As the season unfolds for the Raiders and the push toward the offseason rebuild closes in, has Oakland gotten to the point that it will have to replace the quarterback it once considered a franchise savior?
The relief of a win over Arizona in Week 11 was short-lived for the Oakland and Derek Carr’s effort to stop the Raiders chase of the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Another lopsided loss, this time to Baltimore, continued this dismal season,.
The deeper question regarding Carr and his desire is whether he will even be Oakland’s quarterback going forward. Carr had yet another mediocre game, completing only 16 of 34 passes for 194 yards, was sacked three times and coughed up a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. The Raiders, who thought they entered the season with a talented quarterback and an offensive guru at head coach, have scored less than 20 points in seven of 11 games.
In essence, will a team that desperately needs to replace departed star pass rusher Khalil Mack have to add quarterback to its shopping list? The good news is that Carr may have enough value to be part of the solution.
One longtime NFL front-office executive said he thinks the Raiders would have a robust market for Carr should they decide to shop him.
“Oh yeah, people would want him.” he said. “The Raiders would be idiots if they traded him. But these are the people who traded Khalil Mack.”
The current vibe from inside the organization is that Gruden likes Carr and he wants to make it work. But no future plans are set for Carr, who is 27 and in his fifth reason. Carr regressed in 2017, after playing at near MVP-level in 2016. Carr finished the 2016 season with a broken leg and then was rewarded with a five-year, $125 million deal in June 2017. One of the reasons Oakland owner Mark Davis pried Gruden away from the TV booth was to fix Carr. It hasn’t worked yet. Carr is wildly inconsistent. He often struggles with accuracy and has become a Check Down Charlie-type.
Whether or not Gruden trades Carr will likely depend on if he falls in love with one of the quarterbacks in the draft. The 2019 quarterback class is considered weaker than many of the recent classes. Oregon’s Justin Herbert is a scout favorite, but there is no sure thing he will enter the draft and hurt his shoulder on Friday against Oregon State. West Virginia’s Will Grier, North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley and Missouri’s Drew Lock could also be early draft picks.
Gruden’s annual love affair with rookie quarterbacks sprouted every spring in his popular pre-draft segment on ESPN. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if Gruden falls in love with a young quarterback during next year’s draft process. But that also might cost the Raiders a chance to get one of the top pass rushers. Then again, Gruden might try to patch the position with a veteran such as Teddy Bridgewater or perhaps someone who could get cut, such as Jameis Winston. With so many needs and so many resources, anything is possible for Gruden in 2019. While the Raiders are tough to watch on the field, they will be the NFL’s most fascinating team in the offseason.
The Raiders unexpected deconstruction this season has yielded three extra first-round picks in the next two years. They are currently slated to have their own pick at No. 3. While there are five games before the end of this miserable season, Gruden has often publicly mentioned how well the Raiders are positioned to make a run in the future.
Along with the No. 3 pick, the Raiders are currently on pace for No. 22 (Dallas from the Amari Cooper deal) and No. 27 (the first of two first-round picks from Chicago for Mack). The Cowboys are the favorite to win the NFC East and Chicago is dominating the NFC North, which was unexpected to Raiders management. After the trade, Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said they picked the Bears’ offer because they thought they may be higher picks than other deal suffered.
Mack is a generational player. Picks in the 20s are crap shoots. For example, the No. 22 overall picks from 2011 to 2015 were offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, quarterback Brandon Weeden, cornerback Desmond Trufant, quarterback Johnny Manziel and linebacker Bud Dupree. The No. 27 picks from 2011 to 20115 were cornerback Jimmy Smith, guard Kevin Zeitler, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, linebacker Deone Bucannon and safety Byron Jones.
Oakland basically needs impact players at every position. That’s why the Raiders offseason is so fascinating. Oakland is poised for spectacular change. Again. After going 12-4 in 2016 and 6-10 last season, Gruden gutted the roster in 2018. The Raiders have more than 30 new players on the 53-man roster this season. Expect more of the same in 2019.
Most of Gruden’s additions were veterans on short-term deals, meaning he can continue to churn the roster. Oakland is set to have more than $80 million in salary-cap room in 2018, which will be in the top five in the NFL. Also, Oakland has three first-round picks in 2019 and two more in 2020. These will be the picks that shape this rebuild and will determine whether it will work or not.
What will Gruden do? Everything in on the table.
With their cap room and their draft-pick capital, the Raiders are as well positioned as any team to make huge moves in the offseason. With a skeptical fan base and a move to Las Vegas a year away, the Raiders must be bold. So truly, expect anything.
Gruden garnered those picks by trading Mack, who had been the No. 4 pick in 2014, and Cooper, who had been the No. 5 overall in 2015. Along with Carr, those three were considered cornerstone players for Gruden when he took over. Yet, Gruden got inpatient during a contract holdout with Mack and sent him to Chicago. With the Raiders sitting with one win before the trade deadline and Jerry Jones desperate for a receiver, the Raiders got a first-round pick for Cooper.
That means that all eyes will be on Oakland on April 25, 2019, the first night of the draft.
This is expected to be a deep class for a pass-rushers, so the Raiders could target Ohio State’s Nick Bosa or Houston’s Ed Oliver with their pick to try to replace Mack. Other areas where Oakland will consider in the first round will be linebacker – they may have the least effective group in the NFL – and in the secondary.
However, it would be naive to think the Raiders will satisfy all of their top needs in the first round. Just look at their recent history. Safety Karl Joseph was the No. 14 pick in 2016 and cornerback Gareon Conley was the No. 24 pick in 2017. Neither are considered locks to be part of Gruden’s future team.
Then again, this is a team where no one is safe.