There are few teams in the NFL more intriguing this season than the Oakland Raiders.
They are a lame duck in Oakland, on their way to Las Vegas for the 2019 or, more likely, 2020 season. They added hometown-hero running back Marshawn Lynch, welcomed back quarterback Derek Carr from the injury that kept him from last season’s playoffs and hoped to make a run at a Super Bowl title in what’s left of their time in the Bay Area.
But things are beginning to veer decidedly off course. The Raiders have followed a 2-0 start with losses to the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, and now Carr is to be sidelined for an estimated 2 to 6 weeks because of a transverse process fracture in his back.
It’s time for the Raiders to be realistic. If they believe that Carr’s absence will be closer to two weeks, fine. They can try to get by with backup E.J. Manuel and third-stringer Connor Cook, then get Carr back into the lineup before falling too far behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Broncos in the AFC West and too far out of the playoff chase.
But if the likelihood is that Carr will be out closer to six weeks than two, that’s too long to patch things together with Manuel and Cook. The season could be lost before Carr returns, if that is the case. Under those circumstances, they would owe it to themselves to consider signing still-out-of-work quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“I am not a supporter of E.J. Manuel’s skill set or leadership ability — wasn’t when he came out (of college), either,” said a front-office executive with another NFL team, speaking on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment. “I think Kaepernick is more talented. But only the Raiders know if he fits for them at this time.”
Manuel completed 11 of 17 passes for 106 yards after taking over for Carr against the Broncos. He threw an interception and was sacked once. He had a passer rating of 57.5.
He might be better this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens in Oakland, with first-team practice snaps and proper preparation as the starter. Or he might not. He had a passer rating of 58.3 last season for the Buffalo Bills. He has a career passer rating of 76.9. The Bills, after selecting him in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft out of Florida State, gave up on him after only 17 starts.
Cook was not the answer last season when, as a rookie, he was forced into the Raiders’ starting lineup for a playoff loss at Houston that brought a once-so-promising season to a bitterly disappointing end.
Can the Raiders win their next two games at home against the struggling Ravens and winless Los Angeles Chargers without Carr? Sure, they can. Can they get Carr back for a key Thursday night showdown with the Chiefs in Oakland on Oct. 19? Maybe.
But if, in their heart of hearts, they wonder if they can beat even the Ravens and Chargers without Carr, if they are skeptical about Carr being back relatively soon, they should be considering being the NFL team that gives Kaepernick a job.
They fit the football-related criteria laid out recently by Hall of Fame front office executive Bill Polian for what it might take for Kaepernick to return to the league.