It’s official: The most coveted free-agent quarterback on the NFL market this offseason (I stress the “free agent” part) is Derek Carr. (This is assuming the Baltimore Ravens don’t allow Lamar Jackson to hit free agency.)
Sure, there are some others who will also be looking for new homes (i.e. Jimmy Garoppolo, Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfield and others), but Carr is the one who will generate the most headlines. Further, other than perhaps Garoppolo, the most likely to give his new team a chance to win right away.
So where will Carr go? As of the time I type this, there are no official odds anywhere we could find (at betting sites in the United States), so I am putting together my own. I will try to keep in lockstep with how the books might make odds.
The formula includes team need (obviously), the team’s potential attractiveness for Carr, cap space, win capability and other variables. This also assumes Carr will get a deal somewhere in the ballpark of $40 million per year for at least three years — more likely four or five.
In the order of where I think he most likely will go:
Need: Well, duh. These are the players who threw passes for the Panthers in 2022: Mayfield (206), Sam Darnold (140), PJ Walker (106) and Jacob Eason (5). These are the passers who completed more than 60% of their passes and more than seven touchdowns ALL season: … la, dee, da … crickets … NONE.
This team needs a quarterback in the worst way and now has a former NFL quarterback in Frank Reich as its coach. The position clearly is the Panthers’ top need, although they have needs just about everywhere on offense.
The biggest question is will they draft a QB with the ninth pick in the draft and get a stop-gap veteran (a la Andy Dalton), or will they spend money and sign a big-time free agent?
Cap-space situation: $9.6 million OVER.
Attractiveness for Carr: This is the biggest detractor — even more so than the cap situation. Although Reich is a former quarterback, does that mean Carr would want to play for him? This is a question that will play itself out very shortly.
Analysis: The Panthers are the favorite because when I think of Reich, I think back to what the Colts did last year — trade for Matt Ryan after Carson Wentz didn’t work out. They’re not in the greatest spot cap-space-wise, but they could make it work.
I think the bigger question is whether Carr would want to go there. He has no connection with the area or Reich; his brother, David, was in Carolina for just one season before leaving for the Giants.
Reich would be crazy not to make a big push for Carr here, but the odds aren’t closer to even because my gut tells me he would have to make BANK to pick this team, and that isn’t likely.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Need: Do we really need to answer that? The need here is No. 1A, 1B and every other letter one could put with 1.
Cap-space situation: The absolute worst in the league. $57.4 million OVER. The second-worst is Tampa Bay at $55.8 million over, but the third-worst is only at $32.5 million over (Jacksonville).
Attractiveness for Carr: As high as any other team on this list.
Clearly, there is an interest from both sides. Carr met with the Saints last week, had dinner in New Orleans and visited team facilities the next morning. His relationship with coach Dennis Allen is widely known, as Allen was his first head coach in the NFL.
He would instantly have a better offensive line, a better defense (understatement) and an excellent chance to win from the get-go. In a perfect world, this deal might have been already been signed the second he was let go from Vegas, but …
Analysis: There’s no question Carr wants to come to New Orleans, and the Saints want him more than he wants them. He would make life so much easier for a team that hasn’t had a quarterback it drafted start the majority of a season since Archie Manning in 1981.
In other words, throughout history, the Saints just aren’t a team that drafts and develops a quarterback. They go and find an established one. (See Drew Brees, Jim Everett, Bobby Hebert, etc.)
However, to make any deal work, Carr would have to be willing not only to accept less money but much less money at the beginning of the deal. That could mean he’d get a longer deal in New Orleans, but for much less in 2023 and 2024 than his potential of $40 million per.
This is the ONLY reason why the Saints aren’t the prohibitive favorites to land the services of Carr, although if both sides see it as the best fit, Mickey Loomis and company certainly can shuffle things around enough to make it work.
The Saints would have been better served if they could have worked out a trade with the Raiders, but obviously, Carr wanted to test free-agent waters. And that hurts New Orleans’ chances.
