The 2023 NFL offseason is quickly approaching as the playoff races will come to an end by mid-January. Teams already out of the playoff race need to start focusing their efforts on improving for next season. With a weak slate of free agent quarterbacks, the trade route might be a better option for teams.
The Las Vegas Raiders are in a precarious situation after a disappointing regular season. Their best trade chip is quarterback Derek Carr. We’ll dive into whether they should trade Carr, what they could get in return for him, which teams should be interested in him, and how they could replace Carr.
Why Trading Derek Carr Makes Sense for the Raiders
Year 1 of the Josh McDaniels experiment in Las Vegas went quite poorly. I could argue that some close-game regression luck is due, as the franchise lost five games by five points or less in 2022. However, the nature of their losses is truly concerning.
They lost to the Rams on Thursday Night Football just two days after the team claimed and then started Baker Mayfield off waivers. Vegas also lost Jeff Saturday’s first game as interim head coach of the Colts. Then there were four double-digit halftime leads they blew, making them the first team since 1930 to achieve that feat.
The Raiders’ roster clearly lacks depth after blowing early-round picks for the last decade and suffering injuries to Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. But their star power had them in games, and continued late collapses are a reflection of the staff. Though it’s not directly Carr’s fault, nor does it mean Carr has to go, it’s also fair for the franchise to re-evaluate how far they can get with him moving forward.
Carr, turning 32 this offseason, has only two winning seasons in nine years with the franchise. He routinely has a respectable completion rate and limited turnovers, but he’s not a playmaking quarterback like many of his peers. His touchdown rate has gone over 5% of his throws once since 2016, and his average yards per attempt has dipped over the last three years.
He’s a good but not great quarterback, and McDaniels’ staff may be fighting for their jobs in 2023. It might be easier to sell ownership on a reboot than it is to bring the same cast back and expect significantly better results. And there are far worse situations a rookie could walk into than to be surrounded by Davante Adams, Waller, Renfrow, and Josh Jacobs if the latter is retained.
Teams That Could Be Interested in Derek Carr
Carr is far from perfect, but he makes sense as an upgrade for contending teams who don’t have the ability to get into the top 10 to draft a rookie. Considering the best free agent quarterbacks will likely be Jimmy Garoppolo, Daniel Jones, and Baker Mayfield, it’s easy to see why teams would check out the trade options.
I have a hard time believing either Lamar Jackson or Geno Smith will hit the open market, or that Tom Brady will be seriously considered elsewhere after his level of play dropped this year.
Instead, Carr could be courted by a pair of surprise New York teams. Both the New York Jets and New York Giants have overcome subpar quarterback play this season but are projected to have mid-to-late first-round picks. There’s no question Carr is better than Jones, Zach Wilson, and Mike White.
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Washington, Indianapolis, Carolina, Houston, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh are the other teams with a need for a long-term quarterback. I don’t think Pittsburgh gives up on Kenny Pickett yet, though they should, and Houston likely takes one with the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Tampa Bay has significant cap limitations and it might be wiser to bring Brady back instead of upending their cap situation for a minor upgrade.
That leaves the Giants, Jets, Commanders, Colts, and Panthers as the best suitors for Carr. Would Carolina or Indianapolis part with a top-10 pick for Carr? That seems unlikely and too rich, but Carr is a better acquisition than Carson Wentz was when he was dealt for a conditional first-round pick and a third-round pick. The Jets, Commanders, and Giants almost have an advantage since a mid-first-round pick seems more appropriate for a return.
What Is Derek Carr’s Contract and Market Value?
The Raiders extended Carr on a three-year, $120.5 million extension last offseason, but they structured it so they could trade him. Carr has a $34.875 million cap hit in 2023, then cap hits of $43.875 million and $43.1275 million in 2024 and 2025. The Raiders would save $29.25 million in 2023, then over $40 million in both 2024 and 2025 if they trade him.
Las Vegas doesn’t need to trade Carr for the cap space, but a trade is made possible because they wouldn’t incur a large dead cap hit. For comparison, the Packers would suffer a $40 million dead cap hit in 2023 alone if they traded Aaron Rodgers. It’ll be difficult to trade him due to the structure of the deal and the fact Rodgers would likely need a completely new contract.
Carr has the seventh-highest average salary per year, but that number is a bit misleading since the highest values are in future years. He’s very affordable at a time when the draft class isn’t too strong and there aren’t obvious free agent options or proven trade targets. These are reasons the Raiders could simply keep Carr and try their luck in 2023.
But if the Raiders make him available, Carr should fetch a first-round pick. A damaged Wentz did, and Matthew Stafford cost the Rams Jared Goff and two first-round picks. The Raiders will be operating from a place of massive leverage, though Carr’s no-trade clause would allow him to dictate his destination.
Other Raiders Options at Quarterback
Here’s where things get interesting. If McDaniels loves a rookie quarterback, the Raiders could have two first-round picks to play with. It’s hard to know where the top quarterbacks will go, but it’s more likely than not we’ll see four first-rounders: Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson.
I think all four could go in the top 10. It wouldn’t be shocking if Seattle and Detroit take advantage of their top-four picks and take a quarterback for the future. Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Carolina all pick before the Raiders right now. Las Vegas may need to package their own first-rounder with one they get from Carr to jump into the top-five picks.
I think Young ends up in Houston. Stroud is the best pure pocket passer of the bunch but doesn’t deal with pressure well and is a limited player outside of structure. Levis and Richardson are more physically impressive but have inconsistent film.
Would McDaniels prefer the bigger project and higher upside, or a more win-now player?
Two alternatives include reuniting with Garoppolo, who McDaniels coached in New England from 2014 through 2016, or seeing if San Francisco would part with Trey Lance. Lance has been inconsistent when he’s played but is an intriguing physical talent who is still young. He’s coming back from a broken ankle injury, meaning the Raiders may be able to get him for far less than what the 49ers traded to land him.
As someone who was lower on Lance as a prospect than the NFL was, I prefer the option of drafting Levis or Richardson. Lance hasn’t been impressive on the field and already has two years of his rookie contract in the rearview mirror. If McDaniels is as good of an offensive mind as he showed as New England’s offensive coordinator, then he should be able to maximize Levis or Richardson.