Mike Mayock’s second question of his 2020 NFL Combine press conference was about Derek Carr. That wasn’t a surprise but were some of his answers? Parts of it could point to the quarterback’s future in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock stepped to the podium and opened the floor for questions at the kick-off of the 2020 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Reporters had an opportunity to pry team secrets out him, figure out the organization’s direction going into the 2020 offseason, but quickly returned to an all familiar subject: quarterback Derek Carr and his future under center for the Silver and Black.
Mayock handled the questions like the media-savvy pro that he is. He didn’t divulge ground-breaking tidbits, but the front-office executive gave some insightful answers about the game and how he assesses the quarterback position.
Like Mike Mayock’s opening statement, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty, focusing on Carr and what the Raiders general manager looks for in a quarterback.
Mike Mayock Praises Derek Carr, Leaves Door Open for Upgrade
Surprising to Mayock, reporters didn’t start off with a question about Carr, but the second inquiry opened the floodgates.
Of course, Mayock cannot comment on any potential trade suitors or the Tom Brady ordeal, but he had a lot of positive talking points, praising Carr for his 2020 performance.
Mayock provided three quotes that stood out.
‘We’re not looking to actively move him [Carr]. At all. We know what we have and we appreciate it,” Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News tweeted.
The Raiders general manager also acknowledged Carr operated head coach Jon Gruden’s offense with good command.
“We’ve got a quarterback who runs Jon’s offense at a very high level,” Mayock said.
Finally, Mayock left the door open for improvement at every position—including the quarterback spot.
“And if we can get better, we will,” he said.
Mike Mayock provided the status quo in terms of position upgrades. The Raiders won’t leave any stone unturned. However, the team isn’t desperate to dump Carr for the next quarterback. Clubs will inquire about him, but team brass isn’t going to auction the 28-year-old off and take a leap of faith into the unknown.
Brady and maybe Ryan Tannehill, because of his mobility, may force the Raiders to re-evaluate the starting quarterback position.
In reality, Las Vegas will likely open the 2020 season with Carr or Brady and new backups. Sorry, Nathan Peterman fanatics. The Tennessee Titans could franchise tag Tannehill, keeping him off the market without a long-term deal.
Mayock’s Top Quarterback Traits
Assuming the Raiders bring in new talent at quarterback, Mayock will focus on four traits among many.
Let’s run through each item in relation to Carr’s six-year performance, starting with leadership.
Unless you’re in the huddle it’s hard to gauge this aspect beyond what Carr’s teammates and coaches say about him. He wears the “C” on his jersey, but does he fulfill that label?
Carr and guard Gabe Jackson are the longest-tenured Raiders on the roster—both from the 2014 class. By default, they probably have a certain level of respect among their teammates.
In the midst of questioning Carr’s toughness, critics tend to forget he’s played through significant injuries. Late in the 2016 season, he dislocated his pinky and it looked like an upper-case “L”. During the 2017 campaign, he broke bones in his back but only missed one game.
Most of Carr’s teammates didn’t play alongside him during those trying times, but that level of commitment gains respect around the league—regardless of any “crying face” he makes when getting pummeled into the ground.
Don’t dismiss Carr’s 19 game-winning drives and 18 fourth-quarter comebacks. He has three of the former in each of the last two seasons for a rebuilding squad under Gruden.
Carr isn’t a Rich Gannon-like screamer or someone who goes nose-to-nose with Gruden on the sideline, but he doesn’t have to do it. That’s not him. The ability to be comfortable in your own skin is part of being a leader. Someone who lacks self-confidence cannot lead others.
We can clearly see Carr’s improvement between Year 1 and Year 2 in Gruden’s offense, which naturally comes with familiarity within a scheme, but there’s a mixed bag of statistics.
In today’s league with favorable passing rules, yards aren’t the most important barometer for a passer. Carr posted a career-high 4,054 yards, but teams win with points. He threw for 21 touchdowns, which ranked 19th leaguewide.
On the flip side, Mike Mayock seems pleased with Carr’s production considering the weapons around him. As mentioned above, the Raiders general manager said his signal-caller operated at a high level. Whether you believe that’s trade value leverage or not, we should acknowledge the difficulty of running Gruden’s complex offense—just ask Chris Simms of NBC Sports:
Despite the talking points from critics, Carr’s 2019 season performance suggests he’s trending upward in Gruden’s scheme. Once again, continuity has worked in his favor. Perhaps we’ll find out if he’s reached his ceiling next season when the team adds more perimeter weapons.
