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New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr is a football lifer
'He's a guy that's played a lot of football and he has been super productive throughout his career'
By John DeShazier Jul 25, 2023
Photographs By Gerald Herbert

David and Darren Carr never minded that their younger brother, Derek, would tag along.

There's a fairly sizeable age gap between the three – David and Darren are 12 and nine years older than Derek, respectively – and sometimes, that amount of space almost can be insurmountable when it comes to making sure the youngest is included, and feels included.

But that never was a problem for the Carr brothers.

"We're all kind of tight," said Darren, who currently coaches Bakerfield (Calif.) Christian High, where David is his offensive coordinator and their father, Rodger, is the quarterbacks coach. "I know there was a big age difference between us but if you've got a brother, you take care of him. It was kind of like Derek got to grow up kind of quick, he wanted to hang out with us. He grew up and was an adult pretty quick.

"We were playing sports, he was out there running around. He'd play up. We'd have our buddies come over to play hoop, he'd go out there and he wouldn't bat an eyelash. He'd just go out there and play. It was cool. As he got older it was just fun to have all three of us, but we never really looked at age with Derek. He was always an adult."


The 2023 version of the adult Derek Carr is 32 years old, preparing to enter his first season as the New Orleans Saints' starting quarterback, having joined the organization as an unrestricted free agent after playing his first nine NFL seasons with the Raiders.

But almost all of those 32 years, it seems, have been spent around football.

"My earliest memories were my brothers playing a rainy game in high school," Derek said. "I remember watching that. The rain was flooding the steps; at least, it felt like it. I just remember watching my brothers play and I fell in love with the game. I didn't even know why.

"I remember growing up watching the Cowboys in the '90s. That was my mom's side, my dad's side was Raider fans. He was the biggest Kenny Stabler fan there was, my dad. So I got both worlds. I remember going to church, coming home and watching the Cowboys with my grandpa, because he was from Texas. That's why my middle name is Dallas.

"Early memories watching (Cowboys cornerback) Deion (Sanders) high step on picks and punt returns and all that kind of stuff, and have gotten to talk to him over the years. It's pretty surreal what football can do. You dream of it as a kid and now you get to do it."

He's been doing the football thing for about as long as anyone can remember. Rewind the tape, and after further review you'll find that Rodger would make sure Derek – and his brothers – got in their reps early in their lives.

"I just invested in my kids," Rodger said. "I wanted them to be able to have everything that they could possibly have. And I could tell they were all athletic, and I said, 'All right, this is what we'll do.' I took the time to help them reach their dreams, and I'm proud of them that they did. They worked hard for it."

It wasn't simple, because Rodger worked long hours at the car dealership. He was a salesman, worked in finance, became sales manager and then general sales manager.

"So it was seven in the morning until nine at night," Rodger said. "One job I had, we had one weekend off a month and I'd get home after 9."


The sacrifice didn't escape Derek's eye. Few things do, which is why when Derek rattles off his list of heroes, Rodger tops the list.

"My dad showed me what hard work was like," Derek said. "He worked in the car business my whole life. He was out the door before I woke up and as I was going to bed, he was coming home.

"He worked hard for our family and still would come get me out of bed: 'Hey, let's go throw outside real quick. Don't tell mom.' He showed me what hard work looks like, that no matter what time of day he still put the time and the energy in with your family, with your kids. Even if we were struggling, we never felt like it because he never made us feel that as kids. My dad is my first hero, but my brothers, both of them playing football, I just admired them."

"Going to the high school with the lights on in the parking lot," Rodger said. "Any time we could throw, even if I worked really late, I'd bring him out on the street and we'd throw out in the street. Any time we could throw, we did, even if it was just playing catch and not a full-blown workout. It was just, throw the ball every day if you can."

Mom got involved, too. There was apprehension at first for Sheryl Carr, watching her youngest son pursue his football dreams.

"I didn't even want to sign the paper when David played, I didn't want him to play football because I was a little scared," she said. "We lived in Fresno (Calif.) when he was starting to play football in the fourth grade, and they did contact football there. In Fresno they do contact football in fourth and fifth grade, and I was pretty freaked out by that.

"I wouldn't even sign the paper, so his dad did. They just were really good at it and they loved it, and Derek would get out there with them in the street or out on the grass, and he would be tackling them and running and running routes and calling plays. It just was a natural thing that we as a family did, he just grew up in it."

And she, too, grew into a role. Sheryl Carr is a former softball player, and admits that at 5 feet 2 and with small hands, she wasn't much of a quarterback or receiver for the practice reps. She'd snap for Derek sometimes, but her main football occupation was a little more hazardous.

"I would go out there with them when they were growing up and Rodger would take them out on the field to practice. I would be like a target," she said, laughing. "I would stand out there on the 50-yard line. 'Hit Mom, go out there and throw it to Mom.' I wouldn't catch it, of course, but I would be kind of like a target that they would throw at."

