In 2017, off-season conversations throughout RaiderNation focused on the increased expectations that came with Derek Carr’s contract. In the year that followed several things have changed for the Raiders and their $100 Million franchise quarterback. The team moved on from Jack Del Rio after a 6-10 season. Derek Carr is no longer the highest paid player in the NFL. Plus, Jon Gruden returned to the Silver and Black. All of these changes only serve to add to or change the expectations for the face of the franchise. After a season in which many expected Carr to take the leap into the elite. Let us examine the ways the expectations, and pressure, have increased.
No More Jack Del Rio scapegoat.
The first four years of Derek Carr’s career included the unspoken handicap of overmatched coaching staffs. Embattled Head Coach Dennis Allen took the Raiders job when virtually no one else could. With no hope on the horizon, the team prayed for marginal gains. Allen, fired four games into Carr’s rookie season, followed by interim-coach Tony Sparano who was loved by the franchise, but simply not head coach material.
When Del Rio signed on, the Raiders knew they were getting a player’s coach, short on X’s and O’s. In many ways, Del Rio benefited from Allen and Reggie McKenzie’s draft hits. In contrast, he failed to bring quality coaching to the organization. When the team fired Del Rio at the end of the season in favor of Jon Gruden, it removed the final scapegoat for Carr. Now, more than any other season, the magnifying glass will be on him to produce at an elite level regardless of the talent or coaching around him.
Price Tag Non-negotiable
When Matthew Stafford signed his deal for 5-years $135 Million, in some ways the pressure of being the “highest paid player” vanished. Yet instead of dissipating altogether, instead that pressure mutated into something far more nefarious and difficult to deal with. Derek Carr, and the Raiders, must deal with outside player comparisons with regards to draft class and cap hits. To date, Carr dodged these comparisons as his draft mates have been either ineffective or injured. Now, he must produce at the same level as Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers.
There are other names on that list, but the most important component is Carr’s age relative to that field. As the youngest member, he has both the most room to improve and the most to prove at all. The contract number, coupled with the success of his draft mates, places an enormous amount of pressure on Carr to excel. There is nowhere for him to hide if he does not at least reclaim his 2016 form.
The bride of Chucky
More than anything else, the single biggest modifier to Carr’s current standing with the team is Jon Gruden. Gruden is a professed offensive guru, that signed an unprecedented 10-year contract. As a result, that could potential outlast Carr’s career. By the final season of that contract Gruden would be 64 and Carr would be 36.
The Raiders are happy to have their coach and quarterback for the next ten years. However, that lasts only about as long as any success occurs. Together they can place each other onto the Raiders Mount Rushmore of influential legends. Yet, if Carr remains ineffective even after exposure to Gruden’s influence, or if Carr chafes at Gruden’s coaching style then this marriage can get ugly fast. Neither is in a position to want to move on from the other. Also, to their credit, they both have only spoken well regarding each other. All the same, the microscopes of the football cognoscenti will focus on Oakland, and then Las Vegas.