Does Derek Carr Signing Make the New Orleans Saints a Contender?

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints launched 2023 as free agency by addressing their biggest need with an agreement to sign former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

The anticipated signing marks one of the biggest moves for Saints coach Dennis Allen in Year 2, reuniting him with the quarterback he drafted at the Raiders organization in 2014. Here’s what the move means for the Saints and their offense, and how it could be the first domino of several likely to come, including what the team is doing with quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Derek Carr ESPN

Why did the Saints take this step?

The offense has been struggling to gain traction since quarterback Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season. The Saints plummeted from a top-five offense in 2020 to 19th for the past two years. The Saints were unable to find the long-term answer in Winston, Taysom Hill or Andy Dalton, and they likely wouldn’t find it with April’s 29th draft pick. The Saints clearly saw an opportunity to get one of the best quarterbacks out there, and Carr’s familiarity with Allen is helping. Now that the Saints have a quarterback, they can focus on drafting other offensive players.

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Carr has always said positive things about Allen, who drafted and coached him before he was fired four games into the 2014 season as the Raiders’ head coach.

“[Allen] and I have a great relationship to this day,” Carr said ahead of the Saints’ game against the Raiders last season. “And I still talk to him and things like that — obviously not this week and all those things, but we’ve always stayed in touch, we’ve always been close. I love him, I loved having him.” – Katherine Terrell

What does this move mean for Jameis Winston?

This probably signals the end of Winston’s time with the Saints. The organization has made it clear he is second fiddle on more than one occasion – he played Hill over Winston in 2020 when Brees was injured, pursued Deshaun Watson before re-signing Winston last off-season and eventually stayed through the season at Dalton. Winston is due a base salary of $12.8 million in 2023 and $5.8 million is guaranteed on March 19. It’s more likely that Winston would seek an entry-level job at another organization than take a pay cut to be Carr’s replacement. If Winston leaves, the Saints could look to sign Dalton as a backup. – Terell

Does this move make the Saints NFC South favorites?

The NFC South was a battle of mediocrity last season, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ultimately winning the division 8-9. With quarterback Tom Brady retiring in Tampa, the division seems to be there for the Saints. The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are trying to work out their quarterback situations, and the Panthers also have a new head coach. If the defense can play like this for most of the second half of last season, the Saints could become the team fans got used to from 2017-2020. – Terrell

Why did the Raiders decide to move away from Carr?

Carr had said he would “probably” quit rather than play for a team other than the Raiders, but the writing was on the wall when general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels put him on the line for the final two games of the season Bank sat to make sure he didn’t get hurt.

Had Carr injured himself in front of the Raiders, Las Vegas would have been on the hook for over $40 million for 2023, and after such an uneven proof-it season, it was just about time. And Carr wanted to go out on his own terms. He’s traditionally struggled in his first year in a new offensive system, and 2022 was no exception. His 60.8 graduation rate was the lowest since his rookie season.

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His 14 interceptions last season tied with a career high, and his 3,522 passing yards were the third lowest of his nine-year career. Remember, the Saints saw Carr’s struggles firsthand last season when he failed to cross the 50-yard line in the Superdome and threw for 101 yards to complete 15 of 26 passes with an interception.

Sure, Carr holds virtually every career passing record in Raiders franchise history — 35,222 passing yards, 217 TD passes, 33 game-winning drives — but he also frustrated the team with so many checkdowns and fourth-down throwaway passes , along with 36 career lost fumbles. He was also 63-79 as a starter with only two winning seasons and no playoff wins. – Paul Gutierrez

Despite being benched by the Las Vegas Raiders for the last two games of the season, quarterback Derek Carr was still selected for the Pro Bowl Games. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

How does signing Carr early help to free agency?

The Saints will likely backload Carr’s reported four-year contract. New Orleans has competed against the salary cap every offseason for the past decade, but made it work by giving players deals with low first-year salary caps that often increased significantly in the second and third years. The Saints then get around this by restructuring the contract at the time, often converting the player’s base salary or built-in roster bonus into a signing bonus to spread the cap hit to coincide with the league’s annual salary cap. This is the strategy they will be pursuing with Carr to remain competitive in 2023.

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But considering the Saints have already had to lose a lot of cap space to sign free agents, Carr will be the top of what is likely a different value-signing class, similar to 2022 when they saw safety Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu and signed wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry was injured for much of the season, but perhaps the addition of Carr will result in a similar commitment as the Saints need to add receivers. The big question, of course, remains whether Thomas stays or leaves after the Saints revised his contract in January in what looked like a possible split. – Terell

Where do the Saints stand in relation to the Cap?

The Saints have yet to lose about $18 million to get under the salary cap after being more than $50 million over the expected 2023 limit with the start of the offseason. The Saints have already restructured several players’ contracts, with more to come, and could take even bigger steps, such as the release of Winston. The Saints are yet to touch on the contracts of Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore, Andrus Peat and Alvin Kamara. – Terell

How does this move affect the rest of the QB market?

Carr’s reported $150 million contract with the Saints represents a big number for the rest of the quarterback market (although details on contract structure will paint the full picture). This bodes well for Geno Smith, who is negotiating with the Seattle Seahawks. Questions continued as to the strength of Carr’s market, but he appears to have been strong enough. That also helps Jimmy Garoppolo, who was thought to be the Saints’ backup plan and could also be for the Jets should New York fail to land Aaron Rodgers. The Jets remain focused on Rodgers, but his $58.3 million guarantee in 2023 is still an issue for interested teams. – Jeremy Fowler

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