Katherine TerrellESPN staff writer6 minute reading
NEW ORLEANS, La. — New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr is ready to reinvent himself.
The Saints introduced Carr in a 45-minute press conference on Saturday. Carr sat next to Saints coach Dennis Allen, with his family and outside the Saints front office. He talked about his nine-year stint with the Las Vegas Raiders, how the Saints convinced him to join their team, and what’s next.
The next could involve throwing passes to wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Thomas and the Saints looked like they might part ways after restructuring his contract in January. But Carr, who has spoken extensively with Thomas 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 bonded over 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 just said, ‘When are we going to work? We’re wasting time, time is ticking.’ I said, ‘Dude, I’m the same. We’ll get there.’ But I think our relationship has grown through the process and I’m looking forward to hopefully 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 has 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,” he said.
Carr admitted he would be lying if he tried to say there were no problems once things were over, with him stepping away from the team for the final two games of the season due to the inevitable parting ways ahead.
That ending, he said, fueled a competitive edge in him. He couldn’t promise to be former Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was one of the former players, along with Peyton and Archie Manning, who guided him through the decision-making process.
Carr also couldn’t promise wins, but said he could promise to give it his all.
“I just have to come in and show my work ethic, and really prove it again … I never planned or dreamed it would end up like this. That’s for sure,” he said. “I understood the business side of it and why things happen, 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’ve always had, but it just warmed me up. It gave me this thrill.”
He also thanked the Raiders for selecting him in the second round of the 2014 draft.
“I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t say thank you to them,” Carr said. “I had nine great years there, a lot of good 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 have to tell them something because without him I wouldn’t was there.”
Carr has made it clear he’s ready to move on after a nearly month-long free agency process following his Feb. 14 release from the Raiders. Allen joked Saturday that Carr makes decisions faster on the field than off it.
“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 made a trade to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, were another.
But the Saints already had a head start on the competition because of Carr’s longtime relationship with Allen, who coached 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.
Although Allen was suspended four games into that season, the two have maintained a relationship since those days.
“Prosecutor, how I feel about this man, I hope that I’m sitting here telling you what I think about him and the opportunity,” Carr said Saturday. “You gave me my first chance, every time we played with you, since we were not in the same team, I would always say thank you. Even in the press conference that preceded that game [last fall], I would say that I was always grateful to the prosecutor for giving me the opportunity. He entrusted me with the keys to the organization, to be a quarterback there for nine years. … We are just at the beginning 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 as soon as the Raiders gave him permission to seek a potential trade, and they were by far the most persistent, he said.
Carr said his phone was “exploding” on a daily basis with persistent texts and calls from the Saints, who were determined to make him their quarterback of the future.
“I don’t think it’s just a veteran quarterback. I think it’s the veteran quarterback we wanted,” Allen said. “I don’t know that there’s such a thing as, well, we had to go and find any veteran quarterback. We wanted to find a quarterback that we wanted. Like I said before, we clearly identified that Derek as our No. 1 target. And we [went] out and caught him.”
Carr added: “There was never any doubt [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’s what meant the greatest interest. It was just honesty from the start. And there were other teams saying certain things and saying similar things and all that. But at the end of the day they, they were the first to come out, they tried the store, all these things and you, to start weighing it, to feel so wanted, again, it’s nice, for someone to see the value of that you can possibly bring to their organization, to their city, to their dressing room.”
The Saints were the only team to meet Carr while he was still a member of the Raiders, hosting him and his wife for two days in New Orleans in early February. The trade ended up not happening after Carr, who had a no-trade clause in his contract with the Raiders, vetoed it.
But the trade was actually closer than people think, he said Saturday.
“I was very willing to accept the trade,” he said. “But I could only talk to one team. I was only allowed to talk to one team. As much as I love and respect those guys, Dave and Josh from the Raiders, how do I make that decision when it’s the only time in my career that I’ve been, or could I be free? I can’t possibly make that decision without being able to talk to other people. But I almost made a decision anyway. I felt so much love here. I like it, I almost made it though.
“But at the end of the day, I felt like I know when I’m sitting here, I want to be able to look my kids in the eye, look my wife in the eye and know that I’ve done everything in my power, I’ve asked every question, I’ve gone through every process to make sure I tried to make the best decision for our family, for us together. So I wasn’t locked into all of that, which may have been shocking to some. But I wasn’t locked in, I was willing to work, but I could only talk only to saints. But it worked.”
In the end, Carr signed his four-year contract on Saturday. Sources told ESPN the deal could potentially be worth up to $150 million and include up to $100 million in guarantees. The deal likely won’t become official in a transaction until free agency begins next week, as the Saints still have to take more steps to become salary cap compliant for 2023. They also have to make a decision on former starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who could become a free agent with Carr’s signing. player.
The deal also brings him a full circle reunion with the man who helped cash him in.
“I think we kind of talked like that when Derek called me Sunday night and said he wanted to come here and be a quarterback,” Allen said. “When we got off the phone, it was like, ‘Hey, it’s time to finish what we started.’ So I think it’s kind of a cool deal.”