Some may look at Carr’s 64-percent career throwing accuracy with a skeptical eye because he’s dinked and dunked his way downfield, targeting running backs and tight ends in several games. Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (via ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez) even said that’s the quarterback’s game:
Here’s a breakdown of Carr’s deep-ball passing numbers through six seasons:
|Derek Carr’s |
|Stats provided by ProFootballFocus|
In terms of throwing the deep ball, Carr hit a low point during the 2017 campaign, but he’s slowly trending back in the right direction.
Still, Derek Carr isn’t in pre-2016 injury form when uncorking the football downfield, which is a legitimate concern. Is he too cognizant of that traumatic occurrence to let routes fully develop, or does Gruden’s scheme play a factor? We’ll find out if another dynamic wideout can help the Raiders rack up more explosive gains through the air.
On the surface, Carr has put together multiple games in which he takes quick strikes and goes on a roll, completing several passes consecutively. When the three-time Pro Bowler establishes a flow, he can move an offense with limited weapons.
In order for the Raiders offense to fully utilize its playmakers, Carr must re-discover his solid deep-ball placement with more consistency.
You can check the box on accuracy for short and intermediate throws but confidence in Carr’s long ball may be a tough sell right now, though, we know he’s capable in that aspect.
Nonetheless, Carr ranked second in on-target throws (82.6 percent) in 2019. While it would be ideal for him to stretch the field, he doesn’t have overall issues with accuracy.
Here’s where Derek Carr hits a rut. Some point to his 2016 injury, a broken fibula, and others think he’ll always struggle in this area. At times, the 28-year-old prematurely gives up on plays, leading to an increased number of throwaways.
In 2019, Carr threw away 28 passes, which ranked third leaguewide, behind only Tom Brady (40) and Aaron Rodgers (31). Based on throwaway rates, the number of toss aways divided by pass attempts times 100, Brady is first (6.5 percent), Carr places second (5.5 percent) and Rodgers third (5.4 percent).
Keep in mind, Rodgers learned a new offense under head coach Matt LaFleur this past year. Many felt Brady didn’t have a strong supporting cast in New England.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Gruden became frustrated with Carr’s inability to improvise with his legs. The six-year veteran made strides in that area but apparently not enough. If he can quickly recognize opportune moments to tuck and run, the Raiders could rack up more first downs against tight coverage downfield.
More importantly, in today’s league, the modern quarterback can beat defenses with his arm and his legs if necessary. Carr possesses the athleticism—he just has to know when to use it in the pocket.
The Raiders have built a stout offensive line around Carr. The unit ranked fifth in run-blocking and sixth in pass protection this past season, per Football Outsiders.
Carr needs to add a few seconds to his inner pocket clock. More than likely, he’ll see more opportunities downfield, on crossers and running lanes to attack for first downs.
There’s some troubling insight regarding Carr’s inconsistent pocket awareness. Mayock talked to some of the best quarterbacks about that specific quality. They’ve told him it’s an innate trait. “You either have it or you don’t,” the Raiders general manager said.
If Mayock feels that way, this leads to the idea of upgrading the quarterback position when possible. The ability to step into the pocket and measure that time between throwing a dart and a pass-rusher delivering a big hit separates good from great.
At any point, teams can replace a solid player for someone better, even at the quarterback position.
Mike Mayock Quarterback Scorecard
Of the four quarterback traits Mayock discussed Tuesday, we can make a fair argument Carr checks three boxes with consistency to some degree. His pocket awareness still seems too a bit too shaky going into his seventh season.
Again, accuracy comes into question because of his short throws, but even Mayock and Gruden would admit the passing attack could look a little different with another dynamic playmaker on the perimeter.
Sometimes Derek Carr critics overlook the second part of a possible transition. Who’s going to start in his place? Ideally, the team would prefer to build upon a 7-9 season in which the playoffs were within reach going down the stretch. Why start over in a non-competitive campaign when it’s not absolutely necessary?
As an analogy, Carr’s tenure as a starter feels like a decent job that has its low points with some shortcomings, but it’s good enough until something better comes along. Based on Mayock’s comments, that’s where he stands at the moment with the quarterback situation.
Lastly, the quarterback market is reportedly starting to dry up. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Carolina Panthers will move on with Cam Newton, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are leaning toward Jameis Winston as their top option.
Unless Brady comes to Vegas or Tannehill and the Titans part ways, who would the Raiders consider even a slight upgrade over Derek Carr? Teddy Bridgewater has potential, but it’s not financially sound to pay him a reported $30 million annually when he’s started just six games since 2015. Keep in mind, Carr’s 2020 cap hit is $21.5 million, per Spotrac.
Mike Mayock didn’t rule out any possibilities, but Carr likely starts for the Silver and Black with a new veteran or rookie backup. Going into the 2020 term, it’ll be his job to lose.