Derek Carr's release by the Raiders Tuesday did not come as any kind of surprise. The team telegraphed the move when it benched him before the end of the 2022 season, and it had given him permission to speak with other teams and try to find a trade partner in recent days. We knew this move was coming.
But even if we didn't know this specific move was coming, the past few seasons have conditioned us to expect a ton of turnover at the QB position in the NFL. The way things work now is, you either have a franchise QB, you have a young guy on a cheap deal, or you're constantly looking for one of the latter to turn into one of the former. And it's led to a yearly carousel at the QB position, one that leaves players like Carr sort of in limbo.
Carr is simply the first domino to fall, if I may mix metaphors. But when you look around the league, it's easy to see he won't be the last. By my count, there are probably 10 teams that will likely have a different starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2023 season than they did for most of the 2022 season. And that number could be as high as 14 or 15 depending on what happens with guys like Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, and Daniel Jones and their impending decisions.
Make sure you check out Dave Richard's full free agency preview here for a sense of who else might be on the move, but in today's newsletter we're going to focus on what Carr's release means – for both the Raiders and the rest of the league, potentially. My top landing spots for Carr are up first, and you can get the rest of the FFT team's thoughts on the move in Tuesday's podcast.
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Carr's top landing spots
The question here is how we're defining that term: "Landing spots."
Tampa would be an awesome landing spot for any free agent quarterback, with a pass-heavy offensive approach and two superstar wide receivers in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. I'm not sure Carr would end up a top 12 Fantasy QB in any offense, but if he was going to, Tampa would probably be his best bet – and he's a lot more likely to sustain high-level production from Godwin and Evans than Kyle Trask is.
The problem is, the Buccaneers are currently staring at $-55,714,949 million in cap space for 2023, per Spotrac.com. No, that isn't a typo or a smudge on your screen; the Buccaneers have negative cap space equivalent to more than the largest average annual value of any contract in NFL history.
Hey, look, Carr has made $135.7 million in his NFL career, so maybe he's not looking to break the bank with his next deal. Maybe the chance to follow up the GOAT's tenure in Tampa with a squad ready-made to compete will appeal to him enough to convince him to take well below market value. But, even with the cap gymnastics teams are capable of, it seems like a long shot for Carr to end up there.
So, we'll try to focus on teams with a more realistic path to clearing the space to land a player like Carr, at least. Here are the three spots I'd like to see Carr land with most:
New York Jets
This one is all about maximizing the immediate upside of Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore. I'd probably rather see Aaron Rodgers here, because he's a higher-upside option if he can rediscover his pre-2022 form during his four-day darkness retreat, but Carr would almost certainly be an upgrade on what the Jets got from Mike White, Joe Flacco, and (especially) Zach Wilson last season. Carr isn't a panacea for any team, and he struggled at times to get on the same page with Davante Adams last season – especially on deep passes, where his eight interceptions on passes of at least 15 air yards tied for the league lead. But he's competent, and that would be a big improvement over what Wilson and Moore had last season. Wilson might rank as a top-12 WR for 2023 if he got a QB like Carr. Or, you know, Carr.
Carr probably wouldn't be Fantasy-relevant in Atlanta, so this one is strictly about getting the most out of Drake London and Kyle Pitts. That is one of the most talented receiving duos in the league, and I still fully believe Pitts especially is a historic talent. But they were both held back by an incredibly run-heavy approach last season – the Falcons threw the ball just 415 times in 17 games despite going 7-10. Arthur Smith is probably always going to have a run-lean as a play caller, but we did see that team throw it 573 times in 2021 with Matt Ryan, so he's not dogmatic about it. With Carr in town, I think this would be a more neutral offense, and that should be enough to make Pitts and London threats for 1,000-plus yards – and it would cement Pitts as my No. 3 TE for 2023.
I'm actually somewhat interested in seeing Sam Howell get an extended look, but the Commanders' fifth-round pick out of North Carolina could barely get on the field as a rookie despite the Commanders being pretty desperate for a spark at QB. Howell probably has a bit more upside as a Fantasy option, but as with the prior two spots, Carr's appeal is what he would provide as a stabilizing force for the incumbent pass catchers. The group of Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Jahan Dotson is a pretty solid one, but they've been held back by inconsistent QB play. Carr has enough arm to hit the big plays with McLaurin and Dotson, and both could be top-24 options with him – and McLaurin might push into top-12 consideration with a QB upgrade.
What's next for Las Vegas
The Raiders enter the offseason with the third-most estimated cap space after cutting Carr, but any QB upgrade is likely to cut into that. The question is how much it cuts into it – and they are likely to try to re-sign Josh Jacobs, so any top-of-market deal is going to require additional flexibility.
I'm not really moving Davante Adams down in my still-fluid rankings in the wake of this move, in part because we already saw Adams perform like a star with Jarrett Stidham. It's a lot different to ask him to do that in two late-season games vs. a full season, and Adams is at an age where a slip in skills could lead to an even larger dropoff in production. However, after watching Adams put up 226 yards and two touchdowns in two games with Stidham starting – including a massive 7-153-2 line against the 49ers – I don't worry too much about him no matter who the QB is. He's too good for that.
But that's not to say that who plays QB for the Raiders in 2023 won't impact Adams' value. If, say, Aaron Rodgers emerges from his retreat and decides he wants to reunite with his former WR1, Adams probably goes from the WR6 range at WR to, potentially, the WR1 discussion. Rodgers may not be the guy he once was, but Adams averaged 22.1 PPR points per game in his final four seasons when Rodgers played. I think he'd be my WR3 if Rodgers did end up in Las Vegas.
Of course, the bigger swing is going to come with the peripheral pieces in the Raiders offense. Who those pieces will be at this point remains unclear – Jacobs is a free agent, while Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller would both probably be too expensive to cut, but given their ages and injury struggles, it's not out of the question. If the Raiders go into the 2023 season with their primary pieces still in place but Stidham (or a Stidham-level placeholder) at QB, it's going to be hard to find much to be excited about beyond Adams and Jacobs.
Those are the stakes here. And, given that they could have just kept treading water as a fringe-playoff team with Carr, I'm expecting them to take a big swing this offseason. Whether that will be Rodgers or someone else remains to be seen, but I'd be pretty surprised if we got to training camp and Stidham was the best option on the roster.