ALAMEDA -- Derek Carr believes his Raiders should be prepping for a playoff game right now. Instead, they were cleaning out their lockers.
The 2019 season ended with a thud, after a promising start was squandered with five losses in the last six games. Bad times can pick at old wounds, with more reports that Carr and coach Jon Gruden aren’t a long-term match.
Those stories have been written since Gruden was hired last year, before he'd ever worked a single practice with Carr. Ceasefires never last long, with peaks leading up to the NFL draft and here recently, when the season went south.
The offseason's biggest question is this: Has Carr played his last game in Silver and Black?
The answer isn't completely clear, though the quarterback believes it is.
Carr was asked directly about his somewhat uncertain future with the Raiders on Monday despite having three years left on his contract, and whether he’ll be the starting quarterback in 2020.
“We’ll see when that time comes,” Carr said. “You’re probably sick of talking about it, just like I am. I had some good meetings with my coaches. I’m looking forward to Las Vegas.”
Carr is building a house near the team’s under-construction training facility in Henderson, Nev. It’s right next to Gruden’s plot. That could make for some awkward summer barbeques if Carr is cut or traded before the Raiders formally leave for Las Vegas after conducting training camp in Napa.
Gruden didn’t guarantee Carr would be back during his season-ending press conference.
"He played good. I'm not going to get all the next-year scenarios,” Gruden said. “I’m just going to say that 7-9 is a step forward. Statistically, we took a step forward. We have to get a lot of guys healthy, and we have a lot of things to look at and to evaluate before we start making any assumptions."
Gruden has a tough decision ahead when comparing Carr’s performance versus options on the free-agent market and 2020 NFL draft, where the Raiders have five selections in the top 90.
We all can agree that Carr is a quality quarterback. If you’re going to get rid of very good, you’d better replace him with someone truly special.
There’s also no arguing that Carr showed tremendous growth in his second season under Gruden, with career highs in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating.
This marks the second time in six seasons that Carr has played consecutive seasons with the same play-caller -- 2016 was the other instance -- and he was productive and efficient both times. This year, Carr threw for 4,054 yards and 21 touchdowns with just eight interceptions, with 7.9 yard per attempt and a 100.8 passer rating.
“I don’t think it’s is a surprise that my second year in a system have been both of my best years,” Carr said. “This, by far, statistically speaking, brought career highs in almost everything except wins. I think we need to get more wins. And then everyone will chill out.”
There is no chill when dealing with Carr’s uncertain future. It will rage in coming weeks as the Silver and Black push into the offseason. There’s no chill among the fan base on this topic, with vocal supporters and critics screaming at each other on social media.
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The wins haven’t been enough to quiet the angry mob that's increasingly frustrated with mounting losses that aren’t all Carr’s fault. But the fact remains he had 55 losses in his first six seasons. Only brother David Carr has more, with 56 in that same span.
We’ve seen that frustration boil over this month, with Carr booed off the field in his final two games in Oakland. That hurt. Carr will say all the right things about those moments, but they cut to his core.
It’s clear from his comments Monday that he’s ready for a new start. Not with a different team, but certainly in a new city.
He’ll get that soon enough, when the Raiders move to Las Vegas this summer.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s exciting,” Carr said. “I think it’s time for some fresh air.”