The Raiders have a starting quarterback on the roster, and a pretty good one at that. Derek Carr’s career has had peaks and valleys, but there’s little doubt he can make every throw and make consistently proper reads and adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He’s also a hard worker, a Jon Gruden grinder, if you will.
Carr’s scheduled to make $20 million in 2019, and every dime of it is fully guaranteed. Carr had a solid season despite throwing to non-descript receiver corps behind an inconsistent offensive line. He should improve in his second year working under Gruden, with greater familiarity he hasn’t had previously while cycling through offensive systems and coordinators.
There’s more left to prove, and it isn’t an absolute certainty Carr will be the Raiders quarterback long term despite being under contract through 2022.
That’s why many will monitor if Gruden has wandering eyes. He has said some nice things about Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray in particular, when asked about him in recent weeks. Gruden like Murray’s playmaking ability, even if he’s far shorter at 5-foot-9 than typical signal callers.
“I was asked a question, if I have a certain belief about a quarterback’s size, and I said, ‘no, not anymore,’” Gruden said this week in a podcast released on the team website. “Drew Brees gave us problems when I was in Tampa and is still giving us problems today. Russell Wilson is one of the hardest quarterbacks to defend, and he’s under 6 feet tall.
“When you look around and you see Kyler Murray in one year as a starter, he tore college football up running and passing. He’s like watching a video game. He runs a 4.3 (40-yard dash) and he has a cannon for an arm. You can’t deny his overall athleticism. He was a top pick in major-league baseball and he might be one in football. That’s hard to say.”
Murray will be the star of this combine, with his individual drills and, yes, his height and hand measurements, conducted under a spotlight and a microscope. The Heisman Trophy winner has piqued curiosity after a big year that prompted him to abandon professional baseball with the Athletics. He was the A’s first-round pick last year, but is charging into football as his preferred profession. Testing well at the combine, backed by a solid showing at Oklahoma’s pro day, could secure a high pick.
Gruden will be a draw here as well. The Raiders head coach comes to Indianapolis armed with four NFL draft picks in the top 35 and salary-cap flexibility now and in future offseasons.
He’ll certainly be asked about the former Sooner on Thursday morning at his NFL combine press conference. Echoing earlier compliments will only further speculation the Raiders might go off book and snag a quarterback despite glaring defensive needs.
Sometimes, however, especially around the NFL draft, 1 plus 1 doesn’t always equal 2.
Here’s what we can say: Gruden likes Murray and is intrigued by his ability.
After that there’s a lot we don’t know, even about Gruden’s intentions saying nice things. Maybe he was just answering Murray questions honestly. But…this is draft season, and teams often throw smoke screens and half-truths out there in an attempt to manipulate proceedings.
Even if the compliments are earnest over contrived, that doesn’t mean Murray’s destined to be a Raider. Again, Carr’s under contract and fully expected to be the quarterback next season.
One caveat to all this: Gruden’s a wild card, and that reputation can be used to his advantage. Maybe a team will believe the Raiders are truly interested and trade above them to take a quarterback. That would push a prized defensive player down to No. 4 overall, and the Raiders would get their guy.
Or, you know, maybe Gruden will just take Murray at a spot he deems appropriate. Again, he’s unpredictable.
So is Murray’s draft range.
“His arm strength, his accuracy, his football IQ suits today’s NFL perfectly,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said last week in a conference call. “Is he the No. 4 pick in Oakland? Does he go No. 11 to Cincinnati? No. 13 to Miami? Does he go ahead of (Ohio State QB) Dwayne Haskins? He could. He’s kind of a wild card.”
The Raiders will continue formulating their draft plan as they work through the pre-draft process. Murray’s draft stock will adjust after his combine showing, but there are already many who consider him a dynamic playmaker even at his height.
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“If he shows up and he's over 200 pounds and carries that well, that helps with some of the durability,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said in a conference call. “Kyler can make every single throw. He can drive the ball. Those hole shots against cover-two on the sideline between the corner and the safety, that's a big boy throw. He makes those effortlessly. So he's got plenty of arm strength. I've seen him work through progressions. You see it more with Dwayne, but I've seen Kyler Murray show that he can do that. And then the X-factor is just when he takes off, it's electric.”
Whether or not the Raiders draft Murray or any other quarterback, one thing remains clear. The Raiders need a dynamic playmaker under center to keep up with 23-year old MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will lead the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs for a long time. Carr could be that guy to compete in the long term. He has all the tools and work ethic and smarts to be a top player. Might Gruden go with someone else in this draft or in the future? It’s something that will be dissected and pondered as the Raiders go deeper into the second Gruden era.