OAKLAND — I can’t tell you who’s going to coach the Raiders next season. Though it probably won’t be Tony Sparano.
I can’t tell you who’ll be their general manager. It could still be Reggie McKenzie, but owner Mark Davis isn’t saying.
I can’t even tell you where the Raiders are going to play in 2015. Sunday’s 26-24 edging of the Bills likely wasn’t the final game in Oakland, but there’s no guarantee. The team’s one-year lease at O.co Coliseum is up and yet to be extended.
When it comes to the Raiders, assurances are slippery and certainties run in short supply. The future is less clear than Highway 99 between Kingsburg and Goshen on a Tule fog-filled morning.
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There are few things I can say about the Raiders without fear of being dead wrong in public. But here’s one: Derek Carr is their quarterback.
Notice I didn’t say franchise quarterback. The Fresno State product has yet to earn that label, one that should be reserved for those with last names like Brady, Manning and Rodgers.
The rookie has a ways to go. Still, there is increasing evidence the Raiders won’t need to go quarterback shopping anytime soon.
Carr did not play his best game Sunday. Not against a formidable Bills defense that made even Aaron Rodgers look ordinary one week before. He started slow (6 of 21) but found his rhythm (11 of 13) to finish at 50% completions to go with 214 yards and two touchdowns. Plus zero turnovers.
Two of those completions were bombs that went for 51 and 50 yards. Neither were to Carr’s primary receiver, and both set up Raiders touchdowns.
Somewhere in Fresno, Daryle Lamonica is smiling.
After the game, I asked Carr if he thinks he’s done enough to cement himself as the team’s quarterback of the future.
“Yeah,” came the grinning reply from the podium. “I’m pretty confident.”
Even in a 3-12 season that’s included some truly disheartening losses, Carr is the smiling antidote. He’s never lost confidence or poise. He’s stayed upbeat and cheerful, even when the negativity came pouring down like acid rain.
“He’s always positive; he might be the most positive player on this team,” said receiver Andre Holmes, whose 51-yard jump-ball grab on third-and-22 set up the clinching touchdown. “He plays with a lot of passion and never quits.”
Tailback Latavius Murray expressed a similar view: “It’s hard to tell he was a rookie if you don’t know already. He’s a guy that’s a great leader and acts like he’s been around for awhile.”
Raiders fans are convinced. Carr received the loudest cheers during pregame intros and when he had to leave the field for a play backup Matt Schaub was greeted with a chorus of boos. When Carr returned following a timeout, so did the cheers.
Carr isn’t the only foundation piece. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack, the No. 5 overall pick in May, is a play-making machine. It’s rare to see a rookie so adept against the pass and run. He’ll be wreaking havoc in opposing backfields for years. Third-round pick Gabe Jackson has been solid at left guard, and so too has seventh-round cornerback T.J. Carrie.
In fact, the Raiders’ rookie class might be the best argument McKenzie can make to retain his job. Surely better than drafting D.J. Hayden in the 2013 first round or trading two picks for Matt Flynn.
If the GM can identify Oakland’s quarterback of the future — in the second round, no less — then surely he deserves to continue this rebuild. (Davis says McKenzie will be evaluated after the season. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.)
The coaching situation is equally murky. Sparano almost certainly won’t be back even though the Raiders won their final three home games. All against teams fighting for the playoffs.
Carr professed his fondness and affection for the interim coach but stopped short of giving a full-on endorsement.
“That’s in Mr. Davis’ hands,” Carr said. “I know he’ll do what’s best for this organization.”
If McKenzie is retained, surely he’ll get to pick the next coach. If not, Davis could hire a new GM and let him make that decision. Or Davis could cut ties with McKenzie and choose a coach himself.
No matter what, most observers expect the next head coach to be adept at developing quarterbacks. And he’ll believe in Carr. Otherwise, what’s the point? It would be like starting over.
Jim Harbaugh is a name that pops up, but the erstwhile 49ers coach will have several suitors if he doesn’t opt for the Michigan job. Each would offer more stability than the Raiders.
While the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday the Raiders are expected to sign another one-year lease to stay at O.co next season, nothing beyond that is guaranteed.
Oakland, along with the Chargers and Rams, are all candidates for relocation to Los Angeles, where the NFL reportedly wants to place two franchises in 2016. Davis has also publicly flirted with San Antonio. There have even been rumors of a cross Bay move to AT&T Park.
One week from the offseason, the Raiders have more balls in the air than a circus juggler. But at least they know who’ll be under center.
Hey, it’s a start.