Who are the biggest competitors for the Saints in the Derek Carr sweepstakes?

Now that Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has been released on Wednesday, the New Orleans Saints will have to court him in free agency. Unfortunately for them, they won’t be alone. It is easy to see that Carr will immediately become the most desirable available quarterback as open as he hits the open market. Sure, players like Baltimore Ravens dual-threat Lamar Jackson and Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers could enter the conversation. But both are more likely to be traded than become free agents and neither are fully available at this time.

That means Carr commands his own market. And that market will include several teams vying for his services. Though the Saints were the only club that Carr and his wife visited when mulling potential trade destinations, there are several teams expected to join the race. Here are some of the teams that present the most competition for New Orleans in acquiring Carr, what they have to offer, and what stands in their way:

New York Jets

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2022 starter: Zach Wilson – 9 games, 132 completions on 242 attempts (54.5%), 1,688 passing yards, 6 touchdowns passes and 7 interceptions thrown. Wilson is currently still on the roster though New York also started quarterbacks Mike White and Joe Flacco in 2022. Wilson’s future with the Jets is uncertain.

Cap space: -$264,498 (No. 19 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: The Jets are uniquely position to pitch to Carr. After hiring former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing as their passing game coordinator, the Jets have the inside track to several possible quarterback options this offseason. Downing was the quarterbacks coach with Carr in 2015 and 2016 and his offensive coordinator in 2017 with the then Oakland Raiders. All three seasons, Carr made Pro Bowls as an early alternate in the least. Downing, the Jets’ ability to give Carr a nicely-sized contract and young weapons like running back Breece Hall and wideout Garrett Wilson (who was also the 2022 offensive rookie of the year) are all impactful bargaining chips in reeling in Carr.

Biggest roadblock: The Jets have a clear runway (pun intended) to Carr. The only thing that could get in the way is if Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers emerges from his “darkness retreat” ready to leave the Packers. In which case, New York has another inside track in newly-appointed offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Carolina Panthers

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2022 starter: Baker Mayfield –  Started 6 games with Carolina before heading to the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent midseason. He completed 119 of his 206 passes thrown (57.8%) with the Panthers for 1,313 passing yards, 6 touchdowns passes and 6 interceptions thrown. The Panthers also started signal callers Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker in 2022. Mayfield and Darnold are free agents while Walker and 2022 third-round pick Matt Carrol remain on the roster.

Cap Space: -$7.7 million (No. 21 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: While the Panthers are over the salary cap, they do have some restructure options and mid-level cuts that would put them in position to offer Carr the money he wants. But perhaps the biggest draw for him in Carolina, beyond a clear path to a starting job in a bad division, is the coaching staff. The Panthers have assembled an all-star team of coaches in Charlotte, NC. Whether or not those hires translate to immediate success remains to be seen. But if you’re a quarterback looking for a new situation, the Panthers have fostered one you would be comfortable betting on.

Biggest roadblock: Though owner David Tepper vowed to do whatever it took to get new head coach Frank Reich the staff and support he needed, he will only be able to go so far when it comes to player personnel. While the Panthers do have what it takes to move money around and make room for Carr, if he demands a $35 million or more deal, things might get tight. Carolina does not have the same kind of offensive firepower the Jets and Saints do for instance. So how much can they build around Carr once the signed him? That question has to be the first they answer when describing the vision they have for their offense.

Atlanta Falcons

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2022 starter: Marcus Mariota – 13 games, completed 184 of his 300 targets (61.3%) for 2,219 passing yards, 15 touchdowns passes and 9 interceptions thrown. Mariota is set to be a free agent this offseason. The Falcons also started 2022 third-round rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder for the final 4 games.

Cap Space: $56.6 million (No. 2 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: The Falcons have more money than anyone else that is expected to be a part of the Carr conversation. With that, they most certainly have what it takes to lead the charge for the veteran quarterback. Many in Atlanta have their eyes set on Jackson, but he may not hit the market and how long are you willing to wait to find out?

Biggest roadblock: Ridder. Sure, they drafted the former Cincinnati quarterback last year, but they did so in the third round. Meaning that pushing him back for another couple of years would not be a wasted first-round kind of investment. The issue though here is are the Falcons concerned that diminishing the young passer’s confidence could stifle his development or force him to want out of Atlanta.

Tennessee Titans

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2022 starter: Ryan Tannehill – 12 games completing 212 of his 325 passing attempts (65.2%) with 2,536 passing yards, 13 touchdowns passes and 6 interceptions thrown. The Titans also started rookie passer Malik Willis and veteran quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

Cap Space: -$21.4 million (No. 28 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: With Tannehill not expected to be back in 2022, the Titans could turn to Willis but it doesn’t feel like they are fully committed to the young passer. That could open the door for Carr to land a starting job with a team that has a heavy and production run game. The offensive system in Tennessee may be shifting with the departure of former offensive coordinator Downing headed to the Jet, but the core principles of a run-first, play-action heavy offense don’t seem likely to change. That kind of system could elongate Carr’s career.

