ALAMEDA — Here are some things that happen in the locker rooms of winning teams: Laughter. Guys dancing to profane music and razzing one another. Players lingering at their lockers a little longer than they have to, because they don’t mind being interviewed, and owning up to mistakes, because why not when so much praise is being heaped upon you?
What happens in losing locker rooms? I direct your attention to Raiders headquarters in Alameda. Wednesday, in a room mostly devoid of active players, tight end Lee Smith stepped in front of the camera lights and delivered a defiant, impassioned defense of his quarterback. I wouldn’t call it a prepared statement; Smith wasn’t reading from a sheet of paper. I would call it a premeditated statement, words he had considered for a while before they left his mouth.
“All these reports about this locker room being fractured with Derek Carr is the most obnoxious and ridiculous thing I’ve heard, ever,” Smith said. “It’s to the point where it’s comical and laughable that I’m even sitting here talking about it.”
And yet there he was — standing, actually, not sitting — refuting the unnamed sources in a story in The Athletic who painted a picture of discord in the Raiders’ locker room.
If the Raiders were 5-1, everyone in the building could have laughed off the report and moved along to red-zone plays and blitz packages. But the Raiders, as you know, are 1-5, with the losses growing more one-sided by the week. They traded their best defensive player before the season started, and on Monday they traded one of their best offensive players, wide receiver Amari Cooper. The season is not yet two months old, and the good ship Gruden II is taking on water.
And smack in the middle of all of it all, inflating his life vest, is Carr, the Raiders’ fifth-year quarterback. This offseason, the talk was about how much he would benefit from Jon Gruden’s tutelage — how Carr could turn back the clock to 2016, when he led the team to a 12-3 record as a starter, and erase the regression of 2017. Now the football world is wondering aloud whether Carr cried on the field in a loss to the Seahawks a week and a half ago, and whether he has lost respect among his teammates for such an un-NFL-like display of emotion.
You’ve heard about Weepergate, right? On the Raiders’ final offensive play in an offensive loss to Seattle in London, Carr got battered by a couple of pass rushers, hurt his left arm and made an extremely sad face as teammates helped him up. Next thing you know, we’re watching the game tape like it’s the Zapruder film in an attempt to answer the question: Did Derek Carr cry, or didn’t he?
Can you imagine Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers being accused of crying on the field? They’d roll their eyes and say “whatever” or “sure, I cry all the time,” then move along.
But Carr is in a much more fragile position. He is 5-14 in his past 19 starts, dating to the third game of the 2017 season. During that time, he has thrown 24 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions, a regrettable ratio by NFL standards. Some of those interceptions have been devastating, and Carr has looked a bit gun-shy since fracturing his fibula and a small bone in his back in separate incidents.