But that feels like eons ago now, with the Raiders slipping to 6-9 this season, Carr struggling -- with his emotions overflowing following a loss to the Colts -- and now getting benched with two games remaining.
That's a career's worth of drama for some players.
What's next for Carr? Surely, this feels like a precursor to Carr relocating in the offseason.
"There's a lot to be sorted through once the season is over," McDaniels said Wednesday after announcing Jarrett Stidham would replace Carr for the remainder of the regular season.
Even with Carr signing the extension, moving on from him -- either by trading him (he does have a no-trade clause) or straight up releasing him shortly after the Super Bowl -- wouldn't cripple the Raiders financially. Perhaps benching Carr right now allows Vegas to showcase his availability a bit early, giving teams the opportunity to discuss the three-time Pro Bowler as a trade option before the wave of offseason moving and shaking. If no quality offers materialize, the Raiders can just cut bait with a manageable dead-money hit.
Let's try to look forward to the offseason, which is sure to feature another game of QB musical chairs, to figure out what Carr's next landing spot might be -- if, of course, he doesn't ultimately end up staying put in Las Vegas.
You know the deal: Zach Wilson has been benched, and Mike White is again the rescue starter at QB. But White is also a free agent-to-be, so it’s no guarantee he’ll be back. The Jets have been connected to other veteran QBs, such as Jimmy Garoppolo, which would make sense. But if Carr is available -- and especially if the Raiders might be interested in Wilson -- it’s a pairing you certainly can’t look past. The Jets have some budding weapons; now they just need to figure out their long-term QB.
The QB forecast in New Orleans is rather unclear now, as Andy Dalton has played respectably well following Jameis Winston’s back injury. But Dalton is a pending free agent, and Winston is a candidate to be cut. Assuming Taysom Hill isn’t suddenly a starter candidate (again), the Saints will need to go out and get someone -- and do so with salary-cap issues and no first-round pick. Their financial situation makes a QB of Carr’s stature trickier to project as a strong possibility. But if the Raiders end up cutting Carr, New Orleans might be able to find a way to make it work.
On the one hand, the Colts going the veteran route at quarterback would be predictable, as they’ve not used a Day 1 or 2 pick on one since Andrew Luck, and have since patched the Luck-sized hole at the position with veteran signings or trades. But look how that’s worked out for them. Assuming they bring in some new blood in 2023, the Colts will be starting their eighth different QB since Luck retired. Carr would be somewhere between Carson Wentz and Philip Rivers on the risk scale, but they’d likely have to offer something in a trade to land him. From the outside looking in, depending on who the head coach is next season, Indianapolis might not be the most attractive spot for a veteran quarterback to choose.
It’s feeling more likely that Tom Brady isn’t going to be back in Tampa next season -- either retiring or going elsewhere for one more year. (Possibly even to Las Vegas to reunite with McDaniels.) Unless the Bucs feel that Blaine Gabbert or Kyle Trask deserve to be Brady’s successor, which doesn’t feel likely, Tampa Bay should be in the market for help. This team was built to win now with Brady in tow, although the Bucs' extremely tight cap situation makes this a tough fit -- even if Brady’s monster salary were to come off the books.
The Giants have not tipped their hand on what the plans are for Daniel Jones, whose fifth-year option was not picked up prior to this season. Jones has played well in 2022, especially when it comes to ball security. He’s also seen an uptick in his completion percentage and has weaponized his running ability like never before. The Giants might not be ready to give up on a 25-year-old QB and could franchise tag Jones this offseason. If not, the Giants’ respectable record this season might not put them in a position to draft his successor immediately.
There are also other connections here: Derek’s older brother, David, played for the Giants and has spoken highly about the franchise and its ownership. Plus, Giants head coach Brian Daboll has connections to McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler from the time they spent together on New England’s staff.
The Panthers have been a pleasant -- and shocking -- surprise down the stretch after the firing of Matt Rhule and the trade of Christian McCaffrey, keeping in contention under Steve Wilks in the moribund NFC South. It’s been a fun storyline, but owner David Tepper and GM Scott Fitterer can only ride that for so long, knowing that the future starting QB likely isn’t on the roster (unless Sam Darnold is kept around to compete with a rookie next season, perhaps). Tepper clearly wants a splash at the position, so a player of Carr’s talent has to be considered. But even as the Panthers remain in contention, they currently are slated to have a top-10 pick. Will Carolina go the draft route or the trade/free agency path for its next QB? That’s not yet clear.
Ryan Tannehill turns 35 next summer and might not play again this season (or ever) for the Titans. Following Tannehill’s playoff meltdown last season and his frustrating, injury-plagued 2022 campaign, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel might want to change things up. So far, Malik Willis hasn’t shown he can be the 2023 starter.
We don’t know if Vrabel also will keep offensive coordinator Todd Downing in his post, but if he does, Downing and Carr remain tight after working together with the Raiders previously. Carr arguably had his three best seasons with Downing, although more so with him as his QB coach (in 2015 and '16) than as Carr’s OC (in 2017). Downing was not beloved as a play caller in Oakland, but he and Carr have spoken openly of their appreciation of one another.
The future of New England's offense remains very much in limbo. As in, we don’t know who will be calling plays or throwing passes next season. That complicates this prospective pairing. And if Carr couldn’t pass muster for McDaniels, would Bill Belichick be loath to go after him? We don’t know. Belichick has praised Carr multiple times in the past, although the Patriots' defense did clamp down on Carr in the second half of their wild meeting a few weeks ago. The shiny object in this trade scenario clearly would be Mac Jones. If the Patriots decide they’ve run the course with Jones at season’s end, there’s arguably no better-equipped coach to resuscitate Jones’ career than McDaniels, who guided him to a Pro Bowl season last year as a rookie in New England.
The Commanders have brought back Carson Wentz as a starter for the stretch run with a lot at stake: If he plays well, Wentz could guarantee he’ll be on the same club for consecutive seasons for the first time in three years. But if he crashes and burns, might Washington shuffle the deck again at quarterback? Nothing can be ruled out for that franchise, which feels perpetually in flux, especially with Wentz’s contract (with no guaranteed money remaining) making him an ideal candidate to be cut if he doesn’t earn it. Carr theoretically would represent an upgrade there, and he’d have some talented young receivers to throw to.
With Marcus Mariota likely done in Atlanta and Desmond Ridder still trying to prove he deserves a shot as the starter in 2023, the Falcons remain candidates to pursue veteran help until proven otherwise. We tend to think they’d go with a cheaper veteran option than Carr -- perhaps Tannehill, who has experience with Arthur Smith -- but with all four NFC South teams possibly seeing quarterback changes this offseason, we can’t rule out the possibility of an arms race developing there.
Could Carr come back? Sure, it’s possible. It's arguable Las Vegas is sitting Carr as a way of preventing his $33 million salary in 2023 from being guaranteed by an injury down the stretch. But it could be that this benching is a provisional move, and once the Raiders reconnoiter the 2023 QB landscape, they might find that Carr is more attractive than other potential options out there.
Las Vegas is likely to land a high draft pick, but will a McDaniels-and-Ziegler-approved QB be available at that spot? McDaniels waited until Year 2 in his Broncos tenure to handpick his preferred future quarterback (Tim Tebow) via the draft and could take that same route in Vegas this offseason. But even if that happens, the Raiders brass could decide that keeping Carr around as the bridge to the future might be the smartest route next season. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, but just look how the 49ers handled things with Trey Lance and Garoppolo; they might not be Super Bowl contenders now had they not kept Garoppolo. If nothing else, there’s a lesson to be learned from the 49ers’ approach to the QB position.