Raiders

Raiders appreciative of Derek Carr in season full of constant flux

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USATSI

Raiders appreciative of Derek Carr in season full of constant flux

ALAMEDA -- Derek Carr has been asked to adjust and adapt during his first professional season, and we aren’t talking about an isolated obstacle. The Raiders franchise quarterback has weathered a steady steam of new and different and sometimes worse.

He had to adjust to new head coach Jon Gruden and his offensive scheme. He has adjusted to being the roster’s focal point after sharing the spotlight with Khalil Mack. Then Amari Cooper got traded near midseason, other veterans got hurt and, save Jared Cook and Seth Roberts, is throwing to new and inexperienced replacements.

He has dealt with inconsistent pass protection, and more hits than ever. He’s dealing with heightened criticism during a woeful 2-9 season mercifully heading down the home stretch.

Carr has somehow weathered it all with a smile, even while frustration builds and fuels his competitive drive during a second NFL rebuild he didn’t want.

“He has been put in a very tough position this year, but he has handled it with grace and honor,” tight end Jared Cook said. “He’s doing what we need him to do for this team.”

Gruden understands that as well, meaning all this change must be factored into his 2018 evaluation. It muddies the waters some as Gruden tries to make proper decisions for the future of his franchise.

Gruden says he’s making the best of difficult circumstances.

“I think he’s done well in all areas,” Gruden said. “He’s adapting to a new offense, he’s adapting to new skill receivers around him. We’ve had numerous injuries up front. We’ve had a new feature back. He’s had a lot of change, but he’s doing well. He’s taking care of the football. I don’t know when the last interception is that he has thrown.”

It has been a long, long time. Since Week 5, in fact. He threw an interception in the end zone, a yard from pay dirt. It was his third pick in the end zone in five games, trying to push the ball into tight windows and make high-risk, high-reward plays.

“I was just trying to figure the offense out, feel things out, being too aggressive and trying too much to help us win,” Carr said. “Really, when I would make mistakes it actually hurt us, so just doing my best to take care of the football and to put our defense in good situations.”

Going six games without a pick has been viewed through different lenses. Some point to his lack of deep throws during this time, and his willingness to make the safe throw even if it’s short of some in-game objectives.

Carr is doing what he’s told, and keeping the football safe.

[RELATED: Raiders Q&A: Jon Gruden’s grand plan, futures of Derek Carr and Jared Cook]

“I think he realizes right now that winning the turnover battle gives this team right now the best chance to win. He’s done a great job of taking care of the ball.”

The Raiders aren’t very good right now, and they can’t give up easy scores or ruin offensive opportunities while scratching for victories. Gruden has also tried to mitigate pass protection issues by calling for short quick passes, the same that Carr gets knocked for frequently. Things opened up some last week in Baltimore, and Carr was able to take some shots downfield.

The passing game is clearly out of sync with so many new options in the lineup that don’t have the same chemistry with Carr and longer-tenured receivers of the past.

“It’s not like [Michael Crabtree] is back and [Cooper] is back,” Carr said. “We are learning each other and it’s going to bode us well in the future. It’s going to be nice, but right now there are growing pains.

“We work our tails off to do right and I know those guys are working their tail off. It’s going to bode well for us here, hopefully, soon.”

Carr has excelled when playing with a full deck, working with solid protection and a strong stable of versatile receivers. He’s also on his fourth coordinator and third offensive system in five seasons, a fact that can’t be ignored.

“I look forward to some day, where we have a lot of pieces in place and we have some continuity, and everybody is used to playing with one another,” Gruden said. “I just think this guy has a real high ceiling and he has a lot of pride in his performance. Taking care of the football and being available every day, on the practice field and game day, is a priority.”

NFL rumors: Teams sensing opportunity to trade for Raiders' Derek Carr

NFL rumors: Teams sensing opportunity to trade for Raiders' Derek Carr

The Raiders have a new home and soon will occupy a brand-new stadium. Might they also have a new quarterback under center for the first snap of the 2020 season?

There has been rampant speculation that Las Vegas might be interested in trading for legendary Patriots quarterback Tom Brady or possibly trading up to acquire one of the top QB prospects in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. Should either situation play out, but especially the former, it almost would certainly mean Derek Carr would be moved elsewhere.

Carr carries a $21.5 million cap hit for the 2020 season, and it would be almost impossible to field a competitive team with that much salary allocated to a backup.

Coach Jon Gruden gave a lukewarm endorsement of the quarterback following the Raiders' final season in Oakland, but both he and general manager Mike Mayock have maintained they'll look at every possible way to upgrade the roster for the team's first season in Sin City. Whether or not that means replacing Carr is anyone's guess, but if that's the route they choose to go, it sounds as if they might not have trouble finding a trade partner.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Vincent Bonsignore reported Tuesday night that momentum is building towards teams inquiring with the Raiders about potentially trading for Carr.

Carr has three more seasons left on his current contract, so any team that would acquire him would either need to have ample cap space or send some significant salary back to the Raiders. He'll turn 29 years old next month, and one could argue he's just entering his prime after posting career-bests in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating last season.

[RELATED: Carr unfazed by questions on Raiders future, brother says]

If Carr isn't the Raiders' QB for the first season in Vegas, they better be confident they've found a better fit for the organization moving forward.

2020 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. explains his two Raiders selections

2020 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. explains his two Raiders selections

In an offseason full of Tom Brady-to-Las-Vegas rumors, one thing is for certain: The Raiders must find upgrades at receiver and linebacker. 

With two first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Raiders can do exactly that in slightly over two months. They're sure to look at the free-agent market as well, but finding instant contributors on rookie contracts is a must for a team looking to make the leap next season. 

This is especially true with the Raiders reportedly willing to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million contract.

Still, Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock can shore up their two biggest positions of need right away in the draft. That's exactly what ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. did in his latest mock draft. Kiper gave the Raiders receiver Jerry Jeudy at No. 12 and linebacker Kenneth Murray at No. 19. 

The longtime draft expert explained his selections in a conference call on Wednesday. 

"I have Kenneth Murray going there at 19, linebacker from Oklahoma, and have them taking Jerry Jeudy from Alabama at 12," Kiper said. "So you get the linebacker -- whether it's Murray or Patrick Queen from LSU at 19, then you get the receiver. I think it's CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma or it's Jeudy from Alabama at No. 12." 

In an ideal world for the Raiders, Clemson's do-it-all hybrid linebacker Isaiah Simmons would fall right in their lap. But Kiper said he can't see that happening without a major trade from Mayock. He has the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Simmons with the No. 9 pick. 

Josh Schrock and I, however, have Simmons going even higher at No. 4 to the New York Giants in our latest mock draft. We do agree with the positions Kiper has the Raiders targeting, but gave the Silver and Black his second options. 

While Kiper has Lamb going to the New York Jets at No. 11 and Jeudy to the Raiders one pick later, we sent Lamb to Las Vegas and Jeudy being taken by the Indianapolis Colts with the next pick. The two are that close and either one would instantly boost the Raiders' receiver corps. 

[RELATED: How Raiders' 2019 rookies are laying bedrock for success]

Murray originally wound up as a Raider in our first two editions of our mock draft, but Queen seems like he has more upside and is a better fit for the modern NFL. Murray is a fine athlete in his own regard, but Queen is much more explosive and better in coverage.

Queen's side-to-side range is what truly sets him apart. 

Either way, the consensus is out that the Raiders likely will target receivers and linebackers in this year's draft. Any combination of Jeudy, Lamb, Murray or Queen will be huge for the Raiders' rise after a seven-win season.