The mystery of Derek Carr’s miserable season might never be solved, and that’s OK. He was injured. He lost his confidence. He was lost without Bill Musgrave, the offensive coordinator the previous year when the Raiders finished 12-4 and ended a 14-year playoff drought. His offensive line regressed. His wideouts suffered from an acute case of butter fingers.
No, his aching back wasn’t all that ailed him. His ego took an emotional flogging, too.
So how long until Jon Gruden arrives?
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For Carr, the sooner the better. The four-year veteran needs a fix, a complete head-to-toe reboot, and assuming Gruden doesn’t pull one of his misdirection plays and reject his reported offer, the starting quarterback should be standing outside the practice facility with a cup of coffee and a “Help Me” sign when the past and future Raiders coach arrives.
As bad as things appeared for the Raiders in those dismal final weeks, published reports out of the Bay Area suggest circumstances were far worse, with the most attention, of course, directed at Carr for all the obvious reasons. NFL quarterbacks are the most important people in the room. They are to be nurtured, cherished, protected. That never changes.
Yet longtime Raiders play-by-play announcer Greg Papa on Tuesday revealed that the ousted Jack Del Rio and members of his coaching staff “turned” on Carr after the 26-15 loss to Kansas City on Dec. 10.
“They called him out in front of a whole team meeting,” Papa said on 95.7 The Game. “It wasn’t just the offense or the quarterbacks, or a segment of the team. It was the whole team. And they ripped him in front of everybody, and Derek’s a prideful guy. But when you have a head coach that’s not designing the play, or calling the play, and then second-guessing the play, and the quarterback’s play on a certain play, it doesn’t go well.”
Very little went well for Carr, who signed a $125 million contract extension after a superb 2016, but was almost unrecognizable for most of the year. Though he has a powerful, accurate arm, he too seldom threw downfield, and instead became a master of the checkdown. He rarely scrambled for crucial yards, often appeared tentative in the pocket, didn’t step into his throws and on many occasions threw off his back foot.
The end result was a decline in his total quarterback rating from 96.7 in his MVP-caliber 2016 season to 86.4, and a 6-10 Raiders record that cost Del Rio his job.
Gruden, a boyish-looking 54, is the next man up, and he knows exactly what he is getting into. This will be the second time he takes over a dysfunctional Raiders franchise owned by the Davis family. And he’ll again have a quarterback with issues but a ton of talent.
Rich Gannon was a journeyman who spent time with the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs before joining the Raiders as a free agent in 1999. But his career arc shifted upward almost immediately in Oakland. In his two seasons with Gruden, a ferociously competitive kindred spirit, he thrived in the West Coast offense and developed into an elite performer. He was named to four consecutive Pro Bowls, was a two-time All-Pro selection and the 2002 NFL MVP, and reached the playoffs three times before retiring in 2004 because of a neck injury.
One of his worst moments, ironically, was a five-interception performance in the Raiders’ Super Bowl loss to Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2002-03 season.
In something of a bonus for Carr, Gannon is expected to leave the broadcasting booth according to multiple reports and join Gruden’s staff as quarterbacks coach, though some close to the situation are warning the incumbent to come prepared.
“Rich and Derek are different quarterbacks, of course,” said former Raiders scouting director Jon Kingdon, co-author of the recently released book “Al Davis: Behind the Raiders Shield.” “Rich was a little bigger and stronger physically when he came to us. He had a good arm, but couldn’t throw a pass 60 yards flat-footed. But he was athletic and mobile, which is why he was so good in the West Coast offense, and way ahead of the game in terms of experience. He was a tremendous leader who made quick reads, quick decisions. Derek has a more powerful arm and can make all the throws, and is trying to be a leader. And Jon is so creative, so sharp, it should open up a whole new aspect of his (Carr’s) game.”
With a laugh, Kingdon added, “But it will be different. The whole organization is going to be in for an awakening.”
The longtime scout recalls a young Gruden showing up at the Raiders practice facility and immediately implementing dramatic changes. He was a stickler for details, preparation and punctuality, and refuses to tolerate shortcuts or anything less than a total commitment to his cause. When cornerback Larry Brown complained about the more structured environment, Gruden released Brown from the team and handed his No. 24 jersey to rookie defensive back Charles Woodson.
“The first time somebody does something stupid or casual or lazy, Jon will ream them out right there,” Kingdon continued. “I know Derek is a religious guy, so he is going to have to get used to Jon’s (foul) language, too. But if he is mature enough and accepts what Jon is trying to do, I think this is going to be great for him and the entire organization.”
Carr has refused to discuss whether his performance was hampered by the back injury he suffered early in the season or whether his return after two weeks was premature. He has yet to talk at length about the coaching change as well. His immediate concern after the season, he said, was resting both mentally and physically.
But when he’s ready to get back to work? This Gruden-Gannon-Carr combination can’t start soon enough.