The Las Vegas Raiders are staring down the most unsettled quarterback situation in the league.
Some have suggested that there is a legitimate chance Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t play a down for the Raiders, after requiring foot surgery to repair an injury that caused him to fail his physical and triggered some last-second changes to his contract language prior to putting pen to paper.
Garoppolo, of course, arrived in Vegas after the organization cast off Derek Carr last season, and it was expected that the 31-year-old would lead the Raiders’ offense this season. Now, it seems entirely possible he isn’t even on the roster when the 2023 campaign kicks off.
So, who are the best contingency options for the Raiders if Garoppolo’s situation completely unravels and general manager Dave Ziegler needs to hatch a Plan B less than three months before the season kicks off September 10 in Denver?
Heavy spoke to multiple NFL executives, in buildings across the league, to get a sense of where the Raiders might go from here, and who the best fit to potentially replace Garoppolo at quarterback might be.
Brian Hoyer – Raiders
It might not be ideal, but perhaps the easiest — and most cost efficient option for the Raiders would be to turn the reins over to veteran Brian Hoyer for a season. After all, he’s already on the roster.
“The thing about Brian is he’s efficient,” an AFC front office executive told Heavy, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team’s situation.
“Brian’s an overachiever,” the executive explains. “He knows offense, completes passes. Not overly mobile, but enough. But, with 10,000 career yards, 53 touchdowns and only 35 interceptions, he’s an extension of coaches on field. Legit backup.”
Sam Darnold – 49ers
The 49ers’ crowded quarterback room could hold the answer to the Raiders’ short-term quarterback solution.
“I’d trade for Sam Darnold today,” an NFL offensive coach told Heavy. “They have big issues out there, because they don’t have money to make a big trade. Especially when you’re talking about a quarterback.”
Darnold’s signing as a free agent provided the San Francisco 49ers some quarterback insurance for both Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, who are each returning from injury. However, if both Lance and Purdy make a full recovery, it is conceivable that Darnold could become expendable.
Last season in Carolina, Darnold flourished for the first time in his career, posting a career-high 92.6 passer rating while throwing 7 touchdowns to 3 interceptions in six games. Perhaps Darnold can be a competent starter in McDaniels’ system until the organization is able to mine a long-term franchise quarterback of the future.
Look to the Future
Short of scouring the waiver wire for veterans spinning around the backup quarterback carousel, one former general manager suggests the Raiders “tank” for their pick of two “generational” quarterback prospects next spring.
“If I were in their shoes,” the former general manager suggested. “I would tank.”
But, for a franchise that has seemingly straddled the line between rebuilding through the draft and throwing all the chips into the middle of the table in free agency, there might be some merit to positioning to choose between USC Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and University of North Carolina standout Drake Maye.
“Seriously, Maye has the chance to be the next Troy Aikman,” former GM pointed out. “And Caleb Williams is a Russell Wilson clone, only much faster.”
Openly tanking would certainly run counter to the spirit of the sport, and trigger mass outrage from the Raiders’ players and coaching staff. But, with only $3.91 million in cap space, if the roster is led by a veteran bridge backup currently on the roster, and the result is picking at the top of the board next season, it might not be the Raiders’ worst outcome.