Can Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels do with quarterback Derek Carr what McDaniels once did with Tom Brady when it comes to fumbles?
If not, the marriage of Carr and the first-year coach could be shorter than some classic Vegas nuptials.
In 2007 when McDaniels was the Patriots offensive coordinator, Brady made a significant change to his game. He went from one of the biggest fumblers in the league to one of the best ball security quarterbacks in the NFL for the rest of his career. That is exactly the transformation that Carr is hoping to make.
Carr has 76 fumbles over eight seasons, an average of 9.5 a year. Over the past four seasons, that average has jumped to 10.75 fumbles a year. Those figures are both the highest in the NFL over that time. The only quarterback in that time who has come close is Jameis Winston, who averaged 10 fumbles for each of his first five seasons. Winston lost his job in Tampa Bay after the 2019 season and was replaced by Brady, a man who has turned ball security into an art.
Like Carr and Winston, Brady was plagued by fumbles over his first six seasons. While leading the Patriots to their first three Super Bowl victories during that time, Brady had 59 fumbles, or just under 10 per year. That doesn’t include one highly debatable fumble which got reversed at the expense of the Raiders.
Starting in 2007, Brady cut that nearly in half. Over his past 14 seasons, Brady has a total of 70 fumbles. That’s an average of five per year. It’s also part of one of the most impressive but largely unknown elements of Brady’s career.
Over each of those 14 years, Brady’s teams have finished with a positive turnover differential. Between his two years in Tampa Bay and his final 12 in New England, Brady’s teams are a combined plus-185 in turnover differential.
“That’s why he’s the GOAT, LOL,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid texted when asked about that. “I mean that with the utmost respect, too.”
“Does not surprise me,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo texted. “He understands how important it is to protect the ball and that TEAMS win games.”
Over Carr’s eight seasons, the Raiders have finished with a positive turnover differential twice and are a minus-32 overall. Despite that, Carr is still a standout for McDaniels.
“Derek Carr is better than any quarterback [McDaniels] has worked with outside of Brady,” said one member of the New England staff who knows McDaniels well. “It’s not even really a debate when you think about it.”
The coach then rattled off McDaniels’ not-so-Brady quarterbacks: Matt Cassell, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and, most recently, Mac Jones.
“As good as Carr is compared to those guys, turnovers will drive Josh crazy. It’s everything we preach around here. Avoid mistakes, don’t do things that beat you, do the basics really well. Josh buys into all of that because it works,” the Patriots staffer said. “If Carr doesn’t fix it, there’s no question they will cut him. … I don’t care about that new contract. That was for show.”
Carr’s three-year extension that keeps him under control with the Raiders through 2025 is primarily window dressing. The contract was loaded with only $24 million in guaranteed money, of which only $5.6 million will remain after this season as potential “dead” money against the cap. The Raiders would save $33 million against the cap in 2023 if they cut Carr.
Carr’s contract was more PR stunt than real deal, meant more to keep people from constantly wondering if he’ll be back with the team.
McDaniels may be one of the few people who can unlock the secret to changing that for Carr. Brady’s improvement in ball security happened as McDaniels was rising to the level of offensive coordinator in New England. Although he and Bill Belichick declined to discuss the improvement, it clearly appears to have been a developed skill for Brady.
“Part of it’s obviously keeping Tom clean (in the pocket), but a big part was him understanding to either get rid of the ball or tuck it away in traffic,” the Patriots source said. “It’s that whole ‘Do your job’ thing. We do the same thing with the running backs. If a guy puts the ball on the ground, Bill pulls him. He wasn’t going to do that with Tom, but Tom bought in and understood.”
The question this year for the Raiders and for Carr as they try to compete in what’s likely the league’s toughest division is whether Carr can make some of the same improvements.