Exit from Raiders 'lit fire' in new Saints QB Derek Carr

ByKatherine Terrell ESPN logo
Sunday, March 12, 2023

NEW ORLEANS -- Saints quarterback Derek Carr is ready to reinvent himself.

The Saints introduced Carr in a news conference that spanned 45 minutes on Saturday. Carr sat next to Saints coach Dennis Allen, with his family and the Saints front office in attendance. He talked about his nine-year tenure with the Las Vegas Raiders, how the Saints convinced him to join their team and what's next.

What's next could include throwing passes to wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Thomas and the Saints looked like they could be headed for a breakup after they restructured his deal in January. But Carr, who talked to Thomas extensively throughout the free agency process, spoke as if he expected to be teammates with the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year.

Carr said he and Thomas got close due to their conversations on the phone. He even told Saints general manager Mickey Loomis after one of those conversations that he felt like the pair could "go out there and face the world."

He added: "When he started recruiting and talking to me, he wasn't even trying to recruit me, he was just like, 'When are we getting to work? We're wasting time, time is ticking.' I was like, 'Dude, I'm the same way. We'll get there.' But I think that our relationship has grown through the process, and I'm looking forward to hopefully making that relationship grow even stronger."

Carr will also be playing with Saints tight end Juwan Johnson, a restricted free agent who scored seven touchdowns for the Saints in 2022. The team announced on Saturday that it had signed him to a new two-year deal.

But the breakup with the Raiders hasn't been an easy process for Carr.

"It's hard because I love so many people there. At the same time it's a breath of fresh air," he said.

Carr admitted he has a chip on his shoulder after the way things ended, with him stepping away from the Raiders for the final two games of the season due to an inevitable parting of ways.

That ending, he said, sparked his competitive edge. He wouldn't promise to be former Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was one of the former players, along with Peyton and Archie Manning, who reached out to guide him through the decision-making process.

Carr also wouldn't promise wins, but promised that he would give everything he had.

"I just get to come in and show my work ethic, and really prove it again. ... I didn't plan on or dream of it finishing that way. That's for sure," he said. "I understood the business side of it and why things were happening, all that. I mean, I get it. But it hurt. For me as a competitor, I wanted to finish with my teammates. ... It lit a fire in me, that I've always had, but it just made it hot. It gave me this excitement."

He also thanked the Raiders for selecting him in the second round of the 2014 draft.

"I wouldn't be me if I didn't say thank you to them," Carr said. "I had nine great years there, a lot of great memories, a lot of hard times, a lot of fun times, a lot of kids since those days. And Mr. Davis and the Raiders organization, thank you. If they see this, I have to say something to them because I wouldn't be there without him."

Carr made it clear he was ready to move forward after a free agency process that spanned almost a month following his release from the Raiders on Feb. 14. Allen joked that Carr makes decisions quicker on the field than he does off the field.

"He took way too long with the process. But we're obviously happy that we have him," Allen said with a smile.

The New York Jets were one of the other teams involved in the process, and the Carolina Panthers, who made a trade Friday to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, were another.

But the Saints already had a leg up on the competition due to Carr's longstanding relationship with Allen, who was coaching the Raiders when they took Carr in the draft. Allen started Carr as a rookie.

Although Allen was fired four games into that season, the two have maintained a relationship since those days.

"DA, how I feel about this man, hopefully me sitting here tells you what I think about him and the opportunity," Carr said on Saturday. "You gave me my first opportunity, every time we played y'all ever since we weren't on the same team, I would always tell you thank you. Even in the press conference leading up to that game [last fall], I would say I was always thankful to DA because he gave me my chance. He trusted me with the keys to an organization, to be that quarterback there for nine years. ... We're just getting started and all that's in the past."

Allen and the Saints wouldn't take no for an answer. The Saints were the first team to approach Carr as soon as the Raiders granted him permission to seek a potential trade, and they were by far the most persistent, he said.

Carr said his phone was "blowing up" daily with persistent texts and calls from the Saints, who were determined to make him their quarterback.

"I don't think it's just a veteran quarterback. I think it's the veteran quarterback we wanted," Allen said. "I don't know that there was this thing, well, we got to go out and find any veteran quarterback. We wanted to find the quarterback that we wanted. Like I said before, we clearly identified that Derek was our No. 1 target. And we [went] out and got him."

Added Carr: "There was never a doubt from [their side]. ... They made it very clear how they felt. They were honest. They told us the truth about the organization and they didn't try and make anything seem like it wasn't, and I think that's what meant the most interest. It was just honesty from the very beginning. And there were other teams that said certain things and said similar things and all that. But at the end of the day they, they came out first, they tried a trade, all these kinds of things and you, to start weighing that, to feel wanted like that, again, it's nice, for someone to see the value that you can possibly bring to their organization, to their city, to their locker room."

The Saints were the only team to meet with Carr while he was still a member of the Raiders, hosting him and his wife for two days in New Orleans in early February. A trade ultimately didn't happen after Carr, who had a no-trade clause in his deal with the Raiders, vetoed it.

But a trade was actually close, Carr said.

"I was very willing to accept a trade," he said. "But I was only able to talk to one team. I was only given permission to talk to one team. As much as I love and respect those guys, Dave and Josh over at the Raiders, how do I make that decision when it's the only time in my career that I've been, or could possibly be free? I can't possibly make that decision without being able to talk to other people. But I still almost made the decision. I felt so much love here. Like, I still almost did it.

"But at the end of the day, I just felt like I knew that when I sat here, I wanted to be able to look my kids in the eye, look my wife in the eye, and know that I did everything in my power, I asked every question, I went through every process to make sure I tried to make the best decision for our family, for us together. So, I wasn't closed off to it all, which was maybe shocking to some people. But I wasn't closed off, I was willing to work, but I just was only able to talk to the Saints. But it worked out."

Ultimately, Carr ended up signing his four-year deal on Saturday. Sources told ESPN that the contract could potentially be worth up to $150 million and includes up to $100 million in guarantees. The deal will likely not become official until the start of free agency next week, as the Saints still have multiple moves to make to become salary cap compliant for 2023. They also have a decision to make on former starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who could become a free agent with Carr's signing.

The deal brings Carr full circle in a reunion with Allen.

"I think that's kind of how we got off the phone when Derek called me Sunday evening and said he wanted to come here and be quarterback," Allen said. "When we got off the phone it was like, 'Hey, it's time for us to go finish what we started.' So I think it's kind of a cool deal."

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