Roster Construction, Derek Carr and Measuring the Value of a QB Contract

During the 2013 season, Russell Wilson accounted for 0.6 percent of the Seahawks cap space. Three of the team’s key additions that year — Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Percy Harvin — combined for 10.9 percent of the cap. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl that year. Bennett and Avril were key pieces of the defense all season long while Harvin made big contributions in the Super Bowl.

In 2016, Wilson’s cap hit accounted for 11.9 percent of the cap. Bennett and Avril are still on the roster but Pete Carroll and John Schneider have been forced to cut corners elsewhere.

No team in  the league spent as little on their offensive line as the Seahawks did last year. Even doubling their $6.3 million allocation wouldn’t have moved them off the bottom. The same is true this season. The Seahawks aren’t as far behind this time but they have still only allocated $15 million to their offensive line. Amazingly, Luke Joeckel accounts for almost half of that. [Numbers courtesy of Over The Cap]

While it’s not an ideal situation for the Seahawks to be in, it’s one they have chosen for a reason.

The Seahawks kept their defense in tact and prioritised putting weapons around Wilson because the quarterback doesn’t need ideal conditions in the pocket to be effective. He’s not the type of passer who will drop back and deliver the ball on time every play. Wilson is at his best when the play breaks down and he can create off the cuff, threatening the defense underneath with his feet while keeping his eyes up to punish them with precision deep passes if they move too soon.

It’s not necessarily that Wilson makes his offensive line better. He does allow the offense to function without a competent offensive line though.

The true measure of a contract is how it fits in your roster construction. Paying a quarterback more than $20 million per season should only be done when that quarterback is allowing you to save money elsewhere. He can do that by elevating his teammates. That’s going to be difficult for Derek Carr.

Carr just became the highest-paid player in the NFL. He plays on an offense with a dominant offensive line and dynamic wide receivers. That offensive line features the expensive contracts of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson. That receiving corps features the expensive contract of Michael Crabtree and the soon-to-be expensive contract of Amari Cooper.

Nowhere on offense is the team saving money because of the quarterback. None of the pieces around Carr need to be elevated, instead they are setting the quarterback up with a perfect situation to thrive.

That is how Carr can justify his contract.

The Raiders are going to have to save money on the defensive side of the ball. That means the team’s identity will be similar to the New Orleans Saints team that last won a Super Bowl. Sean Payton and Drew Brees led a team with an offensive identity where the defense only needed to be a complementary unit that lived off of turnovers. With Drew Brees as your quarterback that was a viable approach. Carr needs to prove that true of himself.

Carr needs to consistently take advantage of the situations his offense puts him in. His offense needs to be one of the most consistent, most efficient, most explosive units in the league year in and year out.

Becoming a more accurate passer should be Carr’s first priority in 2017. Carr’s overall accuracy percentage of 70.94 percent ranked 25th in the league last year(via the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue). He was only slightly more accurate than Trevor Siemian, Carson Wentz and Blake Bortles.

Overall accuracy percentages can be misleading because each quarterback doesn’t throw the ball to the same levels of the field at the same rate. Carr was a top-10 passer on throws behind the line of scrimmage and ranked an impressive 14th on throws where the ball traveled further than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.

The problems for Carr came in the 1-20 ranges. Carr ranked 26th in the 1-5 yard range, 32nd in the 6-10 yard range, 28th in the 11-15 yard range and 26th in the 16-20 yard range.

Explaining the discrepancy between Carr’s short/deep accuracy and the other levels of the field is relatively easy. The big concern about Carr coming out of college was his footwork and how he reacted to pressure. He has a huge arm so it’s relatively easy for him to flick the ball to receivers in either flat without setting his feet. When he’s pushing the ball downfield there is less requirement for touch and timing, he can let the ball fly aggressively.

Throwing to short and intermediate routes past the line of scrimmage requires more placement, touch and timing because you are throwing into the thick of the coverage. Your footwork becomes more important on these throws because you have a much smaller margin for error.

On this play against the Denver Broncos in Week 9 Carr was lucky to avoid an interception. This is a difficult throw to make but it’s one he has the arm talent to make. Not only does he need to arch the ball over the trailing defender, the ball has to hit a moving window down the sideline where the receiver can catch the ball before going out of bounds.

It’s not that Carr missed this throw. Few quarterbacks can make this throw in the first place. It’s that he missed the throw by a huge distance. The ball should at worst reach the defender trailing his intended target.

The key for the result on this play is Carr’s left foot. When he plants it initially his left foot is in front of his right. He should be keeping that left foot ahead of his right to step into the throw and release the ball with authority. Instead his left foot begins to move backwards and by the time he releases the ball his weight is on his left foot but is pushed backwards before leaving the ground.

Carr faces very little pressure. On this occasion Von Miller was able to get close to him but he never hit him and he could only reach to try and disrupt the release of the ball.

Miller’s presence alone impacted Carr’s comfort delivering the ball. He had an opportunity to step forward if he didn’t feel like he could cleanly release the ball. That is an element of Carr’s play that is too common. He rushes to get rid of the ball instead of making use of the time he is given. On this play, his inability in the pocket led to the ball arriving significantly short of its intended destination.

Carr can fix some of his accuracy with better footwork, but his accuracy even when he sets his feet lacks the requisite timing and placement to be an upper-echelon player.

45.85 percent of Carr’s passes travelled between 0-10 yards past the line of scrimmage last year. 24 quarterbacks in the league threw more passes into that area of the field. The Raiders have receivers who can get open quickly and they spread the field with four and five receivers on a regular basis last season. Carr should have been able to work the short and intermediate routes more often than he did to get the most out of the diverse talents around him.

The Raiders have a new offensive coordinator, Todd Downing, but he’s a carryover after being the team’s quarterbacks coach previously. If Downing simply retains the principles and scheme of Bill Musgrave Carr’s skill set is unlikely to broaden.

Making that offense work against bad defenses is possible, the Raiders did it for the most part last year, but it makes winning games against good defenses immeasurably harder.

Save for hitting on defensive prospects at an unprecedented rate in the draft, the Raiders will be a team that is overly reliant on its offense moving forward. That means Carr can’t just be Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco or even Matthew Stafford. He will need to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, consistently playing to his potential each week.

 

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