Barber: With Day One done, Derek Carr's still a Raider
ALAMEDA - “With the fourth pick in the 2019 NFL draft… and the 24th pick in the 2019 NFL draft… and the 27th pick in the 2019 NFL draft… the Oakland Raiders select: Derek Carr, quarterback.”
Crowd goes wild. Or Derek Carr does, anyway.
It will take at least a couple years to parse the results of this year's annual NFL meat market. We must wait to find out how head coach Jon Gruden and neophyte general manager Mike Mayock did in their unconventional first collaboration. We don't yet know the ceiling (or the cellar) of former Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell.
But we know this: Derek Carr is still No. 1 on the depth chart.
It was not a foregone conclusion when the day began. Carr had entered the pre-draft rumor machine, and was spun like a drying T-shirt. As the big day got closer, a lot of people became convinced Gruden would duct-tape Mayock in his chair in their lonely two-man “war room” and draft a quarterback. Maybe even trade up for the opportunity to do so.
There was well-known ESPN drafteroo Todd McShay, who had this to say on the network's “Get Up!” morning show earlier in the week: “Jon Gruden loves Kyler Murray, I'm told. And does not necessarily love Derek Carr, I'm told, which is going to be the interesting thing to see. It may not play out in this draft, but I think at some point, it's going to come to an end between Carr and Jon Gruden, from what I hear.”
Murray, of course, is known in these parts as The One That Got Away from the A's. The University of Oklahoma athlete was their first pick in the MLB draft last June, but he decided to play football instead. Specifically, quarterback.
NFL Network's Ian Rapaport tossed another Molotov cocktail into the window when he said it might instead be Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins who had caught Gruden's eye. Rapaport upped the ante when the Raiders were on the clock, noting that Haskins “has moved up the Raiders' draft board” and was “in play” for the fourth overall pick.
Mayock hadn't exactly put the gossip to rest two weeks before the draft when he met with reporters at Raiders team headquarters.
“I've said before Derek Carr is a franchise quarterback and we believe that,” he said that day. “Beyond that, just like in any other position, we're going to do our due diligence. If we found somebody we like better or thought had bigger upside, then you got to do the right thing for the organization.”
There were live cameras across America on draft night, most of them in the living rooms and rented restaurant backrooms of prospective draftees. I wish there had been one in the Derek Carr residence. He would never admit it, but I bet Carr was pretty agitated as the evening began. I picture him pacing with nervous energy, telling the kids “not now, honey,” dabbing at his forehead with a sleeve.
He got relief around 5:45 p.m., though, when the Arizona Cardinals took Murray with the top pick. Murray became Josh Rosen's nemesis, not Carr's. And when the Raiders' pick rolled around at No. 4, they didn't take the plunge for Haskins. They opted for Ferrell, who, as far as I can surmise, weighs about 267 pounds and isn't very good at throwing a football.
Carr had survived the first set of rapids.
There would be more, with Oakland holding slots No. 24 (the Khalil Mack pick) and No. 27 (the Amari Cooper pick). The first round proceeded. Imaginary Carr took deep breaths and sipped a virgin colada. The Giants lifted more weight from his back at No. 6 when they got even freakier than the Raiders and selected Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. Haskins went off the board at No. 15, to Washington; a Gruden got him, but it was Jay, not his brother Jon.
Finally, the Raiders' turn came again at No. 24. They did go offense this time, but it was for a running back, Alabama's Josh Jacobs. Carr got another arrow in his quiver, not one in his back. Then, three picks later, the Raiders made their final selection of Day One. Imaginary Carr couldn't bear to watch. But his team took Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram. While it's true that Abram was a dual-threat high school quarterback in Mississippi, I believe the plan is to put him in the secondary here.
So yeah, there's a very good chance that Derek Carr will wake up Friday morning as the starting quarterback of the Raiders. Gruden said as much when I asked him following the conclusion of Round 1.
“We like our quarterback,” he said. “We've been perfectly clear with everybody that's asked us. I'm not gonna address all the rumors. I was part of the rumor cycle for nine years. That's TV and that's Internet chatter. But I'm telling you that Derek Carr's our quarterback. And I've said that, I think this is the fourth or fifth time. And if they don't believe me, there's nothing I can do about that.”
Mayock added: “I'm good with that answer.”
And about any dalliances with Murray and Haskins? “We did our job,” Gruden said. “Our job is to evaluate the players that are available in the draft. And we flew to Dallas and worked out Murray. We flew to Columbus and worked out Haskins. You have to do your research on every player, certainly at that position.
Thus continues the unsteady alliance between Gruden and Carr.
The coach has always been complimentary of Carr, way back to their sit-down on “Gruden's QB Camp” in 2014, when the quarterback was preparing for the draft.
I believe Gruden truly likes Carr. Their personalities are highly sympatico. But there has been a tension in their relationship since Gruden get here 16 months ago. At times last season, he hinted that Carr needed to be more aggressive in the pocket. At others, he offered mild rebukes of Carr's interceptions. TV cameras caught them in salty interactions during a couple games.
And let's be honest, Carr's tenure in Oakland has been up and down. He seemed poised for stardom after throwing 28 touchdowns, with just six interceptions, in 2016. But he broke his leg at the end of that season, fractured a bone in his back the next year and took a huge step backward on the field - as did the rest of the team. Carr's numbers were pretty good in 2018 (4,049 yards, 19 TDs, 10 interceptions) but he didn't flash his old derring-do until late in the season. He was sacked 51 times, and many of those came because he froze in the pocket.
The most basic fact is this: Carr was already in the cupboard when Gruden got here. And we all know Chucky likes to do his own shopping.
Yet it appears increasingly likely that Carr will get another chance to lead the Raiders - lead them to wins in 2019, and to Las Vegas in 2020. Unless, you know, Gruden drafts a quarterback in the second round. The Raiders have the third pick of the round Friday. It was looking like one more fitful night for Imaginary Carr.