The exit from the Raiders “lit a fire” in new Saints QB Derek Carr

NEW ORLEANS, La. — New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr is ready to reinvent himself.

The Saints introduced Carr in a 45-minute press conference Saturday. Carr sat next to Saints coach Dennis Allen, with his family and the Saints front office in attendance. He talked about his nine-year tenure with the Las Vegas Raiders, how the Saints convinced him to join their team, and what’s next.

What comes next might involve throwing a pass to wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Thomas and the Saints looked like they might be headed for a breakup after restructuring his deal in January. But Carr, who spoke with Thomas at length about the free agency process, spoke as if he expected to be teammates with the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year.

Carr said he and Thomas became close because of their phone conversations. He even told Saints general manager Mickey Loomis after one of those conversations that he felt the pair could “go out there and face the world.”

He added: “When he started recruiting and talking to me, he wasn’t even trying to recruit me, he was just like, ‘When are we going to work? We’re wasting time, time is running out.’ I was like, “man, I’m the same way. We’ll get there.” But I think our relationship has grown during the process and I’m looking forward to making that relationship even stronger.”

Carr will also play with Saints tight end Juwan Johnson, a restricted free agent who scored seven touchdowns for the Saints in 2022. The team announced Saturday that it signed him to a new two-year contract.

But parting ways with the Raiders was not an easy process for Carr.

“It’s hard because I love so many people there. At the same time it’s a breath of fresh air,” she said.

Carr admitted he would be lying if he tried to say he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder after how things ended, with him sidelined for the final two games of the season due to an inevitable split.

That end, he said, sparked the competitive edge in him. He couldn’t promise it would be former Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was one of the former players, along with Peyton and Archie Manning, who arrived to guide him through the decision-making process.

Carr also couldn’t promise wins, but said he could promise to give it his all.

“Just being able to come in and show my work ethic and really prove it again … I didn’t plan or dream it would end this way. That’s for sure,” he said. “I understood the business side of it and why things happened, all of that. I mean, I get it. But it hurt. For me as a competitor, I wanted to finish with my teammates. … It lit a fire in me, that I always had, but it gave me that excitement.”

He also thanked the Raiders for selecting him in the second round of the 2014 draft.

“It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t say thank you,” Carr said. “I had nine great years there, a lot of great memories, a lot of hard times, a lot of fun times, a lot of kids from those days. And Mr. Davis and the Raiders organization, thank you. If they see this, I’ve got to tell them something because I don’t I’d be there without him.”

Carr made it clear he was ready to move on after a free agency process that lasted nearly a month after being released by the Raiders on Feb. 14. Allen joked Saturday that Carr makes decisions quicker on the field than off the field.

“He took too long with the process. But obviously we’re happy to have him,” Allen said with a smile.

The New York Jets were one of the other teams involved in the process, and the Carolina Panthers, who recently traded up to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, were another.

But the Saints already had a leg up on the competition because of Carr’s long relationship with Allen, who was coaching the Raiders when they took Carr in the second round of the 2014 draft. Allen also made the decision to start Carr as a rookie.

Even though Allen was fired four games into that season, the two have maintained a relationship since those days.

“DA, how I feel about this man, hopefully me sitting here will tell you what I think about him and the opportunity,” Carr said Saturday. “You gave me my first chance, every time we played since we weren’t in the same team, I always said thank you. Even in the press conference leading up to that game [last fall], I would say that I have always been grateful to DA for giving me my chance. He entrusted me with the keys to an organization, to be that general there for nine years. … We’re just getting started and all that is in the past.”

Allen and the Saints wouldn’t take no for an answer. The Saints were the first team to approach Carr once the Raiders gave him permission to pursue a potential trade, and they were by far the most persistent, he said.

Carr said his phone was “blow up” daily with persistent texts and calls from the Saints, who were determined to make him their quarterback of the future.

“I don’t think he’s just a veteran quarterback. I think he’s the veteran quarterback we wanted,” Allen said. “I don’t know that there was that thing, well, we had to go out and find any veteran quarterback. We wanted to find the quarterback that we wanted. Like I said before, we’ve made it clear that Derek is our No. 1 target. And we [went] out and took him.”

Added Carr: “There was never any doubt from [their side]. … They made it very clear how they felt. They were honest. They told us the truth about the organization and didn’t try to make anything look like it wasn’t, and I think that meant the most interest. It was just honesty from the start. And there were other groups that said certain things and said similar things and all that. But at the end of the day, they got out first, they tried a trade, all those kinds of things and you, to start weighing it, to feel that way, again, it’s nice, for somebody to see the value that you can bring to their organization, in their city, in their locker room.”

The Saints were the only team to meet with Carr while he was still a member of the Raiders, hosting him and his wife for two days in New Orleans in early February. A trade ultimately did not happen after Carr, who had a no-trade clause in his deal with the Raiders, vetoed it.

But a trade was actually closer than people think, he said Saturday.

“I was very willing to take a trade,” he said. “But I could only speak to one group. I was only given permission to speak to one group. As much as I love and respect those guys, Dave and Josh at the Raiders, how do I make this decision when it’s the only time in my career I’ve ever been or could be single? I can’t make that decision without being able to talk to other people. But still I almost made up my mind. I felt so much love here. Like, I still almost did.

“But at the end of the day, I felt like I knew that when I sat here, I wanted to be able to look my kids in the eye, look my wife in the eye, and know that I did my best. , I asked every question, went through every process to make sure I tried to make the best decision for our family, for us together. So I wasn’t closed off to everything, which might have been shocking to some people. I was not closed, I was willing to work, but I could only talk to the Saints. But it worked out for me.”

Carr finally ended up signing his four-year contract on Saturday. Sources told ESPN the contract could potentially be worth as much as $150 million and includes up to $100 million in guarantees. The deal likely won’t become official on the trade wire until free agency begins next week, as the Saints still have plenty of moves to make to meet the salary cap for 2023. They also have a decision to make on the former starting quarterback Jameis Winston , who could become a free agent with Carr’s signature.

The deal also brings him full circle in a reunion with the man who helped draw him.

“I think that’s kind of how we got on the phone when Derek called me Sunday afternoon and said he wanted to come here and be the quarterback,” Allen said. “When we got on the phone it was like, ‘Hey, it’s time to finish what we started.’ So I think it’s a nice deal.”

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