Biggest roadblock: Speaking of that offensive system, with Downing gone, the Titans elevated former passing game coordinator Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator. That could be a factor in Carr’s interest in the landing spot. Kelly comes from the same tree as Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels. That alone could be enough to warrant some caution for Carr and his club as his time McDaniels’ scheme was not one that maximized him. That and the AFC will continue to be a slaughterhouse in 2023 and perhaps landing in the weaker NFC would interest Carr more.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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2022 starter: Tom Brady – 17 games, completed 490 of his whopping 733 passing attempts (66.8%) for 4,694 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions thrown

Cap space: -$55 million (No. 31 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: While the Buccaneers are in about the same boat as the Saints in cap dollars, they also have a ton of restructure opportunity available to them. Money won’t be an issue. But the biggest draw to the Bucs are their weapons. With wide receivers like Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, the Bucs have a lot to offer Carr in the passing game. Also, bad conference and division offer a ton of appeal. Carr would immediately become the best passer in the division depending on how you feel about Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, whose future with the team is in question.

Biggest roadblock: The issue though is who are they on offense? Presently, Tampa Bay has neither an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach nor passing-game coordinator. The Buccaneers staff isn’t constructed on offense and therefore direction is not clear. Hard to pitch to Carr where he fits without a staff.

Washington Commanders

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2022 starter: Carson Wentz – Starting in 7 games, Wentz completed 172 of his 276 passing attempts (62.3%) for 1,755 passing yards and 11touchdowns passes to 9 interceptions thrown. The Commanders also started veteran Taylor Heinicke and fifth-round quarterback Sam Howell.

Cap space: $8.4 million (No. 14 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: Is Howell really the guy going forward in D.C.? Hard to assume he is, but if Carr becomes a reasonable possibility, one has to imagine he would get the call over the second-year quarterback. Between another starting opportunity and weapons like wide receiver Terry McLaurin, the Commanders can offer an interesting fit. Not to mention Washington’s defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was Carr’s head coach for his 2015-2017 Pro Bowl years.

Biggest roadblock: Why go to the NFC and jump into the shark-infested waters of the NFC East? That division was by far the best in the conference and is setting up to be just as competitive in 2023. Not to mention that the Commanders, like the Bucs, don’t have their offensive staff filled out at this time which could be a hindrance for the Commanders when it comes to pitching the vision to the 9-year veteran.

Indianapolis Colts

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

2022 starter: Matt Ryan – Started in 12 games while completing 309 of his 461 passes (67%) for 3, 057 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions thrown. The Colts also curiously started young quarterback Sam Ehlinger and veteran Nick Foles throughout the year.

Cap space: $12.4 million (No. 12 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: The Colts clearly do not have a plan at quarterback that involves their current roster. Especially with the hiring of their new head coach Shane Steichen. So, a starting job in a bad division in the AFC could carry some water. The Colts are also in position to pay out Carr’s asking price.

Biggest roadblock: On the other hand, Indianapolis has an early draft pick that could result in a drafted starter threatening his job long-term. The Colts currently select No. 4 in the upcoming NFL draft, putting them striking distance for just about any of the top-4 signal callers in this year’s draft class. That might not be a situation Carr wants to sign up for. There’s also the Colts interest to be questioned here. With the success Steichen had with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, it feels like a dual-threat passer (like the ones available at the top of the draft) would be a wiser investment for their new system and direction.

Houston Texans

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2022 starter: Davis Mills – Started 15 games while completing 292 of his 479 passing attempts (61%) for 3,118 passing yards, 17 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions, tying for the league lead with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. The Texans also started veteran passer Kyle Allen with a a heavy dose of change-of-pace quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Cap space: $37.6 million (No. 4 in the NFL)

Biggest draw: This one is easy and simple. Money. The Texans can make just about anything happen with the amount of money they have to spend. Not only could they land Carr’s contract with no issues, they would be able to build around him as well. The former Raiders quarterback would have clear path to a starting job, at least for 2023. Just like Indianapolis, Houston is also saddled in the worst AFC division, though things are getting more competitive with the ascension of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022.

Biggest roadblock: Life beyond 2023. The Texans hold second-overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft which likely means they will look to draft a starter that would be expected to take over in the near future. Similar to the Colts, Carr would immediately have a young, highly-invested-upon passer breathing down his neck. The other draw back is connected to his time with the Raiders. The Texans’ passing-game coordinator Tim McDaniels is the younger brother of Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels. How things ended in Las Vegas could impact how things could possibly never even get started in H-Town.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire