HENDERSON, Nev. — Quarterback Jarrett Stidham did more than thrill fans with his swashbuckling, gunslinger-type play against the NFL’s top defense in his first NFL start this past Sunday; he also gave the Las Vegas Raiders’ regime something to chew on as it prepares to embark upon an offseason rife with change at the most important position in team sports.
Sure, the Raiders ultimately fell in overtime to the San Francisco 49ers. But Stidham, who shredded the Niners for 365 passing yards and three touchdown passes, showed a preternatural ability to run coach Josh McDaniels’ complicated scheme. Stidham looked more comfortable running the offense in one game than the deposed Derek Carr did in 15.
Consider: Some $40 million of Carr’s contract becomes guaranteed three days after the Super Bowl and with trades not allowed to happen until the start of the league year on March 15, there is a tight window to agree to a deal with another team, while holding out hope said team does not back out and saddle the Raiders with Carr and his contract. The Raiders could also potentially simply cut Carr, the franchise’s all-time passing leader, and take a minimal $5 million-plus cap hit. There is much to discuss.
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Still, with Carr having “moved on” — his NFL Network personality brother David’s words on Twitter this week — the Raiders will be in the market for a new QB. And Stidham’s showing proved one thing — the next Las Vegas signal-caller should already have experience in McDaniels’ scheme for optimal results in 2023, right? Which leads to a relatively small pool.
“I think it’s probably too early to have those discussions, but certainly, look, Jarrett’s a young player and I think everybody that’s worked with Jarrett — I think Jarrett himself has to assume that his best football is going to be in front of him ,” McDaniels said. “So the way you improve is through experience, and you have opportunities to compete against really good players and good defenses and good coaches. And you learn a lot from those experiences.”
A look, then, at who could be in the running to be the Raiders’ first full-time starter at QB since Carr was drafted in 2014, with the caveat that said QB must have experience in McDaniels’ offense …
Yes, “Tuck Rule” Tom. Close your eyes not already covered by the patch and hold your nose, Raider Nation. Because the guy who was at ground zero of the New England Patriots’ dynastic ascent and the Raiders’ plummet into a two decades-long abyss just might make the most sense, given his long relationship with McDaniels and the (checks notes) six Super Bowl ring they won together.
Brady will be 46 years old at the start of next season, though. And you’d think that if he still wanted to play, he’d want a situation that was ready to win a title immediately, a la the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. It’s a fact that Raiders owner Mark Davis is more than intrigued with Brady, and there is UFC honcho Dana White’s claim that he had brokered a deal for both Brady duck TE Rob Gronkowski came to Las Vegas three years ago before then-coach Jon Gruden blew up the deal.
It’s been a while since Jimmy G has played in McDaniels’ system — they were last together in 2017 in New England — but Garoppolo is seemingly unflappable. Or did you miss the Bay Area drama the past two seasons when Garoppolo, who was a missed deep ball completion from winning a Super Bowl title in February 2020, saw the 49ers draft his replacement in Trey Lance, was dangled in fruitless trade talks last offseason , replaced an injured Lance in Week 2 this season, and led the Niners to a 7-3 record before being sidelined with a foot injury?
The hope, then, is that relearning McDaniels’ scheme would be akin to relearning how to ride a bicycle — you don’t forget. Then there’s this: All Garoppolo has done as a starter is win, as his 40-17 regular-season record states — especially when compared to Carr’s career mark of 63-79.
While Brady and Garoppolo are both on track to be free agents, McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler, who both came to Southern Nevada from New England last year, would have to swing a trade for Jones, giving up valuable assets to do so.
Would that be too steep a price to pay for a guy having a down year? Consider: Jones is in a strange mix with a defensive-minded coach, Matt Patricia, calling plays for him, and it has shown with a QBR of 32.5, 18.4 points below last year’s rating. Still, with McDaniels as his OC, Jones was a Pro Bowler last year — playing in Carr’s town, to boot — and the runner-up for offensive rookie of the year while passing for 3,801 yards with 22 touchdown passes and 13 INTs. Yeah, there’s a connection there.
Maybe the answer has been in front of the Raiders all along and McDaniels should take heat for not replacing Carr with Stidham sooner. Too soon?
Look, it was only one game, a game with an eerily familiar finish — with the Raiders blowing a double-digit lead in the second half, eventually losing in overtime, thanks to an offensive lineman being knocked into Stidham as he released the ball , resulting in an interception instead of a walk-off touchdown pass to a wide-open Davante Adams — but Stidham provided something … different. McDaniels’ system is the only system Stidham has known as a pro — he was drafted by the Patriots in 2019 and acquired in a trade this past offseason, following McDaniels and Ziegler to Las Vegas.
And get this — coming out of high school, Stidham was ESPN’s No. 2-rated dual-threat QB in a class that included Kyler Murray, Sam Darnold, Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson. Thing is, for Stidham to return, the Raiders would have to re-sign him, as his contract expires after Saturday’s finale against the Kansas City Chiefs (4:30 pm ET, Allegiant Stadium, ABC/ESPN), who should provide a test to show if the Niners game was simply a one-off.
Draft a dude?
Wait, isn’t that counterintuitive to the whole QB-needs-to-be-familiar-with-McDaniels’-scheme vibe? In a vacuum, surely. But the Raiders have a full complement of draft picks, and ESPN’s Football Power Index projects the Raiders to have the No. 7 overall selection in April’s draft — their highest since they took DE Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 in 2019. The last time the Raiders took a QB in the first round? JaMarcus Russell at No. 1 overall in 2007. In fact, the Raiders have drafted only two other quarterbacks in the first round since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger — Todd Marinovich in 1991 and Marc Wilson in 1980.
So who might fit the bill here? With Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young likely gone by the Raiders’ pick, Kentucky dual-threat Will Levis — who completed 65.7% of his passes the past two seasons with 43 touchdown passes, 23 interceptions and a 149.9 passer rating while rushing for 11 TDs — might fit the bill. But it wouldn’t be to start right away; rather, he’d be the QB of the future and learn at the knee of a vet, be it Brady or Garoppolo.