Editor’s note: Raiders Insider Scott Bair and 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco exchanged emails about the quarterbacks they cover. Derek Carr and Colin Kaepernick will be on the field together when the 49ers visit the Raiders on Sunday.
BAIR: After a decade searching for a franchise quarterback, the Raiders think they have a keeper in rookie Derek Carr. The 49ers seemed set on Colin Kaepernick when they offered him big bucks last offseason, following his second NFC Championship in as many seasons as the starting quarterback.
The crazy part: Both were acquired with the No. 36 overall pick. The 49ers snagged Kaepernick in 2011. The Raiders grabbed Carr three years later.
Both guys are immensely talented, and have fared better than those selected higher in their respective drafts. Whether they can join the NFL’s elite quarterbacks remains a big question.
Kaepernick’s play has been criticized of late, as the 49ers offense has stumbled during a mediocre stretch that has put the team’s playoff hopes in jeopardy. Matt, can he pull out of this funk, get the 49ers back on track and live up to his vast potential?
MAIOCCO: Kaepernick, in many ways, is a victim of his own early success.
His 10th NFL start came in Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. In that game, he threw for 302 yards and rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown. But the 49ers, essentially, came up 5 yards short of a victory that would have placed him the same company of Joe Montana and Steve Young – quarterbacks to win Super Bowls with the 49ers.
Kaepernick shows incredible flashes of brilliance. Nobody in the NFL can make some of the plays he’s capable of making. But his problem, like the problem of the entire 49ers’ offense, is consistency.
Frankly, I was shocked he played so well immediately after taking over for Alex Smith in 2012. I think everybody was surprised at how accurately he threw the football. He has not topped the 62.1 completion percentage in the 10 games, including postseason, of his rookie season. He averaged 8.8-yards per attempt and had a 100.2 passer rating as a rookie. He has not approached those numbers the past two seasons.
This season, the 49ers’ offense has ranked in the bottom third of the league despite the addition of former 1,000-yard receivers Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. And Kaepernick has not taken steps to be mentioned among the game’s elite quarterbacks.
Kaepernick’s running ability was a big reason for his immediate success. But in order for him to have staying power, he has to fully develop as a pocket passer. And that will take some time.
So, Scott, how do you believe Carr is set up to progress in future seasons?
BAIR: Carr has the skill and savvy required to succeed at this level. He has a quick release, a cannon arm – not quite Kaepernick’s fastball, but close – enough mobility to buy time outside the pocket and the smarts to run a sophisticated offense.
We both know that talent alone doesn’t make a good signal caller. There are plenty of failed quarterbacks with the aforementioned traits who didn’t have the work ethic or the assistance required to succeed in a cutthroat industry.
In terms of “want to,” Carr is a grinder. Case in point: The 24-year old celebrated his first NFL victory in 11 tries with a turkey burger and fries from Carl’s Jr. He went to bed, got up early and started studying the next opponent despite having three days off.
All the losing hasn’t eaten his confidence, and he’s remarkably well-composed after a 1-11 start.
This will be a big offseason in Carr’s development. He’ll have to adjust to a new head coach and a new offensive system. The front office, whoever is running it at that point, must import talent around him to alleviate pressure to produce. Save a few runs by Latavius Murray, the Raiders can’t move without Carr throwing well.
The 49ers also haven’t moved the football well of late, and Kaepernick hasn’t had much to say about it. I guess that isn’t new. How comfortable is Colin as the face of the franchise?
MAIOCCO: Nobody has ever questioned Kaepernick’s work ethic. He works as hard as anyone. But, sometimes, he leaves the impression that he gets distracted by things that should not matter.
He finds motivation in “silencing the haters.” And he seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders after losses. Kaepernick does not follow the lead set by all the other successful quarterbacks in the NFL, as far as handling the public aspect of his job.
And that’s OK, as long as he is producing on the field. But when he’s not producing, he has to do a better job of relating to the public and assuaging concerns about his and his team’s performance.
[RELATED: Roman: Kaepernick his own harshest critic]
Like Carr, there are questions about who will be Kaepernick’s coach next season. If a change is made, like many expect, there is no question Kaepernick’s profile will be heightened. He definitely will be the face of the franchise – whether he likes it or not. And he has to learn to get comfortable in that role.
The contract Kaepernick signed in June enables the 49ers to cut ties with him if his play slips. There is no question Kaepernick will be back next season. But, after that, he has to earn his money. And that’s the way he wanted his contract set up.
The 49ers and Raiders are scheduled to meet again in four years. What do you think, Scott? Will Carr be the Raiders’ quarterback?
BAIR: Interesting question, my friend. There would have to be a big-money contract extension in between Sunday’s meeting and the next, but I believe Carr will earn it.
There is so much uncertainty surrounding this unstable franchise, which could hire a new head coach, a new general manager and play in a new city in the near future.
Carr is one thing they can count on. He’s as even-keel as they come, committed to personal and team-wide improvement. He can handle the losing and doesn’t get distracted by outside criticism.
He’s a perfect ambassador for this franchise, someone who always says the right thing and knows how to toe the company line without sounding fake. He grew up a Raiders fan, and seems particularly committed to turning this franchise around.
None of that matters if he can’t produce. Derek Carr knows that too well. His brother David was also a good guy and a strong talent, but his game had fatal flaws that kept him from realizing expectations of a high draft pick.
In many ways, Derek Carr is David Carr: Version 2.0. He learned from big brother’s mistakes and is better prepared for the NFL experience because of it. David Carr got sacked a ton, so Derek understood the importance of buying time and a quick release. David shouldered blame for an expansion franchise’s early struggles, so Derek developed a thick skin.
Derek Carr has been preparing for this opportunity his whole life – the kid broke down NFL film as a teenager – and he’ll maximize talent worthy of a longtime starting spot.
MAIOCCO: So this could be the first of multiple Raiders-49ers games in which Carr and Kaepernick are the quarterbacks.
Kaepernick has to mature. He has to be able to handle successes and failures with an even keel. He has to develop into more of a leader. But there is no reason why he cannot become that guy.
He is a smart kid. He has all the talent in the world. Everybody wants to see instant results, and that’s what Kaepernick provided when he entered the lineup for the 49ers. But, now, people need to take a deep breath. A little patience is needed.
Whatever happens with the 49ers in the offseason, Kaepernick has to figure into the team’s long-term future. Right now, his best football was played when he was a rookie. But his best football should be ahead of him.
When the 49ers next meet at Levi’s Stadium in 2018, Kaepernick, like Carr, should be entering his prime as a passer.