Derek Carr landing spots in 2023: Six potential trade fits for three-time Pro Bowl QB

It’s all but official now.

Derek Carr and the Raiders are taking steps to finalize their split, with the team evaluating the trade market for the quarterback, who said goodbye to the franchise and its fans in a statement posted to social media on Thursday.

Carr was benched prior to the Raiders’ Week 17 matchup against the 49ers in the first signal that this could be the end of his time with the franchise. Things went sideways with Carr and the team following what looked to be a banner offseason for both. After the Raiders barnstormed their way into the 2021 playoffs, losing a heartbreaker to the Bengals, they made Josh McDaniels head coach, executed a blockbuster trade for Carr’s longtime friend, Davante Adams, and extended Carr with a three-year contract extension worth $121.5 million.

But they started the season at 2-7, bottoming out with a home loss to the Colts in Jeff Saturday’s coaching debut, and couldn’t get back into the playoffs despite winning four of five games in Weeks 11 through 15.

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Now it appears Carr has played his final game for the Raiders. But there are some speed bumps that could make a trade a bit trickier. The extension Carr signed includes massive guarantees that kick in three days after the Super Bowl, totaling more than $40 million. That’s significant money and there’s not a long time to get a deal done prior to that deadline. Plus, Carr has a no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he’d need to sign off on any prospective deal before it can happen.

After Carr was first benched, we threw out some potential landing spots. Some of those teams still make sense, but we wanted to narrow down our focus a bit and try to pinpoint the most plausible destinations for him.

Here are six teams we think make the most sense now to possibly swing a trade for the soon-to-be-32-year-old quarterback:

The Jets have to be considered among the favorites to land Carr. Owner Woody Johnson said on Thursday that he “absolutely” is willing to pay for a veteran passer this year. They certainly could go the Jimmy Garoppolo route, and their coaches have more familiarity with him. But if there are concerns about Garoppolo’s injury history or potential contract demands, Carr could be a legitimate, bird-in-the-hand option. Plus, the Jets have mutually parted ways with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, so this change could alter the thinking on who the next starting quarterback should be.

The roster is in very good shape overall, teeming with offensive talent — except at quarterback. After Zach Wilson’s struggles, one must wonder how interested the Jets would be in drafting another passer high this spring.

The Jets are a bit restricted in terms of salary-cap space at the moment, so there are some potential holdups here, but it’s not hard to see how Carr could view them as an option to refresh his career. The Jets have a good defense, some decent offensive line pieces, good running backs and some talented, young receivers. The AFC East remains a tough division until proven otherwise, and the NYC glare isn’t for everyone, but it makes too much sense to include the Jets in the mix.

If the Jets aren’t the prospective favorites to land Carr, the Colts might be it. 

There’s a reasonable argument to be made that the Colts have been shell-shocked by their annual veteran quarterback offseason hunts in recent years, with Matt Ryan being the latest failed attempt. They’ve kicked the can down the road on picking a quarterback early in the draft for years now, and they currently own the fourth overall pick — that’s prime draft-QB real estate.

But if general manager Chris Ballard fears that his job security might be tied to a successful 2023 season, it could change his calculus a bit. What if, instead of using a high pick (or trading other assets) to secure a young QB prospect from the draft, the Colts pursue a still-in-his-prime Carr? 

Ryan was about to turn 37 before the Colts traded for him. Philip Rivers was 38 when the Colts signed him in 2020. Carson Wentz had just turned 29 when the Colts traded for him — only a few years younger than Carr is now.

We can’t overlook Ballard saying he’d absolutely do what it takes to trade up for a quarterback if he believes a special one exists in the 2023 NFL Draft. But will Ballard know by mid-February whether he holds a QB prospect in such esteem — or whether a trade to land that QB will come together? Carr could be an enticing option here — one we can’t look past.

