Is Derek Carr a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback?
This is the question that Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler must answer over the next couple of months, knowing that whether they answer correctly or not will determine both their fate and the fate of the entire franchise. During his press conference on Monday, McDaniels indicated that some guys’ playing time would change over the coming weeks now that the Raiders have essentially been eliminated from the postseason (technically, they’re still alive, but their odds are roughly 1%).
Naturally, everyone wondered whether or not he was referring to quarterback Derek Carr — whose future with the franchise remains murky. Ultimately, his future will depend on the question asked above, which is murky itself.
In the last 10 seasons, here are the quarterbacks who have started in the Super Bowl: Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson (2x), Peyton Manning (2x), Tom Brady (5x), Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo, Patrick Mahomes (2x), Matt Stafford and Joe Burrow.
I’ll be honest: that list is surprising to me. Mahomes, Manning, Brady and Wilson all were/are elite (i.e. top five) quarterbacks (although Manning was far from elite in his 18th season in 2015) — but some of the other names on that list? Cam Newton made it in his MVP season, and Joe Burrow is probably a top-five quarterback now — but the rest?
Now it’s your time, to be honest: is Derek Carr really in a completely different tier than Flacco, Kaepernick, Ryan, Foles, Goff, Garoppolo and Stafford (three of whom won Super Bowls)?
The problem with the typical quarterback evaluation is that it lacks nuance entirely. Yes, there are a small handful of quarterbacks who can carry a team to a Super Bowl single-handedly, but there’s an additional tier of passers who are good enough to win one in the right situation.
Is Derek Carr in the first tier? Of course not — not even close. But is he in the second? That’s the more challenging question.
As we’ve discussed before, Carr has never had a top-20 defense. Never. He’s also on head coach No. 8 and offensive play-caller No. 6. His leading receiver has been a tight end four times in eight seasons, and his entire tenure has been plagued by abysmal drafting.
So yeah, his record has been disappointing — just two playoff appearances through his first nine seasons (assuming 2022 doesn’t end with a miracle), but is that the most accurate reflection of who he is as a quarterback?
The truth is, I get the fans who are fed up with Carr. He is and has been the face of a franchise that has provided gut punch after gut punch to their fans. He plays the most important position, and his deficiencies are highlighted in a division that features both Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
But to these same people, I would ask you to consider that the alternatives are not always better.
On Monday night, ESPN put up a graphic during the Colts game showing the quarterbacks they have turned to in the wake of Andrew Luck’s surprising departure. Because their roster has been competitive, the Colts have never drafted high enough to get a franchise quarterback — a dilemma I’d suggest the Raiders would find themselves in should they move on from Carr — and therefore, they’ve had to get creative.
Since Luck left, here are the guys they have turned to:
- Jacoby Brissett (11-19)
- Brian Hoyer (0-1)
- Phillip Rivers (11-6)
- Carson Wentz (9-8)
- Matt Ryan (4-7-1)
- Sam Ehlinger (0-2)
- Nick Foles (0-1)
As much as you’d like to believe that wouldn’t be the Raiders’ future, odds are it wouldn’t be dramatically different. For every Mahomes that pops up outside the top five in the draft, there are four guys like Mac Jones, Kenny Pickett, Jordan Love and Josh Rosen.
All of this is what I’m hoping is running through the mind of McDaniels and Ziegler this week.
Is Carr perfect? No. Is he very expensive? Yes. But is he the best chance this franchise has of making the playoffs in the next 2-3 years? Absolutely — whether they want to admit it or not.