NEW YORK JETS
Need: Can you say Zach Wilson? In other words, as high as Carolina, and ahead of New Orleans.
Cap-space situation: Workable at $3.1 million OVER.
Attractiveness for Carr: Depends on whether he wants to be as scrutinized more than ever. He doesn’t seem like a guy who wants to be in the Big Apple spotlight, but often, money talks.
Analysis: If Carr remains a free agent for a decent amount of time, the Jets’ chances rise. However, one would be foolish to think he is their first choice, as they are going to wait and see what happens with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
That in itself likely will have Carr looking elsewhere first. Still, if he doesn’t receive the compensation he is looking for from New Orleans or Carolina, then the money he might get from New York and the chance to win right away becomes highly attractive.
Of all the teams on this list, except potentially New Orleans, the Jets have the best chance to win now. That being said, they also are in the same division with Josh Allen in Buffalo, Bill Belichick in New England and the rising Miami Dolphins.
It will be interesting to see whether Carr schedules a visit with the Jets early in this process. That could change a lot of things.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Need: Like the three teams ahead of them, as high as any position.
Cap-space situation: In the same boat as New Orleans, and they probably have more needs. $55.7 million OVER.
Attractiveness for Carr: Other than some big weapons at wideout (for now) and a decent offensive line, there are potential problems coming with Tom Brady having walked out the door.
The Bucs are going to get a late start in trying to acquire Carr, because they still don’t know who their offensive coordinator will be, and their coaching staff in general was one of the worst in the league in 2022.
In other words, the only reason why the Bucs are even on this list is because they have a huge need.
Analysis: Tampa Bay is a mess. In fact, it’s an even bigger mess than the one Carr is leaving. There is potential, for sure, but why would he want to go there?
Possibly if they name an OC quickly, and it is someone Carr knows and respects, that could change the thinking, but the Bucs won’t be able to offer the largest contract, and he has no ties there.
Need: High, but considering they’ll almost surely draft either Bryce Young or CJ Stroud, how likely will they be to sign someone like Carr?
Cap-space situation: One of the best situations in the league at $37.1 million UNDER.
Attractiveness for Carr: His brother was drafted by Houston and played there for five years, and Carr played in the area for his first three years of high school. But the team has been terrible, and in a Sports Illustrated article, Carr said he had hoped to be drafted by the Texans but felt spurned when they passed on him with the 33rd pick (first of the second round) of the 2014 draft.
“Nine years later, some of those feelings have gone away.” Some of them?
Analysis: Read through the lines: It would be a huge surprise to see Carr go to Houston. They have a greater interest in drafting a quarterback, and at this stage of his career, Carr isn’t going to go somewhere and be a stopgap.
The Texans have the money and theoretically could offer him the largest deal, but it likely would be for two years. Very unlikely.
Indianapolis Colts (+1600): No doubt the need is there, but they already have a dead cap hit for Matt Ryan coming up at $18 million, which is $6 million more than they have in cap space. They are much more likely to go for a QB in the draft — someone like Kentucky’s Will Levis, if they can’t make a deal and move up for Young or Stroud.
Atlanta Falcons (+2200): Why not make it a clean sweep among NFC South teams who will show at least some interest in Carr’s services? Although unlikely to move away this early from Desmond Ridder, Atlanta is closer to winning than many think. And that could be enough to make the Falcons take the plunge here.
Las Vegas Raiders (+2500): They’re in a great spot with cap space ($46.7 million over), and if Rodgers doesn’t land here, they could try to mend fences with Carr. But to say that seems unlikely would be an incredible understatement — even IF Carr was interested.
Tennessee Titans (+3000): If Tennessee wanted to upgrade at quarterback, they could cut 35-year-old Ryan Tannehill, and there have been rumors they just might. However, being in cap hell ($23.7 million OVER), it’s unlikely they would want to eat the $16 million in dead money from Tannehill to bring in Carr for $40 million. It’s just as unlikely they could find a way to pull it off.