Hang on now. Amid all the Tom Brady-to-Las Vegas rumors, are we really suggesting that Carr could take Brady’s place in Tampa? 

It certainly seems like a potential fit. The Bucs have Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask as the other QB options in-house, but the 33-year-old Gabbert hasn’t started a game since 2018 and Trask has a grand total of nine pass attempts in the league, all coming last Sunday in mop-up duty.

Florida offers good weather and attractive income-tax benefits, both of which are nice. But the Bucs’ roster is in decent shape, too, with two Pro Bowl receivers (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) and the makings of a good offensive line (when healthy) all under contract. 

If Brady expresses to the Bucs at some point in the next month that he intends to move on and Carr is traded to Tampa Bay, Carr would be — at the moment, anyway — the best quarterback in the division immediately. The Panthers and Saints both remain in QB limbo, and the Falcons’ plans at the position aren’t immediately clear.

The biggest roadblock? Tampa’s cap situation is currently a mess, although Brady coming off the books would help. Cap space can be created and should never be a problem for critical moves. If Brady decides to walk, the need to replace the future Hall of Famer would qualify as a significant development.

The Saints are in a tough spot financially. They have no clear-cut quarterback lined up for next season and lack a first-round pick. So, finding a signal-caller through traditional means could prove to be difficult. 

Theoretically, offering enough compensation to acquire Carr shouldn’t be the biggest issue here, especially if a Sean Payton trade goes down. The toughest part might be making the money work. The Saints have avenues to clear money off the books, such as restructuring deals for some of their players, cutting Jameis Winston with a post-June 1 designation and a few more accounting maneuvers.

Carr and Saints head coach Dennis Allen were together in Allen’s first head-coaching job with the Raiders during Carr’s rookie year of 2014, although Allen only lasted four games that season before being fired. It’s hard to imagine their relationship or trust level being so strong after such a short time together, although Carr was Allen’s Week 1 starter as a second-round pick that year and prior to the Saints facing the Raiders this season, Carr reflected positively on their time together. 

“DA and I have a great relationship still to this day,” Carr said, via the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Vincent Bonsignore. “I still talk to him — obviously not this week — but we’ve always kept in contact. We’ve always been close.”

The Panthers made runs at some of the top available quarterbacks last offseason before settling on drafting Matt Corral in Round 3 and trading for Baker Mayfield in July. Neither worked out in the short term, as Corral suffered a season-ending injury, and Mayfield struggled before being cut and ending up with the Rams.

If the team isn’t convinced that Sam Darnold is part of the rebuild process, potentially under the guidance of a new coach (who would have some say on that matter), then it must consider all avenues to find a starter again in 2023.

This is a young team with some foundational talent around which to build, and the Panthers could end up with six 2023 NFL Draft picks in the top 150 overall, thanks to the Christian McCaffrey trade. The NFC South definitely feels like it’s in major flux, too. So while drafting a young quarterback can’t be dismissed at all, going the veteran route also has to be on the table.

The Commanders might have mishandled their quarterback situation down the stretch, benching Taylor Heinicke and bringing back Wentz only to see him throw three first-half interceptions in a playoff-eliminating loss in Week 17. The Week 18 performance by rookie Sam Howell was impressive, but was it enough to convince the Commanders — who are making a change at offensive coordinator, to boot — that Howell should be the guy in 2023?

That seems unlikely. A veteran such as Carr could immediately give them some hope for more consistency offensively, with young receivers Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson making it a more attractive place to play, we believe. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio also oversaw Carr’s rise in 2015 and 2016 with the Raiders, when Carr was an MVP candidate that last season before suffering a broken leg late in the year.

The OC hire might be the most interesting element here and could move the Commanders up or down this list depending on who they bring in. But with Heinecke set to hit free agency and Wentz a cut candidate with no guaranteed money left on his deal, the Commanders — one way or another — need to craft a plan to land a quarterback who can start right away next fall.

Follow Eric Edholm on Twitter.

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