgrade at the most important position in sports.
In the wake of Sunday night's season-ending beatdown at Kansas City, I assume Ben Roethlisberger is finally where he needs to be: pounding strawberry daiquiris at some all-inclusive in Antigua. Back in Pittsburgh, the Steelers begin a search for his successor. Mason Rudolph cannot be the final answer unless you root for the Ravens, Bengals or Browns. Mike Tomlin doesn't seem like the guy to start over with a rookie, either, although making a move in the draft for hometown hero Kenny Pickett would thrill Yinzer types. Carr is an obvious upgrade over Mason or Dwayne Haskins and would give the Steelers direction instead of a one-year patch.
Ron Rivera has toiled through the past two seasons with starts under center from Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, Dwayne Haskins, Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke. Ryan Fitzpatrick, signed last offseason to stabilize the position, was lost to a hip injury in Week 1. Heinicke has a decade-plus career ahead as a high-end backup and spot starter, but Washington shouldn't hesitate on finding a juicier option. Carr's leadership and play would mesh well with Rivera's desire to attach himself to a trusty veteran. It's hard to take this club seriously if it fails to heat-seek a proven arm.
A new general manager and coach will decide whether to roll with hot-and-cold Daniel Jones or seek out something shinier. The new regime also will inherit a messy cap situation that currently has Big Blue $19 million in the red. Carr doesn't feel like an easy fit in the Big Apple, but he'd have the chance to raise a once-proud franchise out of the mire.
I'm operating under the assumption that Vegas would release Carr or engineer a trade he approves of. The Panthers are coming off a sloppy season and house one of the ugliest offensive lines league-wide. Matt Rhule heads toward the 2022 campaign on a seat getting warmer by the hour. Not a brilliant mix.
At the moment, I don't see any scenario where the Raiders trade Carr to the Texans -- an evil trigger-pull -- or the quarterback ever willingly chooses to go there (see: Carr, David). Perhaps the scenery changes with a top-shelf coaching hire and a final answer on Deshaun Watson, but don't hold your breath.