The Raiders’ quarterback quandary
AJ’s mailbag spurs a look into the Oakland Raiders and their quarterback conundrum
By AJ Young - March 29 2013
If you have a question or a point for Down at the One’s mailbag, feel free to get in contact with us via Twitter or e-mail AJ@downattheone.com and it could be included in our next mailbag.
Each fortnight I pick a handful of questions or points from my mailbag and tackle several of them in the form of our mailbag column. This week however, one e-mail in particular stood out and was deserving of a more thorough reply than a usual mailbag response:
With Carson Palmer refusing to take a pay cut or restructure his contract, could the Raiders potentially cut Palmer and draft a quarterback in April’s draft? Alternatively, with the rookie salary cap in place, drafting the likes of Geno Smith at three doesn’t come with the financial implications it used to; could they draft Smith and have Palmer mentor him?
Thomas Benjamin, Oxford, MS
The Raiders don’t want to pay Palmer the $13 million in base salary that he’s owed this season but they’re going to have to swallow it. The way I see it, they have no alternative and like it or not, they’re going to have to grin and bear it.
After Carson Palmer refused to ever play for the Bengals again at the end of the 2011 season, Cincinnati drafted Andy Dalton in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. After six weeks of the season, Dalton had lead the Bengals to first place in the AFC North with a record of 4-2 whilst Carson Palmer was firmly entrenched on his sofa watching football like you or I. The Raiders were also at 4-2 but starter Jason Campbell had broken his collarbone during their week six victory against Cleveland. Only ten days after Al Davis’ death, the Raiders traded their 2012 first round pick and a 2013 second round pick to Cincinnati for the disgruntled Palmer in the hope he’d continue the Raiders ascent and lead them into the playoffs. Suffice to say, the Raiders scraped 8-8 and still haven’t made the playoffs since 2002 when they reached the Super Bowl and lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Since the trade, Palmer has started 25 games for the Raiders, completed 60.91% of his passes for 6,771 yards, 35 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Now I’ll be honest with you, when I looked into his stats, I expected a lot worse. On the whole, they’re respectable but the 30 interceptions and 6 lost fumbles are unacceptable. If Palmer could cut down on the turnovers, he’d be an above average starter but there’s no evidence to say that he’s going to cut down on the turnovers going forward. In his seven years in Cincinnati, Palmer averaged 18.71 turnovers per season and that number has remained constant during his time in Oakland. Nevertheless, although Palmers numbers haven’t been necessarily eye-popping, he’s still one of the better quarterbacks in the league and though he’s not worth his $15.33 million cap figure, the Raiders would be foolish to cut him for cap reasons alone, especially when they have the 12th most amount of cap space in the league.
As Tom highlighted in our Draft Insight series, the rookie wage cap has made it more palatable to draft a quarterback high and not suffer too much financially. I’m not sure this means that Oakland would be better off cutting Palmer and drafting the likes of Geno Smith however. As the first overall pick last year, Andrew Luck’s cap figure was $4.01m. Trent Richardson was picked third and his cap figure was $3.72m. If the Raiders picked Geno Smith at 3 let’s say his cap figure would be about $3.86m give or take a couple of thousand; an average of Luck and Richardson’s rookie cap numbers. As I mentioned above, Palmer’s cap figure next season will be $15.33m. If he's cut, he'll count for $9.34m against the Raiders cap in dead money. If they cut Palmer and draft Smith, Palmer’s dead money and Geno’s cap figure will amount to $13.2m. All they’ll save is a meager $2.13m in cap space and you can add another 1st round pick to the wreckage that is the Palmer trade. It simply doesn’t make sense financially to cut Palmer and draft a quarterback high and it would be a waste of yet more draft capital.
So what about keeping Palmer and drafting a quarterback like Geno Smith for him to mentor? Nothing about Palmer makes me believe he’d be willing to mentor a rookie quarterback. This is a guy that only two off-season’s ago was genuinely content to never step foot on an NFL field again and retire rather than play football for the Bengals. He’s not in love with the game enough to want to help develop an incoming rookie. And anyway, I think those days have long gone. Prior to the 2008 draft, the philosophy was to sit rookie quarterbacks for a season and let them learn from a veteran rather than throw them to the lions in year one. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco’s successful rookie campaigns started to turn the tides against that notion and with the success that the likes of Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin have had in their rookie years under center to name only a few, the old philosophy of sit and learn seems to be as outdated as the flat earth model. If the Raiders are drafting a quarterback at three, it’s to start from day one and supplant Carson Palmer all together.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Raiders also spent a 2012 third round pick in the supplemental draft on former Ohio State Buckeye, Terrelle Pryor. After two seasons sitting on the bench for Oakland he’s largely been forgotten, even in spite of a stellar performance filling in for an injured Palmer in week 17 of last season. Pryor was a Heisman favorite heading into the 2011 college football season before he was suspended for his role in the Ohio State improper benefits scandal and promptly bolted for the supplemental draft. With the development of the zone read option in the NFL, coupled with two years studying game film and learning NFL-size playbooks, what’s to say that Oakland don’t already have their answer at quarterback currently on the roster? If Palmer’s ineffective in the early going, the Raiders should at least throw him in there and see what he has to offer. Moreover, there’s nothing to say that Pryor can’t surpass Palmer for the QB1 role during training camp even.
As I’ve said a few times, I think Oakland is going for broke. They’ve severed ties with eleven players to the tune of $29.75 million in dead money on their books next season. They’re a team in transition from the Al Davis era under new GM and former Green Bay Packers executive, Reggie McKenzie. He knows that the Raiders aren’t built to win next season; if they had Aaron Rogers starting under center in 2013 I’d still be reluctant to peg them as a playoff team. The Raiders could be first-pick-in-the-draft-bad next season and as a result, there’s little point in drafting a quarterback high this year. Palmer isn’t the answer at quarterback but with two early round picks invested in him, that’s a lot to lose for a quarterback who’s only played a season and a half in silver and black. The new management needs to take things one step at a time; you can’t undo over a decade of bad personnel decisions overnight. Palmer might not be worth his exorbitant salary but Oakland can bear it for 2013. Then maybe they’ll be in a position to move forward next offseason by picking the likes of Aaron Murray or AJ McCarron. But if Raider nation is expecting a quick-fire solution to their 4-12 record, 26th ranked offense and decade of futility, they better be prepared for more disappointment.
Down at the One’s usual mailbag format will return in a fortnight’s time.AJ Young
is the editor of Down at the One.