The NFL can be notoriously fickle. The risk of injury, the lack of guaranteed money, and the ever-changing game can alter the trajectory of a career very quickly. For some players, it leaves them in a position where they have to prove themselves again in order to re-establish themselves as top-tier stars.
Here are 15 players who are looking to do just that in 2018. They may have had off-field issues, a lot of injuries, are entering a contract year, or any combination thereof. Either way, all eyes will be on them this coming season, and it’s up to them to respond.
1) Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
There’s so much good about Beckham, but we haven’t seen enough of it in the last year or so. He hasn’t stayed healthy. He’s gotten involved in off-field distractions. He hasn’t produced to the standards he’s capable of even when healthy. Now entering a contract year, he needs to prove to the Giants and everyone else that he can let his football do the talking. So far, he’s reportedly off to a good start.
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr certainly thinks today’s trades have opened the door for LeBron James to join the Los Angeles Lakers, and he’s ready to play his part in a recruitment process.
Carr tweeted to James in the midst of the NBA trade deadline frenzy, suggesting that he move to Los Angeles this summer and sting the Cleveland Cavaliers once more.
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) February 8, 2018
Carr, like the rest of us, noted that the big Lakers-Cavaliers trade on Thursday opens up a ton of cap space for Los Angeles this summer. The presumption is they’ll at least launch a pursuit of James, whose contract is expiring. Even as the Cavaliers go all-out to show James that they’re building things for the future, his own decision is very much in doubt.
When Derek Carr went down with a back injury in Week 4 this past season, it appeared as though he was going to miss several games. He ended up only sitting out the following week, but that doesn’t mean the injury completely went away in just a matter of days.
On the latest edition of the Raiders Insider Podcast, Carr was asked if the transverse process fractures he suffered in his lower back had anything to do with his down year. While he brushed aside talk about the injury all season, he finally decided to come clean.
“When you break three bones in your back, it doesn’t feel good,” Carr said, as transcribed by Scott Bair of NBCSports.com. “I’m thankful God healed me to the point I could walk around and be able to practice. Injuries will never be something I talk about, especially during the season, but since it’s after the season, the (back issue) was one of those things that was there.”
Carr said the back injury wasn’t the sole reason he seemed to take a big step back after his Pro Bowl season in 2016, but it definitely played a role.
“I had to deal with it,” Carr said. “I had to do certain things to manage it, but I just didn’t talk about it. I didn’t want it to be an excuse. It was a want more than anything else. I didn’t want it to be a reason. I couldn’t let that be a reason why I couldn’t do A, B or C.”
Doctors obviously told Carr that there was no risk of injuring his back further, so it was his choice to play through pain. For a large part of the season, Oakland’s offense looked completely out of sync. Jon Gruden is hoping to solve some of those issues, and Carr made some comments this week about the new head coach that should have Raiders fans excited.
- Derek Carr
New Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden will be demanding a lot out of his team — especially his quarterback. Derek Carr says bring it on.
Carr spoke on “The Raiders Insider Podcast” with NBC Sports’ Scott Bair and shared his feelings on being coached by Gruden.
“I want him to be tough on me,” Carr said. “For anyone who thinks I want him to be a different way has no clue about me or how I play football or how I prepare to play this game.
“(Jon) and I are going to get along great. I hope that he demands of me. I hope he’s hard on me. I don’t need to know he loves me. He has already told me that about 20 times. I appreciate that and we’ll be friends forever, but I know he’ll be demanding and tell me what I need to do. Let’s go fix problems that I have and let’s do what I need to do to win championships. Hopefully that will give people some insight and hopefully that’s the story that gets out, because that’s the truth.”
Carr was viewed as one of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in the league prior to this season. The 26-year-old had a promising rookie season and then improved in each of his next two seasons, even leading to the playoffs last season before suffering an injury. This season was different as he regressed for the first time, while the 6-10 Raiders became one of the biggest disappointments in the league.
Now with Gruden — an offensive and quarterbacks specialist — back in the fold, expectations will be high for the Raiders next season. Carr seems to be ready for the challenge, and even has a sense of humor about it.
Jon Gruden is the new head coach of the Oakland Raiders, and that means expectations for the team will be raised. And when we say expectations, we’re not just talking about what the fans and media think the team will do; we’re also talking about accountability within the team.
Rich Gannon, who became a Pro Bowl QB under Gruden, says that players will have to expect to work even harder under their new coach. He said that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has a chance to become a Hall of Famer if he puts the work in.
“Jon’s excited to work with Derek,” Gannon said Tuesday, via The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson. “I just think Derek’s already a good player, but he’s got a chance to be a Hall of Famer and to win multiple Super Bowls if he’ll just do the work.
“You have to put the work in,” Gannon continued. “You have to have a passion for it. Jon’s got an unbelievable passion and I think that’s where we really hit it off. I had the same passion and energy to kind of come in and roll the sleeves up and try and want to work. … I don’t care how hard Derek’s worked before, he’s gonna have to change his work habits a little bit to fit in.”
If anyone knows what it takes to succeed in the league and work as a quarterback under Gruden, it’s Gannon. He’s Gruden’s model pupil.
Gannon, who works as an analyst for CBS, is also said to be a candidate to be Gruden’s QB coach with the Raiders, which would make things really interesting.
Jon Gruden confirmed at his introductory press conference with the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday that he will be calling offensive plays for the team, and Derek Carr knows that means he is going to have a lot of homework to do.
Shortly after Gruden made the confirmation, Bleacher Report put together a funny video of Carr “studying” Gruden’s new playbook. The quarterback had a great sense of humor about it.
Derek Carr learning Gruden’s playbook… pic.twitter.com/WBUVhduqhv
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 9, 2018
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) January 9, 2018
Part of Gruden’s gig with ESPN was running his “QB Camp,” during which he worked with top college quarterbacks to prepare them for the NFL Draft. The whole “Spider 2 Y Banana” thing became a running joke as the coach’s favorite football play, and he has embraced the kick everyone gets out of it.
If a report we recently heard about Carr’s relationship with Oakland’s former coaching staff is true, he must be thrilled to have Gruden as his leader now — even if it means he’ll be studying a lot more plays.
Going from Jack Del Rio to Jon Gruden may not exactly be a magic fix to all of the Oakland Raiders’ problems.
In an appearance this week on 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area, Greg Papa, the longtime radio voice of the Raiders, reported that quarterback Derek Carr lost the faith of the team’s coaching staff towards the end of the 2017 season.
“This coaching staff turned on Derek Carr,” said Papa, according to Jon Breech of CBS Sports. “After the Kansas City game [a 26-15 loss in Week 14], they called him out in front of a whole team meeting. It wasn’t just the offense or the quarterbacks, [or] a segment of the team. It was the whole team. And they ripped him in front of everybody, and Derek’s a prideful guy.”
After two consecutive Pro Bowl campaigns (including leading the Raiders to a remarkable 12-4 record last season), Carr came tumbling back to earth in 2017. He threw for 3,496 yards (his lowest since his rookie year) with 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions as the Raiders finished just 6-10.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Gruden and his new coaching staff (which could include this legendary Raider) give Carr a longer leash and create a more positive environment to help him succeed. But ultimately, the Raiders may continue to disappoint until their franchise QB starts performing.