Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he takes a closer look at players who could use a fresh start in the new year.
In the NFL, the end is rarely pretty for the player. A surprising demotion or dismissal can knock a prideful man to his knees, even if he has a résumé loaded with accolades. Which brings us to Las Vegas ...
On Wednesday, first-year Raiders coach Josh McDaniels announced that Jarrett Stidham would replace Derek Carr as the team's starting quarterback for the final two games of the regular season. Carr has been the franchise's starting quarterback since 2014, when the Raiders took him with the 36th overall pick in that year's NFL draft. But in this moment, it sure feels like the 31-year-old has taken his last snap for the Silver and Black.
The Raiders need some help, but they've yet to be eliminated from the playoff race, making the timing of this decision awkward. The move undoubtedly impacted the locker room's psyche. With Las Vegas' postseason odds still existent -- albeit slim -- the Raiders benched their three-time Pro Bowler in favor of a former Patriots fourth-rounder who's yet to start an NFL game. Teammates who support Carr will question the franchise's direction and wonder what lies ahead at the quarterback position.
Remember, this is the same field general who just led the Raiders to last season's playoffs after overcoming a series of significant in-season challenges, including a shocking coaching change. Carr's leadership, toughness and playmaking ability steadied the team during turbulent times, and Las Vegas rewarded him in April with a three-year, $121.5 million contract extension. But the franchise left itself an out in the new pact with a low 2023 dead cap number of $5.625 million if Carr is cut or traded within three days of Super Bowl LVII. Carr's entire 2023 salary ($32.9 million) plus $7.5 million of his 2024 salary is otherwise fully guaranteed for injury, meaning the Raiders would be on the hook if Carr were to suffer a substantial injury during the remainder of this season.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Carr will not practice with the team over the final two weeks of the regular season, with both sides concluding it's best for the veteran quarterback to step away and avoid being a distraction. From the outside looking in, this sure seems like the separation phase preceding a full-fledged divorce. And yes, that could be a positive outcome for both parties.
After throwing for a career-high 4,804 yards in 2021, Carr's play regressed this season. Currently tied with Dak Prescott for the league lead in interceptions with 14, Carr was mired in a three-game slump before his benching, completing just 53.4 percent of his passes with a 4:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 59.0 passer rating since Week 14. While the quarterback's 2022 reunion with college buddy Davante Adams produced some fine numbers -- the wideout is tied for the league lead with 12 touchdown receptions and ranks sixth with 1,290 receiving yards -- the Raiders have failed to take off as a whole in McDaniels' first season on the job, with a disappointing 6-9 record ahead of Sunday's game against the 49ers.
That said, Carr should still be in his prime at age 31. And over the course of his nine-year NFL career, he's proven to be a solid starter with the capacity to play like a top-10 quarterback in a system that accentuates his talents as a quick-rhythm passer. With a swift release and pinpoint accuracy, Carr is at his best when he can throw an assortment of short and intermediate routes on traditional dropbacks and play-action passes from a clean pocket. Though Carr doesn't lack for functional athleticism, he struggles when forced to make plays outside of the structure of the offense. This limits his upside, to be sure, but doesn't limit his ability to start games in this league, even if the Raiders are indeed ready to move on.
Carr's consistency, reliability and durability (SEE: 142 starts in 144 regular-season Raiders games since his drafting) should make him an attractive option for a team that needs a game manager to complete the offensive puzzle. Organizations like the Jets, Colts and maybe the Titans should consider taking a closer look at Carr if the longtime starter becomes available on the trade block or hits the open market via release. Long a polarizing figure in Raider Nation, Carr could benefit from a change of scenery. In the right situation, he could an Alex Smith-like second act to his professional career. Or something similar to what Jared Goff is enjoying in Detroit.
Carr isn't the only man who could use a change in 2023. Here are six more players who could thrive in a new environment next season:
The writing appears to be on the wall for the No. 2 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilson's rookie season was tough, but Year 2's been an absolute nightmare. Benched in favor of Mike White last month, Wilson returned to the starting lineup two weeks ago with White sidelined by a rib injury. While erratic in New York's Week 15 loss to Detroit, Wilson did flash the playmaking ability that initially made him such a coveted prospect. That wasn't the case in last week's 19-3 loss to Jacksonville, and Wilson was benched in the third quarter of the prime-time affair in favor of journeyman Chris Streveler. Head coach Robert Saleh keeps saying, "We haven't seen the last of him," but the latest benching felt consequential, like it could put the young gunslinger squarely on the trade block. And maybe a relocation, away from the bright lights and press pressure cooker of New York City, would serve him best. Despite Wilson's woes over his first two NFL seasons, executives are always willing to roll the dice on talented passers with five-star arm talent. Now, the Jets would incur a hefty dead cap hit if they were to trade ($11,462,066) or release ($20,770,856) Wilson before June 1 of 2023, so if the two sides are indeed heading to splitsville, it could take some time.
The ascension of rookie Brian Robinson to the RB1 role for the Commanders could prompt the team to move on from this 2020 third-rounder in the offseason. Gibson's fumbling woes and inconsistency as a rusher might make him the odd man out in DC, but his pass-catching skills and versatility could intrigue a team looking for a change-of-pace back to add to the rotation.
After back-to-back seasons with 700-plus receiving yards as a flex tight end, Gesicki has been a non-factor in first-year coach Mike McDaniel's scheme. Despite his rare athleticism and playmaking ability, the fifth-year pro is nothing more than a complementary piece of the offensive puzzle, as evidenced by his 26 catches for 298 yards and four scores in 15 games. Playing this season on the franchise tag, the 27-year-old is heading for unrestricted free agency in March. In a league that covets playmakers with mismatch potential, Gesicki's size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds), explosiveness (4.54 40-yard dash, 41.5-inch vertical leap, 6.76 three-cone drill at the NFL Scouting Combine) and pre-McDaniel production will intrigue a team looking for a difference-maker at tight end.
The talented -- but oft-injured and underachieving -- Becton could be on the move after missing all but one game over the last two seasons with various ailments. The mammoth 6-7 tackle's reported weight issues and questionable conditioning habits compound the checkered injury history. Although the former No. 11 overall pick's Jets tenure certainly hasn't gone as planned, scouts and coaches could be intrigued by his size, athleticism and unrealized potential. Given the challenge of finding competent edge blockers in the league, Becton's upside would definitely prompt a team to roll the dice if he were to become available. And the big guy could come back with an enormous chip on his shoulder in a new city.
The No. 20 overall pick of the 2020 draft has flopped in Duval, recording just two sacks in his first three seasons. Still, there is no denying his enticing raw talent. Checking in at 6-3 and 245 pounds, Chaisson is a dynamic athlete with a combination of speed and quickness that should translate into splash plays. Though it has not happened with the Jaguars, a scheme change and a new role could help Chaisson -- who's still just 23 years old -- realize some of the potential that made him a first-rounder.
The emergence of former seventh-round project Jordan Mailata as a premier left tackle, combined with Lane Johnson's Pro Bowl play on the right side, makes it nearly impossible for Dillard to crack the Eagles' starting lineup despite his status as a former first-round pick. Yeah, he could get some burn in the coming weeks with Johnson's abdomen ailment, but Dillard's set to hit free agency after this season, as Philadelphia chose not to exercise his fifth-year option. As a pass-blocking specialist with potential, the 27-year-old will garner interest on the open market, especially given the league's constant yearning for viable bookend blockers, which I mentioned above. While his injury history will give some teams pause, Dillard's upside could make him a hot commodity in the offseason.