ALAMEDA — From now until April 25, count on continued speculation that Raiders coach Jon Gruden has his eyes on a quarterback to replace Derek Carr this season.
Here’s a possibility you probably haven’t considered — yes, the Raiders draft a quarterback in the first round.
And Derek Carr remains the starter.
The belief here for months is Gruden has been on the level in his praise of Carr and has little interest in starting over with someone new. Not after grooming Carr for an entire offseason and regular-season and seeing progress.
Which hasn’t prevented a glut of Kyler Murray projections, should the Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner fall to No. 4.
It’s true that Gruden said glowing things about Murray. And if you went down the list of draft eligible quarterbacks including Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Drew Lock (Missouri), Daniel Jones (Duke), Will Grier (West Virginia), Ryan Finley (North Carolina State) and others, Gruden would love them as well.
Or maybe you never watched “Gruden’s QB Camp” series on ESPN.
It’s all guesswork where Gruden is concerned, because in 12 years as an NFL coach, the Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted a grand total of two quarterbacks. In 2001, Al Davis granted Gruden’s wish and took Marques Tuiasosopo in the second round, No. 59 overall. In 2003, the Bucs selected Chris Simms in the third round, No. 97. overall. Neither played a meaningful down the first year.
That’s it. That’s the list.
So it’s not as if Gruden has made a career out of drafting quarterbacks and starting them as rookies, which only adds to the likelihood that Carr is on solid ground after career highs in completion percentage (68.9) and passing yardage (4,049).
But that doesn’t mean the Raiders shouldn’t liven up the quarterback room with a talented understudy who has eyes on a starting job in 2020 in Las Vegas.
Ask Chiefs coach Andy Reid if he regrets trading up for the No. 10 pick with Buffalo in 2017 to bring aboard Patrick Mahomes, and then sitting him out for a season to learn the ropes behind Alex Smith.
Or if the Green Bay Packers have second-guessed themselves for taking Aaron Rodgers and planting him on the bench for three seasons after he fell into their lap at No. 24 even though their quarterback was a future Hall of Famer in Brett Favre.
The Cincinnati Bengals took Carson Palmer No. 1 overall out of USC in 2003, and then played Jon Kitna for an entire season.
Two things are equally true. Carr deserves another year in Gruden’s system based on his play last year, and the Raiders need some talented young blood for the future, and not necessarily a long-shot sixth-round Tom Brady-type miracle.
Given the Raiders needs, it’s hard to envision a quarterback at No. 4, which would seemingly leave Murray out of the picture.
But there’s always the option of trading back and getting more picks. And before you scoff at the possibility that Murray could take a draft day dive, remember Rodgers was being touted as a possible No. 1 overall selection before his free fall to Green Bay.
The Raiders have four of the first 35 selections (Nos. 4, 24, 27 and 35) and even though there are holes everywhere, taking a quarterback somewhere in that range is a smart, long-range play if there is a quarterback Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock covet.
As it stands, the Raiders backup and only quarterback other than Carr is Nathan Peterman, who if he isn’t permanently scarred by the Buffalo experience, could compete for a roster spot.
The top nine contracts in terms of yearly average salary are quarterbacks — Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Stafford, Carr, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck. It’s the most important position in football, probably the most important position in any team sport.
Which is why it’s a head-scratcher that teams don’t try and add first- or second-round talent more often even if they’ve got a high-priced starter. The quarterback might not play as a rookie, but if he does the time he spends on the field could be more impactful than those at other positions who were drafted to be starters. Plus he’ll be affordable.
Or maybe you’ve forgotten what happened to the Raiders in 2016 when Carr broke his ankle and the Raiders went to Matt McGloin and Connor Cook.
The Eagles can forget about their first Super Bowl championship two seasons ago without Nick Foles to step in for Carson Wentz.
Let’s say the Raiders somehow luck into Murray with a later first-round pick or select someone like Lock or Jones. Murray is different in that he could be used in special packages, but it’s conceivable the more conventional quarterbacks would watch Carr play all season unless dictated by injury.
If Carr doesn’t develop to Gruden’s liking, then there’s a young option for 2020. If Carr plays as he did in 2016 or better, then it’s precisely the problem every team in the NFL would love. When Bill Walsh coached the 49ers, he actively promoted a quarterback “controversy” between Joe Montana and Steve Young to bring out the best in both men.
Carr is no snowflake. He may not swear but he’s as tough as they come, beyond reproach in the locker room and can benefit from competition on the depth chart like everyone else.
If the Raiders are smart, they’ll, give Carr some company on Day 1 or 2.