What should the Raiders do with the perplexing, polarizing Derek Carr?

HENDERSON, Nev. — The Las Vegas Raiders‘ final possession in their last game of their first playoff appearance in five years was a microcosm of quarterback Derek Carr‘s eight-year career.

That’s a lot of numbers and years to digest, right? Exactly.

Because when you try to break down the most polarizing player in franchise history — his fans adore him; his detractors abhor him — and what his future with the Raiders might hold, well, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers.

Because on one hand there’s the career-best 4,804 passing yards this season, the NFL-record six walk-off wins, the 30 career game-winning drives and the countless built-in reasons why the deck has always been stacked against him, from lack of a true No. 1 receiver to a terrible makeshift offensive line to the seemingly never-ending off-the-field situations the Raiders faced in 2021.

On the other, Carr is what he is — a solid, upper-half of the league QB who has lost 14 more games than he’s won in his career on the other side of 30 who might have hit his ceiling. In other words, after eight star-crossed seasons, the Raiders know what they have.

All of which begs the question — with his biggest supporter in the building in coach Jon Gruden gone, a new general manager on the way with Mike Mayock fired and a new head coach if owner Mark Davis steps away from Rich Bisaccia — do the Raiders stick with a known commodity in Carr, or does the organization undergo a third teardown in a decade and part with the guy who holds virtually every passing record in team history?

Consider: Carr is entering the final year of the then-record five-year, $125 million contract extension he signed in the summer of 2017. And while there have been rumblings of another extension, nothing has happened yet.

In one corner, the Raiders could pull the card they tried to use on Khalil Mack in 2018. That’s when they assumed the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year would play on a $13 million option, with the team then making him the league’s highest-paid defensive player in 2019. Mack balked, held out and the Raiders blinked, trading him to the Chicago Bears.

Las Vegas could potentially take care of Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby and receiver Hunter Renfrow with extensions first, have Carr play 2022 on the final year of his deal, which pays him more than $19.8 million and has no dead money, and dangle a $35-million-or-so franchise tag in front of him for 2023. No long-term commitment.

Crazy talk? Quarterbacks never play on expiring contracts? It would be insulting to Carr?

Since the franchise tag was introduced in 1993, a quarterback has played under a tag four times — Drew Brees for the San Diego Chargers in 2005 ($8.1 million), Kirk Cousins for Washington in 2016 and 2017 ($19.9 million and $23.9 million, respectively) and Dak Prescott for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020 ($31.14 million), per ESPN Stats & Information.

Plus, it takes Carr at his word. Remember, he said he is not in the NFL for financial gain or “worldly things.” He wants to win. That he will not go to “dinner” with team executives and make demands, rather, he’d “let my voice be heard in a different way.”

That he would “probably quit football if I had to play for somebody else.”

Carr, who contemplated retirement after his rookie season to become a full-time pastor, said that last offseason.

“I am a Raider for my entire life,” he added at the time. “I’m going to root for one team for the rest of my life — it’s the Raiders. So, I just feel that strong in my heart I don’t need a perfect situation … to make things right.

“I’d rather go down with the ship, you know what I’m saying, if I have to.”

That last statement raised more than a few eyebrows in Raiders HQ. So you’d have to think Davis, the new GM and whoever the coach is will have a bargaining chip that is not at all insulting.

Then again, while a new GM and coach might feel more comfortable stepping into an new situation with a known commodity at quarterback, they may also want to start fresh. And Carr could be an attractive trade target for several teams, garnering valuable draft picks for a Raiders team looking more to reload than rebuild.

Which brings us back to the 26-19 playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, where the Raiders were 1-for-5 inside the red zone. They finished 27th in the league in red-zone efficiency this season, and the tease of a ending was a microcosm of Carr’s last few years with the Raiders, if not his entire tenure.

  • First-and-goal at the 9: Carr spiked the ball with 30 seconds to go and no timeouts. Bisaccia said there was a “communication issue” at the time. “I think we would have been better off trying to get the play off,” Bisaccia said.

  • Second-and-goal at the 9: Carr fired into double coverage to Zay Jones in the middle of the field in the shallow end of the end zone. The pass was nearly picked off.

  • Third-and-goal at the 9: Carr had time and chucked a pass toward Renfrow in the left front corner of the end zone. But Renfrow slipped and fell and the football hit the turf.

  • Fourth-and-goal at the 9: Carr immediately went back to Jones, firing a fastball to him. He was short of the end zone, a pet peeve of Carr critics who lament him throwing short of the sticks and when he’s thrown the ball away on fourth down. He was intercepted by Germaine Pratt.

Ballgame. Season.

Yet, you look solely at the stats and wonder, what’s the problem?

Because while Carr became the first Raiders quarterback since Jim Plunkett on Jan. 8, 1983 to throw for at least 300 yards in a playoff game, Carr was 4-of-17 passing in the red zone, the second-most red zone incompletions in a game over the past 20 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Information.

And as clutch as Carr has been late in games, the game-sealing INT was his league-high ninth turnover in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, including the playoffs.

Indeed, as polarizing as Carr is, he is just as perplexing.

Still, Carr was talking about the near future after the loss.

“I’ve been in this situation before, after the 2016 season,” he said, reflecting on his missing that one-game playoff trip with a broken right ankle.

“But I think we came back arrogant, a little pompous,” Carr said. “We didn’t work as hard and arguably had a more talented team then. The drive now is to make sure that that doesn’t happen … we got a little taste of it, and it did something to my heart. I thought I was on fire. I can’t not play in the playoffs anymore.”

But for whom?

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