It’s as if he went into a cocoon the day after he talked of needing some “fresh air” on his way out of Oakland back in December and is emerging as a neon-plated, butterfly about Las Vegas. From taking part in Sin City-inspired photo shoots at posh resorts to insisting he’s going to use his platform to stand up for social justice, to saying he is tired of being “disrespected,” to rocking the jersey of the baddest bad boy of the Raiders of the 1970s at practice — Ken “Snake” Stabler.
Honoring the Goat 🐐! pic.twitter.com/gfaOsmiKOZ
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) August 9, 2020
But will the off-field transformation translate into wins on the field?
In a strange way, the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown that eliminated the NFL’s traditional offseason program actually benefited Carr, who — for the first time in his seven-year career — is preparing to play in the same system for the third straight season. This after conducting what could only be described as pandemic passing camps with teammates at local parks and high schools this summer.
Open QB competition with new guy Marcus Mariota? What open QB competition with new guy Marcus Mariota?
As Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, teams with returning quarterbacks will have a “significant advantage” this season, “knowing the terminology and [Carr] being able to gather some of the guys … that was the benefit of having a quarterback familiar with your system coming back.”
Only two starting quarterbacks have been in the same system for more consecutive seasons than Carr’s soon-to-be three — the New Orleans Saints‘ Drew Brees (2020 will be his 12th straight year) and San Francisco 49ers‘ Jimmy Garoppolo (fourth straight), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Plus, Mariota has only recently received firsthand instruction in coach Jon Gruden’s offense.
Carr, 29, is coming off career highs in passing yardage (4,054), completion percentage (70.4%), yards per pass attempt (7.9) and Total QBR (62.2). But the three-time Pro Bowler is just 39-55 as a starting quarterback, and 15-30 since the debacle in Washington on Sunday Night Football in Week 3 of the 2017 season. In fact, the 55 losses are one fewer than older brother David’s 56 for most defeats by a starting QB in his first six NFL seasons.
And even though the Raiders’ all-time passing leader (he surpassed Stabler last season) has three young sons and a daughter on the way, Carr insisted opting out because of COVID-19 concerns was not on his mind.
“I have a lot to prove to myself,” Carr said. “I have a lot to prove to my organization. I am going to be completely honest with you: I’m tired of being disrespected, so there was no question I was going to play this year.”
Carr’s disrespect comment was on brand for this newer, fiercer, Vegas-infused gunslinger. It also elicited more than a few eye rolls.
“If he was here in my face and he said that, I would tell him right now, ‘If you’re tired of being disrespected, play better,'” former Raiders right tackle and current Raiders radio broadcaster Lincoln Kennedy said on a CBS sports radio interview. “It’s that simple. The thing is, there’s no more excuses for Derek. Now it’s either put up or shut up.”
Especially with the talent the Raiders have surrounded him with, selecting the fastest player in this year’s draft in receiver Henry Ruggs III and a big, physical wideout in Bryan Edwards. They also signed a veteran pass-catcher in Nelson Agholor to join a healthy Tyrell Williams and slot man Hunter Renfrow.
But while continuity in a shutdown is paramount, Raiders owner Mark Davis wonders about Carr missing out on working with his new weapons in a controlled setting.
“The best quarterbacks are the ones that have the wins; stats will follow,” Davis said. “But you can’t discount the continuity between Derek and Jon. The longer they’re together, the more osmosis there is.
“There’s a legitimacy to all of it. Jon has a trust in him, and [Carr] works hard and he’s very, very smart. I think it’s all positive, but you still have to play the damn game.”
While getting used to Ruggs’ speed.
“I love him,” Ruggs said of Carr. “He’s a guy that’s not afraid to call … he’ll come and see if we have a question before we can even think twice. So, he’s making sure that guys are on top of everything. If we want to come in early, he’s open to doing that. If we want to go to the house and try to do something extra, he’s open to doing that.
“So, he’s a great leader, a great team guy and definitely is somebody that I can lean on for anything.”
Still, as Gruden said, he expects an uptick in production from Carr with the roster additions, Carr’s continuity in the system and, well, health.
“I’m not going to say much more than that,” Gruden said. “We need a healthy supporting cast. It helps when [right tackle] Trent Brown plays. It helps when [right guard] Gabe Jackson is healthy. It helps when we have [running back] Josh Jacobs back there.”
Olson, meanwhile, said the Raiders want to see Carr “create” more when plays break down.
“Can he be more creative,” Olson mused, “and be the play after the playcall?
“That’s been an emphasis. He sees it; he’s athletic enough that he can create with his legs, so we are just working on him to create more outside the pocket.”
Many critics see Carr as not being as daring since suffering a broken right fibula on Christmas Eve 2016. He played at a league MVP level that season and the Raiders went 12-4, making the playoffs (with Connor Cook under center) for the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season.
Interestingly enough, while Carr’s yards per pass attempt (5.1, 4.2) and TD-INT ratio (13-1, 7-1) outside the pocket were better before the broken leg, his QBR (43, 37) and completion percentage (50%, 49%) in the same situation have been higher after the injury, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
And Carr has been better in completion percentage (45%, 40%) and in yards per attempt (5.3, 4.7) while under pressure since the injury.
Even as 100 of Carr’s career 171 sacks have come in the past three seasons, with a career-high 51 in 2018 — his first year with Gruden — two years after a career-low 16 sacks.
Plus, the Raiders were just 24th in the NFL in scoring last season, their 19.6 points-per-game average the third straight year they failed to average at least 20 points.
They were even worse in the red zone — ranking 26th in points per drive. In fact, Carr is 40th out of 50 quarterbacks with at least 10 starts since 2015 in red zone passer rating, per Associated Press.
Carr sees promise, though, with continuity.
“I think we did a great job of moving the ball; I don’t think anyone can deny that,” Carr said. “We were [No. 11] in offense, but all that means nothing if we can’t finish the drive.
“What’s nice about being in this offense for the third year, you can move through it even faster. I thought last year was fun. Man, this year is even more fun — how fast I can get through things, then hit it and go get a first down. It’s just the luxury of being in the same system … we’re talking the same language, we’re moving through the same things all the time to where I can play even faster.”
Let the molting continue, then.