It’s official now. Derek Carr has been released by the Las Vegas Raiders and is now a free agent.
The Raiders tried to work out a trade for Carr, who turns 32 in March, allowing him to visit the New Orleans Saints prior to his increased salary kicking in on the third day after Super Bowl LVII.
That trade didn’t materialize, however, after Carr refused to accept a move, thanks to a no-trade clause in his contract. He is now able to canvas the other 31 teams to find his next home and negotiate his next contract.
Of course, the list of realistic possibilities is much smaller than that. Here are four teams we think make the most sense now to possibly sign the veteran quarterback:
The Jets have to be considered among the favorites to land Carr. Owner Woody Johnson has said he “absolutely” is willing to pay for a veteran passer this offseason. They certainly could go the Jimmy Garoppolo route, and head coach Robert Saleh certainly has familiarity with him.
But the Jets’ new passing-game coordinator, Todd Downing, also has experience with Carr, as his QB coach (2015) and offensive coordinator (2016) with the Raiders. For what it’s worth, though, Downing will be working under new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who is closely aligned with Aaron Rodgers (Packers OC from 2019 to ’21), another QB who might be on the move this offseason.
If there are concerns about Garoppolo’s injury history or potential contract demands, or if the Jets don’t want to pay up to acquire Rodgers, Carr could be a legitimate, bird-in-the-hand option.
The roster is in very good shape overall, teeming with offensive talent — except at quarterback. After Zach Wilson’s struggles, one must wonder how interested the Jets would be in drafting another passer high this spring.
The Jets are a bit restricted in terms of salary-cap space at the moment, so there are some potential holdups here, but it’s not hard to see how Carr could view them as an option to refresh his career. The Jets have a good defense, some decent offensive line pieces, good running backs and some talented, young receivers. The AFC East remains a tough division until proven otherwise, and the NYC glare isn’t for everyone, but it makes too much sense to include the Jets in the mix.
The Saints have shown us the clearest indication of interest in Carr of all the teams on this list. They met with him on Feb. 8, while Carr was still under contract with the Raiders, gauging the QB’s interest in possibly playing in New Orleans. When Carr refused a trade — to the Saints, or anywhere else — it was not viewed as an indication he had ruled them out specifically.
Now we wait to see whether the Saints have the financial means with which to land Carr. They’re currently more than $59 million over the 2023 salary cap, according to Over The Cap, with a whopping 11 players each set to count more than $10 million against it. There are some obvious cut candidates (Michael Thomas, Jameis Winston, Andrus Peat and others), but New Orleans has some serious work left to do.
Where the Saints are picking in the 2023 NFL Draft (No. 29 overall) doesn’t really put them in a position to find a quarterback that route. So whether it’s Carr or not, it appears the Saints’ starting QB is more likely to be a veteran.
Carr and Saints head coach Dennis Allen were together in Allen’s first head-coaching job with the Raiders during Carr’s rookie year of 2014, although Allen only lasted four games that season before being fired. It’s hard to imagine their relationship or trust level being so strong after such a short time together, although Carr was Allen’s Week 1 starter as a second-round pick that year and prior to the Saints facing the Raiders this season, Carr reflected positively on their time together.
“DA and I have a great relationship still to this day,” Carr said back in October. “… We’ve always kept in contact. We’ve always been close.”
The Panthers made runs at some of the top available quarterbacks last offseason before settling on drafting Matt Corral in Round 3 and trading for Baker Mayfield in July. Neither worked out in the short term, as Corral suffered a season-ending injury, and Mayfield struggled before being cut and ending up with the Rams.
Now they might be set to hit restart at the position again this offseason. New head coach Frank Reich certainly will have a say in which direction the team heads there, as could new QB coach Josh McCown, but neither of them, nor the other offensive coaches Reich has added to his staff, have strong connections to Carr.
The Panthers also own the No. 9 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and could use that to select a new passer. They also could re-sign Sam Darnold, as an inexpensive free-agent option who played better for Carolina down the stretch, as well as move forward with Corral. Then again, the Panthers’ interest in Carr could also be tied to the fact that the division-rival Saints are clearly kicking his tires. The NFC South’s quarterback situation appears a bit lean now that Tom Brady’s retired, leaving all four teams seemingly looking for help at the position.
This is a young team with some foundational talent around which to build, and the Panthers could end up with six 2023 draft picks in the top 150 overall, thanks to the Christian McCaffrey trade. So while drafting a young quarterback can’t be dismissed at all, going the veteran route also has to be on the table.
We didn’t include Tennessee on the 2.0 version of our potential landing spots for Carr, but NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday the Titans could be in the mix if they move on from veteran Ryan Tannehill, who will be 35 years old in July and has a $36.6 million cap number in 2023.
Although the Titans had to appreciate Tannehill’s toughness last season, he’s now battled injuries a few times in recent years and has seen his play level off — even if his fill-in options were considerably worse.
The question is how the Titans figure to get a Carr deal done. One way or another, they’ll still be paying a decent chunk of Tannehill’s contract — whether or not they trade or release him after June 1 –and might not currently possess the flexibility to handle that and paying Carr’s salary, which could top an average of $30 million per year.
The upside for Carr would be joining an offense with Derrick Henry, plus some younger intriguing options, such as Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo. Mike Vrabel is one of the NFL’s more respected head coaches, and the Titans were very much in the driver’s seat to win the AFC South before a late-season meltdown. They were the AFC’s top seed in 2021, too, and the division appears to be wide open entering the 2023 season.
Follow Eric Edholm on Twitter.