Coincidence or Not: Derek Carr excelling as contract extension looms

Derek Carr contract raiders
Sep 19, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr warms up before playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

In 2016, Derek Carr led the then Oakland Raiders to a 12-3 record before missing the remainder of the season with a broken leg suffered in week 16. Carr was in the conversation for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, finishing the season with 3,937 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, and only six interceptions.

Following his stellar season, he was awarded a massive five-year, $125 million contract, which at the time made him the highest-paid player in the NFL. 

Now fast forward to 2021, and again Derek Carr is playing the best football of his career and similar to 2016, a contract extension is looming.

The signal-caller put together a remarkable first month of the season. Through three games he has amassed 1,203 yards passing (1st), six touchdowns (T-5), and only two interceptions. His play in September garnered him AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors. There’s no question he’s playing lights-out so far on the young season.

Three games is a relatively small sample size in the grand scheme of a 17-game schedule but, once again, Derek Carr is in the early discussion for MVP.

It’s hard not to question whether or not the idea of a new contract upwards of $40 million a year has added to Carr’s performance or if it’s simply a product of being more in command of the offense and having a better team around him. 

It’s certainly not uncommon to see players on the sports landscape have career years as a new contract looked them in the face. It might be less common in the NFL due to the league’s lower salaries and lack of guaranteed contracts but it’s a very enticing factor that could be adding fuel to Carr’s fire.

Derek Carr = Dak Prescott?

The most recent example of a quarterback taking advantage of an expiring contract would be Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. Although his situation was slightly different, Prescott put together a career year in 2019 throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. 

Dallas opted to place the franchise tag on Prescott for the 2020 season, which put him among the highest-paid players in the league but left his future with the organization unknown beyond 2020. 

Having to prove his worth yet again, Prescott got off to a ridiculous start to the 2020 season averaging 371 yards passing through five games before his season was ended with a compound fracture in his ankle. 

At that point, Dallas had seen all they needed to and in March of 2021, Prescott and the Cowboys agreed to a four-year deal worth up to $164 million. 

However, to play devil’s advocate in this debate, one could point to the steady growth shown by Derek Carr in the three previous years under Jon Gruden as evidence that Carr’s play was still trending upwards. Carr threw for over 4,000 yards for the first time in the 2018 season and accomplished it again in both 2019 and 2020. 

In addition to Carr’s comfort and command of Gruden’s offense in year four is the emergence of second-year wideouts, Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards. Both have 200 plus yards receiving and are averaging over 20 yards per reception.

While meeting with the media on Thursday, Carr was asked about his confidence in the scheme from 2018 to now. 

“Oh yeah, from year one, for sure,” said Derek Carr. “We have some different players at all three levels, we have some different things going on on the other side of the ball. A lot of it goes together. More possessions, we are able to take more chances, we have thrown the ball downfield a lot, but we’re able to do that because we trust we can get them on the other downs but also we trust our defense to hold.”

Whichever side of the debate you are on, one thing is for certain — Derek Carr is playing excellent football and it is resulting in wins for the Raiders.