The Mercury News

Big Easy might be tough on ex-Raider Carr


It was in July of 2014 that Derek Carr walked into the hotel room that served as a training camp office for Raiders coach Dennis Allen at the Napa Marriott and informed him he was thinking about retiring from the NFL before ever playing in a game.

Allen was blindsided that a promising secondroun­d draft pick out of Fresno State was considerin­g life as a preacher. He had enough issues already, given a roster with minimal talent and the knowledge that he wasn't a favorite of owner Mark Davis.

“He didn't take it too great, obviously,” Carr told me in 2019. “He didn't even know what to say to me.”

Allen passed Carr off to offensive coordinato­r Greg Olson and general manager Reggie McKenzie. The crisis was averted when Carr, whose parents were en route from Bakersfiel­d to Napa to pick him up, decided to put off his life of ministry.

Thus began a nine-year run of the most polarizing player in the history of a storied franchise. Allen lasted four games, all losses, before being fired after his team's listless performanc­e in London against the Miami Dolphins. Carr, who beat out presumptiv­e starter Matt Schaub, lasted nine years and 142 games before being benched this past season by coach Josh McDaniels.

Carr and Allen are together again in New Orleans, with the quarterbac­k agreeing to a deal Monday with the Saints. Allen kept his job after a 7-10 season with the Saints taking over for Sean Payton, but won't survive beyond 2023 with another season of double-digit losses.

Allen will depend on a quarterbac­k with a 63-79 won-loss record that joins a franchise that is up against it in terms of the salary cap and not all that different than the 6-11 team Carr left in terms of talent base.

It's far from ideal, but Carr ought to be used to that by now.

The pro-Carr and anti-Carr factions will continue their endless argument about his place in the NFL quarterbac­k hierarchy, but what isn't up for debate is Carr needs a fresh start.

I haven't spoken to Carr since the Raiders moved to Las Vegas, but had wide-ranging discussion­s over a span of six years with him about playing football, being a quarterbac­k, family and religion.

You always knew what you were getting with Carr. There was an unending stream of platitudes about his teammates even in the worst of seasons. Those teammates liked and respected him. He had a willingnes­s and an eagerness to stay positive in public, the living embodiment of the old saying “If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.”

The author of 28 fourth-quarter comebacks and 33 game-winning drives — the product of being on a team that was behind often — Carr could be as clutch as they come but also make errors (spiking a pass on fourth down, fumbling out of the end zone) at the most inexplicab­le moments.

On the field, Carr was a curious mix, occasional­ly a gunslinger yet also capable of being overly cautious in the name of efficiency. A revolving door of head coaches, coordinato­rs and offensive systems didn't help but also didn't prevent Carr from being the Raiders' career leader in most passing statistics.

He had his best season in 2016, going 12-3 as a starter before a broken leg torpedoed the Raiders' season. Carr finished third in the MVP race. He played some of his best football under Jon Gruden in 2020. But even in that season, Carr stalled out enough in the red zone that Daniel Carlson kicked 18 field goals between 20 and 29 yards.

From a distance, it appeared Carr lost some of his positive energy this season. He looked grim and detached at times on the sidelines with a body language that was foreign from his first eight years. Within the past few months, two former Raiders assistants told me they thought the same thing.

Outwardly, count on Carr's enthusiasm coming back in a big way in New Orleans. But it's likely the situation won't be any better than with the Raiders in terms of having a coaching staff and supporting cast that can help beef up his bottom line.

New Orleans has seen firsthand both sides of the Carr experience. In the 2016 season opener, Carr was 24 of 38 for 319 yards, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts and a 2-point conversion pass to Michael Crabtree in outdueling Drew Brees in a 35-34 win. Last season in Week 7, Carr failed to lead the Raiders past midfield in a 24-0 loss to a below-average Saints team.

The good news is Carr could end up being the best quarterbac­k in the NFC South. The bad news is while Carr is an upgrade over Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, he'll still be measured against Brees, likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Brees was a Payton creation, and it's no coincidenc­e the former Saints coach got out of town after one year in the post-Brees era. He left behind a team with a payroll that exceeds the salary cap by $24.6 million, according to and that's without officially adding Carr.

Allen will spend the season on the hot seat, the same place he was when Carr arrived in Oakland. He'll have another new offensive coordinato­r in Pete Carmichael, who no one has confused with Payton as a play caller and designer.

Early indication­s are that the reported $150 million deal for four years is in reality $60 million over two in terms of the guarantee.

From here, it appears the Big Easy is going to be anything but easy. Where Carr and his expectatio­n of winning are concerned, it looks an awful lot like Las Vegas. Which looked a lot like Oakland.

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