It’s pretty evident now: By trading for Carson Palmer the Oakland Raiders mortgaged their future for a guy who is a shell of his former self. They went all-in on an over-the-hill quarterback with a bum elbow. The ‘Just Win, Baby,’ mantra went too far and will return a franchise that has spent the last 10 years lost in a wilderness of misery back to a very unhappy place just when the sun had started to come out.
The last time the Oakland Raiders made the playoffs, YouTube didn’t exist, the housing market was on fire, and Mark Zuckerberg was just another misanthropic Harvard genius. So the silver-and-black can be forgiven if a 4-2 start got them thinking so big that they shredded next year’s first-round pick — and potentially their 2013 first-rounder too — and pinned their hopes to an aging gunslinger with a suspect arm. It’s easy to disparage the personnel moves the Raiders usually make, so the Palmer trade was eaten alive by the national media last week (you know it’s bad when pundits praise Bengals owner/de-facto GM Mike Brown).
Then yesterday happened: Palmer replaced Kyle Boller in the third quarter and looked inept. The two were equally terrible and combined for six interceptions, including two gift-wrapped pick 6’s; if you didn’t know who was wearing the No. 3 jersey and who the No. 7, it would have been pretty hard to determine which guy is supposed to be the franchise savior.
The chorus of Raider doubters in the media will no doubt grow in size and volume after yesterday’s debacle, but consider this: What if it works?
Yesterday you saw a guy, in Palmer, who hadn’t practiced or played a game in 10 months and had spent four days learning the Raiders offense play as badly as anyone in that situation would have; it was foolish of Hue Jackson to think Palmer could step in and direct an offense he really knew almost nothing about. Compare his performance to Boller’s, who is now in his second full season in Jackson’s offense, and you have reason No. 1 why the Raiders had to make the Palmer trade: Kyle Boller. The former first-round pick-turned-monumental-bust would have driven the Raiders off a cliff if he’d been forced to start the rest of the season. But immediate desperation isn’t the only reason the Raiders had to pay Mike Brown a king’s ransom to get Palmer.
NFL starting quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, and drafting them is an inexact science. So one way to look at it is this: Would you want your team to spend a first-round draft pick on a quarterback guaranteed to be — at minimum — a top-20 talent for a minimum of two years who would instantly solidify your chances of making the playoffs this year? Would you spend two first-round picks on that guy?
Another way to consider it is this: Even after yesterday’s dismal display, will the Raiders go further this year — and next — with Carson Palmer under center than they would have with Jason Campbell? If Palmer’s elbow is healthy and he has the velocity on his throws that he once did, the sky could be the limit with such intriguingly dynamic receivers as Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore, and — finally — Darrius Heyward-Bey. Even if Palmer’s elbow is still an issue and he never returns to his younger, cannon-armed days, it’s still hard not to think that at the very least he is a marginal upgrade over Campbell (who just can’t seem to catch a break in his snake-bit career). Either way, at least Boller won’t be taking the snaps. With a bye week on tap and two full weeks to soak up the offense, it’s a smart bet that Palmer’s next outing will be markedly better than yesterday’s.
The Redskins have proved as well as anyone that swapping draft picks for aging veterans is a policy that breeds failure. But the Redskins have been doing this for 10 years with no real foundation to build on; the difference in Oakland is that the Raiders have finally built the core of a successful team (and not just on offense — the defense is also young and talented). Losing Campbell could have doomed their playoff chances for this year. After trading for Palmer, and even after yesterday’s blowout loss, those chances are at least as good as they were a week ago, and their short-term future — if not the long-term future — may have gotten brighter too. No doubt Al Davis is smiling down, proud that Hue Jackson has taken the reigns and is making bold moves to do whatever it takes to ‘Just Win, Baby.’