Giving Derek Carr a Big New Deal Was the Only Choice the Raiders Had

The Raiders just gave a record-breaking extension to Derek Carr, who finds himself in the right situation at the right time.

Derek Carr is getting paid.

According to Adam Schefter, Carr and the Oakland Raiders are working on an extension that could pay the quarterback $25 million per year, which would eclipse Andrew Luck's record average annual value, and Ian Rapoport of reported that the deal is done. While this typically isn't the best way -- or even a good way -- to look at contracts, it's going to be a sticking point because it's the highest.

And, it's the highest because the Raiders don't really have another choice.

This is happening now because Carr was a second-round pick, meaning Oakland didn't have the luxury of picking up a fifth-year option. They could've used the franchise tag after the 2017 season, but that would also get expensive in a hurry. If the Raiders wanted to keep Carr -- and they clearly do -- hammering out an extension now is the best-case scenario for all parties.

Based on how the current market works for quarterbacks, the organization had three options. They could either sign Carr to a lucrative deal because he's shown enough to justify it, follow the Washington route by playing franchise tag chicken (note: never follow the Washington route), or let him leave via free agency and look for another signal-caller that's not guaranteed to be any better.

That's not an ideal market, but that's the way quarterbacks have been approached over the past few years.

Playing the Market

Carr is now the league's highest-paid player ever, but it probably won't last very long.

Matthew Stafford is set to be a free agent following 2017 and the Detroit Lions have not shied away from expressing their willingness to pay up. Carr might not even be the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback come the start of training camp -- Kirk Cousins is going to get paid by someone either this offseason or next.

Then, there’s the following wave of contracts to come down the line. Matt Ryan, who's still polishing off his 2016 NFL MVP award, will need a new contract following 2018. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston both have a fifth-year option available for 2019, but they’ll also be in line for new deals in the near future. Aaron Rodgers could even look at how much quarterbacks who aren't Aaron Rodgers are getting paid and demand a new deal at any time.

With the overall salary cap continuing to rise each year, and the yay or nay tendencies of paying for quarterbacks, Carr’s reign as the top-paid quarterback won’t last long. The timing was just right to cash in on this type of deal.

Carr's Path

Anyway you slice it, $25 million per year is a lot of money, and the main question here is going to be, "Is he worth it?"

Carr might be one of the most interesting discussions for this topic because of his path thus far in the NFL.

Let’s start with his rookie season, which was terrible. Among 43 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 100 times in 2014, he was 42nd in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) and 38th in Passing NEP per drop back. We typically don’t see quarterbacks go from that type of production to where Carr progressed over the past two seasons. In that way alone, he’s already an outlier.

But his progression over the past two seasons could be viewed as slightly overrated. Carr did shoot up to 9th in Passing NEP per drop back last season after finishing 29th among 46 signal-callers in 2015. Getting into the top 10 is great, but it's not as great as the MVP level of play many were suggesting.

The below table shows his progression in each of these categories over the last three years.

Year Passing NEP Rank PNEP/Drop Back Rank
2014 -40.94 42 (of 43) -0.07 38
2015 38.37 21 (of 46) 0.06 29
2016 116.03 8 (of 39) 0.20 9

It also doesn't hurt that Carr has been surrounded by one of the league's best supporting casts.

A revamped offensive line in 2016 was the best in pass blocking while allowing the least amount of offensive pressure per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders. That allowed Carr to be sacked on a league-low 2.8 percent of drop backs.

And then we turn to the wide receivers, where he gets two top options in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.

Oakland’s offense is also set up for Carr to target these players on relatively short passes -- he had the seventh-lowest average depth of target (aDOT) for qualified quarterbacks last season, a stat that stabilizes rather quickly. Among 130 receivers who played at least 25 percent of a team’s offensive snaps, the highest rank for a Raiders receiver in aDOT was 76th. Cooper was also one of the league’s best yards after catch receivers last season.

This is an offense that puts their quarterback in a position to succeed. Even within that, Carr’s consistency hasn’t always been his calling card. It’s why even with his high rank in NEP during 2016, he was just 18th in yards per attempt. Within the same game, he can have beautiful throws like the one below.

Then ones like this.

Setting Up for the Future

Going forward, the biggest question for Carr and the Raiders will be whether he can lift up the rest of the offense since he's now getting paid like it. Despite a solid 2016 campaign, the argument can be made that those around him were more responsible for his performance than the other way around.

Even as the cap goes up, $25 million could take up a decent chunk of space. Will there be enough to sign Khalil Mack to a massive deal, while also filling out the defense so it won't be the sixth-worst unit in the league, like it was in 2016 according to Adjusted Defensive NEP per play? Will Oakland be able to also lock up Cooper and keep the wall of monsters in front of Carr to protect him once this deal becomes official?

During Reggie McKenzie’s run as general manager of the Raiders, he’s done an excellent job at managing the cap and putting the team in a position to succeed. He's likely very aware of the potential issues involved when it comes to paying a quarterback in this fashion. The contract isn’t going to derail the team, but there is going to be a bigger responsibility on Carr to take control of this offense.

It’s no guarantee, but it’s a risk the Raiders really had no other choice but to take.