The Raiders enter the 2020 NFL Draft with some important holes to fill, and how they do so could help the Silver and Black answer the most important question facing the franchise as it transitions to Las Vegas.
Is Derek Carr a franchise quarterback?
Let’s start with the first thing before the wolves are unleashed on my Twitter mentions: Carr will be the Raiders’ starting quarterback whenever Week 1 kicks off. General manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden have vocally supported Carr this offseason even as rumors swirled about the team potentially chasing Tom Brady.
But words are one thing and actions are another, though. The Raiders signed Marcus Mariota to the most lucrative contract for a backup quarterback in the NFL. Mariota is slated to make almost as much in base salary as Teddy Bridgewater will as a starter with the Carolina Panthers.
The Raiders are in an advantageous position in their rebuild with Carr and Mariota. They have a host of other needs and currently employ two quarterbacks who can be, at their very worst, average at the NFL level. Having Carr, who showed progress in Year 2 in Gruden’s system, allows the Raiders to build up the talent at other positions while not being forced to gamble on drafting a quarterback high. They can fix the defense, add offensive weapons and then address the quarterback situation last after giving Carr the requisite time and tools to sink or swim.
The life jacket is coming off in 2020, of that there likely is no doubt.
For his part, Mayock said more than enough about the quarterback room Tuesday in a conference call with local media.
“That’s the way we look at it,” Mayock said of the quarterback position. “Let’s see who the best Marcus Mariota is, and, in the meantime, we love what we have with Derek Carr so we’re real happy with our quarterback room.”
Any time the phrase “in the meantime” is thrown around, you might not be the first option or a long-term solution. Like a girlfriend who’s planning to move soon and doesn’t see herself marrying her current boyfriend, but has no problem continuing to date him “in the meantime” until she moves or something else comes along.
Carr’s stats were solid in 2019. He threw for 4,054 yards, 21 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. But the Raiders also ranked 11th in total offense, 24th in points per game and 22nd in red-zone efficiency. There were injuries, a lack of weapons and Antonio Brown nuking the season before it began didn’t help matters.
The excuses were there in 2019.
You can be sure Mayock and Gruden plan to eliminate those excuses in the draft.
The Raiders are expected to add a top wide receiver, likely at No. 12 overall, where Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb all could be available. With three third-round picks and a deep receiver class, you’ll know 2020 will be the epitome of a prove-it year for Carr if Mayock and Gruden add another receiver and perhaps another running back.
An offensive cast of the No. 12 overall pick, Darren Waller, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Josh Jacobs, Jason Witten, Nelson Agholor, a third-round receiver and a third-round running back should be all a franchise quarterback needs to operate at a high level. The Raiders have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and their still-improving defense should be much better than the unit that was often torched last season.
If the Raiders don’t follow the expected draft plan and use most of their capital on defense, then it would seem the Raiders believe they can win with Carr now if the defense is given another boost.
If they draft a quarterback on Day 2 — which is unlikely — then Carr’s time in Las Vegas might be cut short.
Gruden and Mayock have seen Carr’s talent. They likely have a good grasp of his limitations and the Raiders’ ceiling with Carr at the helm. Having him under a relatively modest contract has allowed them to patch up the roster and rebuild the Silver and Black while focusing on the team’s other glaring issues.
Now, with five picks in the top 91, the Raiders should spend that capital to finish building an arsenal for Carr to orchestrate Gruden’s offense. If the machine is firing on all cylinders with a full deck, then No. 4 is the guy going forward.
If the offense sputters with the excuses removed, then it’ll be time to turn Mariota and perhaps look to the 2021 draft for the answer.
Gruden and Mayock’s rebuilding project has a sturdy foundation and all the leaks are being patched up. If the Raiders pick up a wide receiver or two in the draft, it’ll be time to see if Derek Carr can truly man the ship.