Should the Commanders pursue Derek Carr after Carson Wentz’s meltdown?

CINCINNATI, OHIO - JANUARY 15: Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders throws a pass in the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - JANUARY 15: Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders throws a pass in the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

This began as a discussion about whether the Washington Commanders should pursue Raiders quarterback Derek Carr if he becomes available this off-season, which appears to be almost a lock. The simple, no-frills answer – before getting into all the nooks and crannies that go into such a decision – is yes. Carr is better than any of the quarterbacks currently on the roster, and therefore, he would improve the Commanders.

But, ah, those nooks and crannies.

There are obvious other factors involved. At what cost? If the Raiders are able to trade Carr, what would the Commanders have to give up? If they release him, what kind of deal would it take to land him? And maybe most importantly, who else would they be passing up on were they to acquire Carr. Is there a college QB who they really like who could fall to them in the upcoming draft? Is there another free agent – maybe with the initials “LJ” – who may hit the market?

All these things will resolve themselves over the Spring/Summer of 2023, so I don’t know that there’s too much sense in debating the Derek Carr thing any further at this point.

Except for this…

As we head into the final weekend of the 2022 NFL season, there are 10 teams with winning records. Eight of them start quarterbacks drafted by their current team. Two start quarterbacks acquired by trade or signed as a free agent.

That’s what we like to call a trend.

The math here seems obvious. Teams generally fare better when they acquire their franchise quarterback through the draft. Now, we may be begging the question a bit. Draftees who perform well with their teams tend to remain with them, and the ones who fail tend to move on. But this still seems overwhelming. Especially in the AFC.

In the AFC, every team currently with a winning record starts a QB who they drafted – and every one of them was drafted in the first round. All but one (Allen, Mahomes, Burrow, Herbert) were drafted in the top ten. The other – Lamar Jackson – was taken with the final pick of the first round. And another team with a record of .500 and on track to make the playoffs (Jacksonville) also starts a 1st round/1st pick QB.

In the NFC, the numbers are different, but the overall conclusion is unchanged. Three of the five teams with winning records – who just happen to be Washington’s rivals in the NFC East – all have starting QBs who they drafted. A 4th team (San Francisco) has shuffled through three different starters this season. Their primary quarterback (Garappolo) was indeed acquired by trade. But their two other starting QBs this year, whose 4-1 record as starter is actually better the Jimmy G’s, were both draft picks of San Fran.

In fact, the only clear example of a non-draftee leading his team to a winning record in 2022 can be found up in Minnesota, and of course, that quarterback, Kirk Cousins, was drafted by the Commanders. Only they were too dysfunctional under the leadership up Messrs. Snyder and Allen to hold onto him.

Daniel Jones was a top ten pick for the Giants, but Jalen Hurts and Dak Prescott were selected in the second and fourth rounds respectively (as were Garappolo and Cousins by the way)

These numbers trend as you’d expect when moving to less successful teams. There are currently 8 teams with .500 records and they skew slightly toward having a homegrown quarterback under center (5-3). And for the 14 teams with losing records (including, sadly, our own Washington Commanders), a clear majority (9-5) start quarterbacks acquired from other teams and not via the draft.

Perhaps the strongest argument for going after a quarterback like Derek Carr can be found in the last two Super Bowl winners. Both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles acquired veterans and struck gold. Both teams have fallen off by 2022, though Tampa (currently at .500) will make the playoffs. I suspect the championships do a lot to soften the inevitable fall off that both franchises had to expect in the aftermath of these moves.

Both Tampa and LA were veteran teams with quality across the board when they made the move for the QB. And even if neither team was literally “one player away,” both were able to leverage a star QB into acquiring several other players (Gronk, OBJ) who did indeed help them get over the top. In other words, if not one player away, both were very close.

So here’s what it comes down to when deciding whether the Commanders should go after Derek Carr. Are they really close to being one player away? Is Carr (and whoever the addition of Carr can attract) likely to transform a 7-8-1 team into a serious Super Bowl contender?

My answer is no.

The Commanders are clearly a younger, faster, more talented team than when Ron Rivera took over in 2020. But they still have several serious deficiencies. The offensive line is old and regressing. Their failure to develop young linemen is a huge problem looking down the road.  Despite the progress of Jamin Davis, the Commanders remain paper thin at linebacker. They do not have any obvious answer at their second cornerback slot, and they do not have any reliable threat at tight end.

That means about half the position groups on the team are in need of serious work. The team will no doubt address some, if not of all, of these holes in the draft and free agency this off-season, but merely addressing a problem does not always equate to fixing a problem. On the positive side of the ledger, perhaps there are already answers on the roster, just waiting to blossom. Cole Turner or Armani Rogers might explode as a pass catching tight end in 2023. Chris Paul and Sam Cosmi may form a solid guard tandem.

But there are a few too many “ifs” to have a lot of confidence.

So again, if the price is right, Washington should certainly kick the tires on Derek Carr. But as a general principle, I think they’d be better off continuing to build the rest of the roster. See what Sam Howell can do in 2023. If Howell can’t seize the job, then at least you have a more complete roster so that if and when another veteran upgrade becomes available, the Commanders will be positioned to take full advantage of a new QB.

You see, there’s name in the NFL for pulling the trigger too early on a veteran free agent quarterback and falling flat on your face. That name is Jim Irsay.