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Is it time for the Raiders to be worried about Derek Carr?

Was Monday one bad game, or another example of Derek Carr’s continuing regression?

Los Angeles Rams v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

When the Oakland Raiders awarded Derek Carr with a $25 million per year contract extension in June 2017, it was the richest in the league and a worthwhile investment in a passer who had ascended to the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks.

Carr threw 28 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 2016 and led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before a broken leg in Week 16 ended his season. It was a disappointing end to an exciting season, but the Raiders knew they had their quarterback of the future and paid up to ensure he’d stay in silver and black.

But his steady improvement through the first three seasons of his career stunted in 2017. The number of touchdowns dropped, his interceptions doubled, and his passer rating dropped from 96.7 in 2016 to 86.4 a year later.

Jon Gruden was tasked with getting Carr back on track, but Week 1 only raised more concerns about the trajectory of the quarterback’s career. In his season debut, Carr threw three interceptions with no touchdowns in a 33-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams — just the second three-interception performance of his career.

Will Carr shake off his recent regression and bounce back, or did the Raiders invest in fool’s gold?

Case 1: Carr will be just fine

Quarterbacks have bad games. Carr’s showing against the Rams wasn’t that bad.

He completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 303 yards, and had a 62.8 passer rating. Even during his career-best season in 2016, he had a game with a 49.1 rating.

The new-look Rams defense has some monsters up front in Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers. And Carr is far from the first quarterback to fall victim to Marcus Peters’ ball-hawking ways.

Yes, there was one extremely bad interception.

A pass so bad that ESPN’s Joe Tessitore summed it up with “HOW SLOPPY WAS THAT?!”

Carr said he’ll lose sleep over the throw, and explained why he lobbed a balloon to a Rams linebacker for the easiest interception ever.

“I went to the right side, they buzzed underneath that route, so I came back, bad decision, went to throw it away, kinda maybe give the bench route a chance, but I saw the dude underneath it so I tried to pull it back with my hand and obviously that’s why it looks so terrible it just floated in there and landed in the guy’s lap,” Carr said, via Silver and Black Pride.

“It’s just one of those that you sit there and [say] that is one of the dumbest plays that you could ever have. But it is what it is, I knew what I should’ve done as soon as that play was over, but it just sucks that it happened.”

It makes sense. Carr was trying to do too much for a Raiders team that was falling way behind and did some overthinking. It happens.

There’s also a serious lack of weapons around the young quarterback.

Amari Cooper has been wildly inconsistent so far in his career, and was a nonfactor in Week 1. The Raiders also replaced Michael Crabtree with Jordy Nelson, who is now 33 and a shell of his former self, and traded for Martavis Bryant who ended up getting released after preseason.

There’s plenty of time for Carr to bounce back, and if the Raiders finally give him some real help, he could get things right in a hurry.

Case 2: The Raiders should be worried

Even during Carr’s stellar 2016 season, he was one of the least reliable quarterbacks when pressured. He threw three touchdowns and three interceptions under pressure that year, finishing 25th in the NFL in passer rating.

Kept clean, he threw 25 touchdowns with three interceptions and had a 103.7 passer rating.

The pattern continued in 2017 and on Monday night, two of his three interceptions came on the 12 snaps he dropped back and was pressured. The only exception was his inexplicably bad lob.

Oakland invested a first-round pick in Kolton Miller as a way to better protect Carr, but it doesn’t say much about a $25 million per year passer if everything around him needs to be perfect for him to succeed.

And perhaps the reason Cooper has disappeared is Carr has stopped looking to receivers. Tight end Jared Cook was targeted 12 times Monday and running back Jalen Richard 11 times. No wide receiver was thrown to more than four times.

The analytics say it wasn’t because the receivers weren’t getting open:

It seems like defenses are better understanding the formula to stop Carr, and keeping him under duress is step one. If the Raiders offense devolves into relying on Cook up the middle and Richard out in the flat, the rest of the season could look a lot like the second half against the Rams.

When the Raiders committed to Carr last summer, there was a safeguard built into the contract. While the dead money in 2017 and 2018 were through the roof, they drop to manageable numbers in 2019 and beyond.

The team would save $15 million by cutting Carr in 2019, $16.5 million if they did it in 2020, $19.63 million in 2021, or $19.88 million in 2022.

If Carr continues to regress, the Raiders have leverage to move on or ask the passer to take a pay cut. But one of the major reasons Gruden was hired was to make sure it didn’t come to that.

Monday raised red flags, but it was just the first game of Gruden’s tenure with Carr. It isn’t panic time yet, but the Raiders definitely need their 27-year-old quarterback to look more like he did at age 25.