We’ve heard the story countless times, the one about how the Saints identified Patrick Mahomes as the top quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The team had the right target and the right intentions but ultimately lacked the aggression needed to go out and get its guy. Sources familiar with the process have even said there were no calls in the draft room that day. The Saints expected Mahomes to drop to them. The Chiefs made sure he didn’t.
Last year, New Orleans got involved in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, even flying out to visit him on two occasions. At one point, the Saints seemed confident enough with their pursuit that they cleared the necessary cap room to acquire the quarterback. Hours later, Cleveland became more aggressive and motivated than everyone in the race and got a deal done.
The lesson is clear. If you see a quarterback you want, you have to attack the situation, because eventually someone else is going to get hungry and beat you to the punch. New Orleans learned and did what it took to land Derek Carr after he hit the free-agent market by signing him to a four-year, $150 million deal.
Is the deal too rich? The market already says no, but ultimately, how Carr plays will shape that narrative. But for a team in desperate need of a quarterback and improvement on offense, you have to like that the Saints did what it took to get their guy this time.
Carr can elevate this offense and with him in it, the Saints will at least have an identity and be committed enough to one direction to build something that fits the quarterback. At times last season, it felt like they didn’t know what they wanted to be, and a lot of that was due to injuries. There was one offense that fit Jameis Winston, then it morphed into something that sort of fit Andy Dalton, and by the end of the season it felt like the team was starting to finally figure out how to best use Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara.
With Carr, there should be no half measures. This move puts the team all in on a quarterback, for better or worse, and everything should flow from him. There should be improvement just from the virtue of his knowledge. The team can acquire players who best fit with Carr’s skills and now have a multi-year vision of how to construct the roster instead of trying to piece something together each year. Maybe even Michael Thomas returns.
The other important thing here is that this puts to rest any excuses. The players and pieces are now here for this offense to succeed. Dennis Allen drafted Carr in Oakland, and now offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. has a quarterback who can make all the throws and take on more responsibility on the field. There is no cover for not having a starting quarterback. Now, it has to work.
And Carr can be that guy. He isn’t necessarily the kind of quarterback who is going to strap the roster to his back and carry the team to victory every week, but every once in a while he might do something like that. You’ll win some games because of him. You’ll lose some games because of him. Ultimately, there are probably about a dozen quarterbacks who are better than Carr and another dozen who are worse.
Another milestone for QB1 📈
From 2014-2022 here are the best of @derekcarrqb's 200 career passing touchdowns 🏈 pic.twitter.com/TjRztZJwt5
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) October 12, 2022
Maybe in the right system with some stability and support he can elevate a little bit higher. But what’s certain, when you’re on the wrong side of the equation and don’t have an answer, average looks like an oasis.
Here’s another thing to consider: You could make the argument that Carr has never been supported by a team as talented as this one on the defensive side of the ball. The Saints allowed 345 points this season; Raiders finished at 418. Since 2014 (Carr’s first season), the best the Raiders have done is 373. That mark came in 2017 and ranked 20th in the NFL.
The move, combined with Tom Brady’s retirement, makes the Saints the odds-on favorites to win the NFC South, unless someone else makes a bigger move at quarterback. New Orleans still has one of the better defenses in the league, and the offense should be significantly improved. There’s still a lot of work to do to fill out the roster with a possession receiver, running back and a tight end, but the broad strokes are now settled.
Having Carr doesn’t make the Saints an instant contender, but that’s OK. You can end up one if everything is perfect around Carr. With someone like Dalton, about the best you could hope for was a first-round playoff loss if everything was perfect. That’s the point of a move like this. The Saints have raised their ceiling.
Guys like Drew Brees are once-in-a-lifetime talents. They’re hard to find. There are maybe three of those types of players in the NFL right now. Most teams don’t have one. Most teams will never find a path to get one. You have to keep looking and be ready to push your guy out when one arrives, but until then, you have to play the cards that are available.