By Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
EDITOR’S NOTE: In “Bucky’s Blueprint,” Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player, scout and executive, pulls back the curtain on front offices around the league to reveal how teams assess players, as well as how they build rosters and franchises.
Commitment, accountability and trust are the pillars of a championship team. The teams with players who are committed to the process and willing to hold themselves and their teammates to the standard are the ones that hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.
Adherence to the pillars also enables teams to navigate through the adversity that inevitably rocks every NFL squad at some point. The Las Vegas Raiders have dealt with their fair share of adversity over the past few seasons. From Jon Gruden’s dismissal to the Henry Ruggs tragedy, the Raiders have become a hardened bunch that understands how to win despite the circumstances around them.
Part of their success in turning lemons into lemonade can be attributed to their quarterback’s leadership and guidance through difficult times. Derek Carr has shown impressive poise and grit leading the Raiders through a tumultuous journey. The three-time Pro Bowler has posted a completion percentage of at least 68.0 in each of the past four seasons while notching a passer rating above 100.0 in two of those years.
With Carr also topping the 4,000-yard mark in each of those seasons, he has ranked as one of the most productive passers in the NFL. As an efficient quarterback who has helped the Raiders improve from four wins in 2018 to 10 wins and a playoff berth in 2021, Carr has shown the franchise that he is more than capable of guiding a team to the winner’s circle. Moreover, he has played at a near-MVP level (he finished third in 2016) in the past while also spearheading another playoff run.
Given his résumé and intangibles, it should have been a no-brainer to tie the quarterback to the franchise for the foreseeable future, right?
As a player who has done and said all the right things while leading the team through multiple rebuilding efforts under two different coaches (Jack Del Rio, 2014-2017; Jon Gruden 2018-2021), the eighth-year pro has demonstrated enough talent, toughness and resilience to excel in any situation.
While I am not ready to proclaim No. 4 an elite quarterback, he is certainly a top-10 player at the position with a résumé that should have made him a long-term option for the Silver and Black.
That said, the NFL is extremely competitive. General managers and scouts are always on a mission to improve their team’s chances of winning a championship. The mission requires evaluators to compare and contrast their blue-chip talents to other elite players around the league. The top team-builders in this league never bypass an opportunity to improve their squad even if it means hurting the best player’s feelings.
In an ultra-competitive game where everyone is judged by rings and banners, players cannot expect GMs and top personnel executives to fail to pick up the phone call when an elite talent is on the line. That’s particularly true when the player is a six-time Super Bowl winner looking for a new home after an impressive 20-year run in New England.
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No disrespect to Carr and how well he has played for the Raiders, but the opportunity to bring in Brady is worth dealing with a few bruised feelings even if it involves your franchise quarterback. Although Carr deserved a heads-up when the team was reportedly flirting with Brady, he has to understand the unique circumstances behind the opportunity and treat it like a business transaction.
That is how most of the players on every 53-man roster compartmentalize the fluid nature of their jobs, with evaluators constantly looking to upgrade the talent at every position. Great teams preach competition, and players, including the QB1, must embrace the challenge of earning their spot in the starting lineup or within the rotation every day.
Elite quarterbacks are another story, but those outside of the VIP section are consistently debated within team rooms. Coaches and scouts assess their quarterback’s strengths while comparing his talent and potential to what is available on the free agent market and in the NFL Draft. If the veteran bristles at being compared to an all-time great, he probably is not built to be a team’s QB1 when things go awry.
That’s why Carr’s words resonated with me when he addressed the team’s flirtation with Brady.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Carr said. “Anything I say will just be blasted out there, so I’m just going to completely remove myself and just keep trying to play football. It’s been nice just answering football questions. And hopefully, no more drama in the city. That’s what I hope.”
Carr appears to have enough self-awareness to understand where he fits in the NFL’s pecking order, particularly when his game is compared to the GOAT. In addition, Carr must also understand the temperamental nature of his previous coach and his pattern of cycling through QBs throughout his career (Brad Johnson, Chris Simms, Brian Griese, Jeff Garcia and Bruce Gradkowski with the Buccaneers and Jeff George and Rich Gannon with the Raiders).
Carr somehow captured the QB guru’s attention and captivated his imagination. The fascination kept Gruden from taking on Brady (and also reportedly Rob Gronkowski) despite the need to make a playoff run in Year 4 of his second Raiders tenure. The Super Bowl-winning coach was apparently willing to bypass a chance to coach a legend to instead continue his relationship with an up-and-comer who had shown promise under his tutelage.
That commitment should make it easier for Carr to forgive and forget the team’s flirtation with TB12. The hefty contract extension Carr signed in April should also ease some of the headache and heartbreak created by the dalliance. New general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels signed Carr to a three-year, $121.5 million extension, though there is a potential out after the first season.
Still, the new deal is significant due to McDaniels’ power as the leader of the franchise. He had an opportunity to handpick his quarterback, and he has opted to continue with Carr. The contract signals the coach’s belief in the Raiders’ QB1 and how he expects him to elevate the offense to a championship level.
McDaniels doubled down on that belief with the blockbuster acquisition of Davante Adams, which not only reunites Carr with his Fresno State teammate but provides the QB with an All-Pro pass catcher who is regarded as the best in the game. Given the accountability that comes with directing an offense featuring three all-star receivers (Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow), the Raiders are entrusting their playoff hopes to a quarterback looking to join the ranks of the elite.
With that commitment expected to breed confidence, the Raiders need Carr to win now to justify the franchise’s new faith in him.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports and regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself.” He has been in or around the league since 1994, playing for or working with, among others, Marv Levy, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf. Brooks also breaks down the game for NFL Network and is a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast.
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