The fourth in our ongoing series looking at the Raiders roster continues today with Hayden Nadolny’s assessment of the quarterback position.
If there is a list of things Jon Gruden was brought back to the Raiders for, number one is to get Derek Carr back on track. Carr looked a shell of his past self in 2017, and the offense stalled. Granted, it was difficult to determine how much of that was Carr, and how much of that was on Todd Downing’s archaic scheme. If Gruden can get Carr humming once more, the Raiders will no doubt be playing well into January of this upcoming season.
As Carr goes, so go the Raiders. Carr’s performance like the rest of the team was great to start the year, but after that Washington game he looked a shell of his 2016 MVP candidate self. Carr then went down with a back injury in week 4 against the Broncos. He only missed a single game, but the effects of his injury were readily apparent throughout the season. Carr would later tell multiple reporters after the season that there was discomfort throughout and that his injury needed to be managed.
One area where I expect Carr to improve on significantly next year is his deep ball mechanics. After Carr was injured, the trajectory of his deep balls had a far greater loop on them. This may be due to his back injury having forced him to change his mechanics on the deep balls to get them so far down the field. This is in stark contrast to 2016, in which his deep balls were a lot flatter in arc. If there is any throw to have enticed Gruden to come back to the Raiders, Carr’s deep strike to Amari Cooper in the season finale against the Chargers was it: 53 yards in the air with a beautiful trajectory hitting Cooper behind the secondary in stride for the 87-yard touchdown. Between Carr, Olson and Brian Callahan, Carr is going to have all the resources he needs to return and surpass his MVP caliber 2016 season.
Cook was not seen for a single snap this regular season. His performances in pre-season were shaky, and EJ Manuel beat him out for the backup quarterback position. Cook was well received by Gruden at Gruden’s Quarterback Camp back in 2016, so Cook will likely get a chance to show his talents through training camp. He is however, far from a lock at this point to be on the 53-man roster come the fall.
Impending Free Agent:
Manuel joined the Raiders in the past off-season and had a solid camp and preseason, winning the backup quarterback competition ahead of Cook. Manuel performed well against the Broncos and had some nice throws against the Ravens whilst Carr was out with his back injury. One of the main reasons Manuel chose Oakland over other suitors was his relationship with former offensive coordinator Todd Downing. Manuel has no ties to the Gruden regime, so it is anyone’s guess as to how he will be received and whether they will be interested in bringing him back for another season. Manuel plays with a style that is similar to former Gruden quarterback Jeff Garcia, so the thought of bringing Manuel back isn’t totally inconceivable.
Free agency targets:
Derek Carr is the Raiders’ franchise quarterback, but the backup spots are far from a lock going into next season. The free agency class has some talented players including Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins, while Case Keenum and Sam Bradford will likely be paid handsomely to be starters. The Raiders should be looking for an experienced veteran at their backup position, assuming that Gruden doesn’t want to go with Cook in that spot.
Top of that list would be Josh McCown, who spent last season as the Jets’ starter. McCown would only be an option if he doesn’t get a starting job in free agency. McCown has a number of traits similar to Gruden’s quarterbacks in the past (cerebral, wily, relatively mobile when necessary, conservative, great locker room influence). If Gruden would prefer a more aggressive player, Ryan Fitzpatrick could be an option. If Gruden wants to take a gamble, the Raiders could take a flier on Teddy Bridgewater. There are lots of questions surrounding Bridgewater, with a possibility of him returning and potentially even starting as the Vikings’ quarterback next season. However, if he hits the free agency market and interest is lukewarm, Gruden would be a great fit to help get the most out of him from a developmental standpoint. If none of the above players were a good fit for the Raiders, re-signing Manuel would be a solid move to give them stability at this spot. Given Gruden’s reputation with quarterbacks, Raider Nation should be feeling good about where this position will stand going into next season.