Derek Carr, who was throwing 50-yard passes in the sixth grade, has been pretty successful at finding his targets.

In nine NFL seasons with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders, beginning as a 2014 second-round pick (No. 36 overall) who started the season opener of his rookie season under then-Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who now is his coach with the Saints, Carr set franchise records for passing yards (35,222), completions (3,201), attempts (4,958) and touchdown passes (217), with just 99 interceptions.

But Carr has been equally successful when he has had a target off the field, too. He married Heather Neel in 2012.

"I met him, I think he was about 18 years old in 2009," said Vicki Neel, Heather's mother. "Heather said she really liked this guy and gave us his name and said she was inviting him up for dinner. He seemed older than his age, if that makes sense. He was very confident, very likable, friendly, respectful. All the things he is today.

"He is just a leader through and through, on everything. And he's also very thoughtful. His manners are impeccable. He is who he portrays himself to be, which is so refreshing. He has always thought about my husband and I, included us in everything. He's even invited us places without Heather even knowing; he'll call and say, you want to join us for dinner, or something like that. He's just very thoughtful.

"He's amazing. I don't want to gush too much, but the time he spends with the kids and the things he does with them, playing with them and paying attention to them. His thoughtfulness toward Heather, whether it's flowers randomly or an act of kindness randomly, he's a great dad and husband."

The take-charge qualities of Derek have been evident in the NFL, too. Allen made him an opening-game starter in the NFL, and Carr has handled myriad offensive responsibilities, including calling pass protections. He quickly has assimilated to the Saints' playbook, given its similarities to the offense he ran with the Raiders, and teammates have gravitated to him.

"I think Derek has come in here and he brings a presence," said Taysom Hill, the Saints' jack-of-all-trades tight end who also will take some snaps at quarterback. "Like, a great leadership.

"He's a guy that's played a lot of football and he has been super productive throughout his career, and so he steps in the locker room and you feel that. His presence in the huddle and what his expectations are from the guys around him, what he expects from himself, it's like all the things that you want as a leader. And that didn't take long for me to pick up on that and see that."

The newest Saints free-agent roster addition Derek Carr arrives in New Orleans to sign his contract at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center on March 11, 2022.

Trace some of that back to being the younger brother of two football-playing brothers, the eldest being David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft who played 11 NFL seasons. Derek's inquisitiveness led to an early education on NFL offenses and defenses.

"Having a big brother, watching David and Darren playing football, it was just automatically, 'That's what I'm going to do,'" Rodger said. "And football is my first love, so that was the first thing I started teaching him. Being able to have an older brother go on to college and then the NFL, it just pushed him. It was, 'I want to do what Dave's doing,' and I'm like, alright, man. You saw how hard he worked, so that's what we've got to do.

"It was like the two older ones, Dave and Darren, took him under their wings like, 'He's our little brother and I'm going to help him all I can.' When David was in Houston (with the Texans from 2002-06), we'd be over at the house on Saturday and he'd be watching film. And Derek would be in there the whole time watching film with him.

"I remember going to the games on Sunday and the safety would come down and slide over, he was in the sixth grade and he goes, 'Dad, when they do this, this is where Dave's going.' And then that's what he'd do. Derek really had the advantage of Dave, everything he knew, he just crammed into his brain. And then when (Derek) got with (Coach Jon) Gruden (with the Raiders), Gruden just took him to another level. I would say that's Derek's strongest point, between the ears."

The Saints will need the mental and physical best of Carr if they are to return to the playoffs after missing the postseason the last two years.

There's no question as to whether he looks the part physically. And after a rocky end to his tenure with the Raiders – he was benched the last two games in '22 as the organization shifted away from him at quarterback – the mental and emotional aspects of his game appear to be better aligned in New Orleans.

"I'm not going to lie, I'm a defensive guy," said Darren, who played defensive end at Bakerfield College and the University of Houston. "So when that man became a free agent, I'm like, let's see who the top defenses are that need a quarterback. We watch a lot of NFL ball, (the Saints) were definitely at the top of my list. I was fired up that they were even interested in him.

"I think it was good for him. You spend so long at one place, and whether good or bad, it was all of it. I think he needed a fresh start. I think it's great to see my brother – not that he wasn't before – smile again. It wasn't that he was coming home depressed, but you can kind of tell when you're around someone long enough, it was wearing on him a little bit. Like I told one of my buddies, I just want to see him have a chance and I want to see him smile.

"That's all I care about. I don't care if he wins a Super Bowl, I just want to see that man have fun however long he decides to play. When he went to New Orleans and had his visit and hung out, you could tell that the team treated him with love and respect. That was a really cool thing that I noticed. What New Orleans did when he signed, after he signed, I'm big on looking at the little things and they've been phenomenal."

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