HENDERSON, Nev. — Now that Derek Carr has been cut by the only NFL team the veteran quarterback has ever known, where do the Las Vegas Raiders go from here?
These waters haven’t been navigated recently by the franchise, which has had Carr as its primary starter since he won the job as a rookie in training camp in 2014. Consider: Carr has missed two regular-season games and one playoff game due to injury since — replaced by Matt McGloin in the 2016 finale after Carr suffered a broken right ankle, and by EJ Manuel in Week 5 of the 2017 season after Carr suffered broken bones in his back. And it was Connor Cook who started the 2016 wild-card round playoff game at Houston while Carr was recovering from surgery.
So while these are choppy waters for the Raiders, their compass should point to one of two destinations — land their Moby Dick, a high-priced, future Hall of Famer who will bring his own set of baggage, or play it safe and sign someone who knows the system while gazing toward the future.
One Moby Dick possibility was Tom Brady, who was scheduled to become a free agent. He instead retired, forcing the Raiders to pivot.
So, yes, Aaron Rodgers is now that big whale, the one that got away back in 2005 when the Raiders drafted cornerback Fabian Washington at No. 23 overall, one selection ahead of Rodgers, who went to the Green Bay Packers. Acquiring Rodgers, who will also reportedly be targeted by the New York Jets, would be costly. And not just in draft capital and/or established players. Per numerous reports, Green Bay could command as much as a first-round and a conditional third-round pick that could turn into a second-rounder. The Packers were also reportedly more than interested in tight end Darren Waller at the trade deadline this past season.
And that’s just to complete the trade and doesn’t account for Rodgers’ salary or cap numbers. Rodgers signed a three-year, $150 million extension last March that included two voidable years, in 2025 and 2026, and has a $58.3 million option bonus for 2023 that is fully guaranteed, per ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky. The option can be exercised by the Packers anytime between the first day of the 2023 league year March 15 and the day before the Packers’ first game of the season.
And because the option makes up most of Rodgers’ pay, which totals $59.515 million for this year, its timing is important because Green Bay undoubtedly would want the team that acquires him to pay it. Rodgers also has a non-guaranteed $49 million due in 2024.
As it stands now, Rodgers has cap numbers of more than $31.6 million for 2023 and $40.7 million for 2024, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
That’s a lot to pay even for a four-time MVP but especially for a guy turning 40 before the end of next season who is coming off a bad year — his 39.3 total QBR was a career low as a starter, as were his 3,695 passing yards for a full season. Throw in the fact that Rodgers is as headstrong as he is talented and has no experience in Raiders coach Josh McDaniels’ system and you have to wonder if they would mesh.
Still, Rodgers would be reunited with All-Pro receiver Davante Adams, who has advocated the possibility of Rodgers coming to Las Vegas, as have Waller and All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs, who is also a pending free agent after the Raiders declined his fifth-year option last offseason.
It’s a lot to spend on what might only be a two-year arrangement in a division that has the defending Super Bowl champs in the Kansas City Chiefs, another playoff team with a young franchise quarterback in the Los Angeles Chargers and a Super Bowl-winning coach in with the Denver Broncos. Money that, many would say, could be wiser spent by the Raiders on beefing up the defense and the offensive line while protecting up to 11 draft picks, including the No. 7 overall selection.
That would mean going cheaper, much cheaper, than Rodgers at QB and going after a free agent — no need to trade assets this route — perhaps someone who is already familiar with McDaniels’ system.
Jimmy Garoppolo might be seen as a lateral move from Carr by many, but he grew up in McDaniels’ system with the New England Patriots — though he last played in it in 2016 — and, well, he wins. Garoppolo’s career record of 40-17 as a starter dwarfs Carr’s 63-79 mark. Durability would be the main issue but Garoppolo, who has missed 28 games the past three seasons, should not command the $40.4 million in cash the Raiders saved themselves by cutting Carr. Las Vegas could then attack the O-line and defense while re-signing Jacobs.
Then there’s backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who went toe-to-toe with the NFL’s No. 1 defense in his first NFL start after Carr was benched and left the team, passing for 365 yards and three touchdown passes in a 37-34 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Then he threw an early scare into the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
If nothing else, Stidham provided a template while looking more comfortable in McDaniels’ system in two starts than Carr did in 15. Stidham, though, is also hitting free agency and acquitted himself well, especially in the Raiders locker room. He would come at a fraction of the cost of either Rodgers or Garoppolo and there would be no learning curve since he’s already as well-versed in the offense as he is known by his teammates.
The wild card, then, is this: With that No. 7 pick, and possibly as many as 11 total selections, will the Raiders fall in love with any of the top three QB prospects — Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young or Kentucky’s Will Levis — enough to maneuver themselves to draft one of them? Moving on from an established vet and drafting Tim Tebow did not go well for McDaniels in his last head-coaching stop in Denver. Or do they go the bridge route, with a more heavily stocked and better-regarded QB class coming in 2024?
Whichever path the Raiders take this offseason will provide a clue.