The Carson Palmer dilemma

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
12:00
PM ET
Carson PalmerAP Photo/Jeff ChiuQuarterback Carson Palmer hasn't lived up to expectations since coming to Oakland last season.
The Hue Jackson era lasted 16 games in Oakland.

However, the ramifications of the inexperienced-coach-gone-wild could affect the Raiders’ organization for years.

Sunday marks a pivotal game in the current state of the franchise when the Raiders host Jacksonville. It will be the 16th game with quarterback Carson Palmer in Oakland, thus marking his first full season with the club. The Raiders are 5-10 since acquiring Palmer.

That is the problem when evaluating Jackson’s knee-jerk trade for Palmer and for figuring out what the Raiders should do with Palmer -- who turns 33 in December and who hasn’t had a great NFL season since 2007 -- moving forward.

The Palmer situation is a true dilemma for the new Oakland regime, which inherited him. First of all, Palmer is not a bad quarterback. He is serviceable. The Raiders could do a lot worse than Palmer. New Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie and new coach Dennis Allen have supported Palmer. Palmer is a true professional. He works hard. He is liked by his teammates and he has a strong approach to the game.

But the truth, and the problem, is Palmer hasn’t made the Raiders a winner and there is doubt he’ll ever become a difference-maker as he continues to get older. Will the Palmer trade ever pay off big like Jackson (now, incidentally, an assistant in Cincinnati) thought it would when he called it the “best trade in football”?

And make no mistake, Jackson (fired when the Raiders went in a new direction in January) traded for Palmer with the intent of winning immediately and winning big.

In Week 6 of last season, the Raiders lost starting quarterback Jason Campbell to a broken collarbone. Instead of going with backup Kyle Boller, Jackson went big and traded for Palmer, thinking he was the answer to his Super Bowl dreams. The price was steep. Jackson gave up a first-round draft pick in 2012 (which turned out to be the No. 17 overall pick) and a second-round pick next year. If the Raiders don’t turn around their season, that choice could end up being a top-35 pick.

Jackson made the trade because he thought Palmer, who was essentially retired from the Bengals because he no longer wanted to play for the team, would keep the Raiders on their playoff pace. Yet, Oakland went 4-6 after the trade. This season has been no better as Palmer has been unable to make a difference on a team that has big holes throughout the roster and is just 1-4.

Palmer has thrown 19 interceptions in 15 games as a Raider. Last week, he soiled an otherwise strong performance by throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in an eventual 23-20 loss at Atlanta.

Palmer has been far from a disaster on the field. He is on pace for career highs in attempts, completions and yards passing. But there have been few explosive plays and Oakland is 31st in the NFL in touchdowns scored, and its 17.4 scoring average is the fifth lowest in the NFL. Palmer, known as a premier deep-pass thrower, has struggled in that area this season. His Total QBR is 51.1, which is 20th in the NFL.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Raiders averaged nine more points and committed a half turnover less in the 16 games prior to Palmer’s arrival. The Raiders’ passing yardage is up 59 yards with Palmer, but is that worth the increase in interceptions and the decrease in victories?

Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. thinks Palmer is a poor fit for the West Coast offense used by new Oakland coordinator Greg Knapp.

“I just don’t see the fit,” Horton said. “Plus, he makes a lot of bad decisions. It just seems like it was a bad trade from the start.”

Will Oakland decide to cut bait on the Palmer trade next year? If the losing continues, the Raiders could get a top-five pick. That could put them in position to draft a top quarterback such as USC’s Matt Barkley or West Virginia’s Geno Smith. But it isn’t that easy.

The Raiders have big needs at all levels of the defense. Oakland may be best served to bypass a top quarterback for now and address more pressing needs. Then, there’s the presence of 2011 supplemental pick Terrelle Pryor. The Raiders could choose to continue to groom him under Palmer.

But if Palmer stays in Oakland for the next few years, will he give the Raiders a chance to win big? If he can’t win now, who is to say he will improve? Is he anything more than a pricey stop-gap option?

“I tend to doubt it,” ESPN.com's Matt Williamson said. “This franchise just needs so much to really be a contender. By the time all those other needs are filled, Palmer will be declining even worse.”

That was not Jackson’s plan when he made the trade he is no longer involved with, but forever connected to.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

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