Commentary

Trades for QBs lose their luster

Mailbag: Should the Packers draft a WR? Is the league happy with OT rules?

Originally Published: November 21, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Carson Palmer's return to Paul Brown Stadium may be viewed critically by Bengals fans.

Palmer retired last year because he no longer wanted to be part of the jungle. He came back after the Oakland Raiders and then-head coach Hue Jackson traded a No. 1 and a No. 2 pick for Palmer. The Raiders thought so much of the trade they put in an escalator that would have upgraded the second pick to a No. 1 if they made a championship game.

What the Raiders learned is trading for a veteran quarterback doesn't automatically result in a trip to the playoffs. Palmer finished 4-5 as a starter last year and the Raiders finished 8-8. This year, the Raiders, at 3-7, have retreated from mediocrity and are back to that 5-11 range of a few years ago.

For those two high-value picks, Palmer is 7-12 and owner Mark Davis was beside himself with his anger over this disastrous season. Palmer has had five interceptions returned for touchdowns during his brief run with the Raiders. Palmer can still throw for 300 yards on any given Sunday, but the trade didn't move improve the Raiders' playoff hopes.

Trades for quarterbacks have lost their luster. The last quarterback trade of impact was the Steve McNair deal to Baltimore. The Ravens have been a defense-dominated team since Ray Lewis arrived as a starting linebacker. For the moderate price of a fourth-round pick, McNair helped the Ravens win 13 games in 2006 and make the playoffs.

Since then, quarterback trades haven't worked out. There have been 10 trades since 2008 that have involved at least a fourth-round pick. None has produced a playoff appearance in the first season yet. In fact, the only quarterbacks who won more games than they lost during the first year were Brett Favre, who went to the Jets in 2008 and had a 9-7 record, and Jason Campbell, who was 7-5 for the Raiders in 2010.

And failures riddle the landscape. The Redskins dumped Donovan McNabb after one season. Kevin Kolb hasn't worked out in Arizona. The Seahawks got three games out of Charlie Whitehurst. Matt Cassel won four games for the Kansas City Chiefs in his first season there. Jay Cutler has worked out to a certain degree in Chicago but was 7-9 in his first season as a Bear.

The point is: There is no shortcut to getting a quarterback in this quarterback-driven league. It's a gamble. Even the Saints and Broncos, who spent big money on Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, took risks as Brees was coming off a shoulder reconstruction and Manning was coming off four neck operations.

Fans want immediate solutions for quarterback problems. As the Raiders found out, it's not that easy.

From the inbox

[+] EnlargeLeftwich
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesWas the Ravens' defense good or was Byron Leftwich bad?

Q: I've been reading analysis of the Steelers-Ravens game last Sunday and I can't get over the amount of credit being given to the Ravens' defense. Byron Leftwich, sitting on the bench on and off in Pittsburgh since 2010, is clearly an overrated commodity. His ineptitude was responsible for the Steelers' loss along with an inexcusable play on special teams and a fumble by Mike Wallace. If Ben Roethlisberger was in the game, the Steelers win by 14 points. The real story of the game was the dominant play by the Steelers' defense, who held the Ravens to six points. That being said, how can anyone draw conclusions about the state of either franchise from this game?

Adam in Washington

A: Your point is valid. This was the most predictable game of Week 11. The Ravens' offense doesn't play well on the road and struggles to score points. The Steelers' defense is good. Leftwich figured to struggle during his first start in years. This was destined to be a low-scoring game in which the Steelers had a chance to win. The fact that they didn't puts the team in a bad spot for the game in Baltimore in two weeks. The Ravens are better offensively at home. Ben Roethlisberger's ribs and shoulder may not be healthy enough to play in that game. If that is the case, the Steelers will struggle to score points. All you can say for the Ravens is that they won a tough, physical game against their best rival on the road. That's enough for them.

Q: If I'm not mistaken, Greg Jennings is in a contract year with the Packers. Given his lack of playing time because of injury and combined with the emergence of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones as a solid receiver corps, how motivated will the Packers be to re-sign Jennings this offseason? And with that, do you think the Packers should start looking past Jennings and even Donald Driver when they draft this April?

Nick in Roanoke, Va.

A:It will be hard to keep Jennings, who is a free agent after the season. They have other big-ticket items to sign such as Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. Jennings would have to sign a team-friendly deal in order to return and he should be able to command big money on the open market. If that's the case, the Packers will have to look at some of the young receivers to groom behind Nelson, Cobb and Jones. With a flat salary cap, change is inevitable.

Q: It seems the recent overtime rule change was motivated in part because of the near certainty of the team winning the coin toss making a field goal of 45 yards or less. And PAT attempts are also basically a given. Has the league ever considered making the distance between the goal posts smaller, or raising the cross bar, to make kicking a field goal more of a 50-50 proposition? It would put more pressure on teams to move the ball past the 30-yard line and make the games a lot more exciting.

DM in San Francisco

A:The league feels great about how the new overtime rule is working. There has been only one tie and that game would have been a tie under the old rule. The new rule forces teams to try for touchdowns. The good news is teams that win the coin toss aren't deferring. They are getting the ball and trying to score, knowing that a touchdown wins the game automatically. The league will see how this works for a couple years and then see if any adjustments are needed.

Q: With all the discussion on backup quarterbacks this week, I'd like your opinion on Lions backup Shaun Hill. Though I'm not a Lions fan, I think he's been impressive through Stafford's injuries. Do you think he could be a starter with the right team?

Mike S. in San Diego

A:I think Shaun Hill is a very good backup. But understand the logic of a good backup. A good backup can come off the bench and win a team three games. If he plays six games, he could lose you six. Hill has proven he can come off the bench and win. But the longer he starts, the more the team would evolve toward .500. The Lions have a good backup for Stafford in Hill and should keep Hill for years.

Q: My question is about these rumors I've been hearing about MJD (Maurice Jones-Drew) possibly being traded. From my point of view Ted Thompson has made maybe two or three poor decisions, with missing out on Marshawn Lynch being the biggest. Do you think that if the Jags do decide to trade MJD that the Packers should try to make a move?

AJ in Indianapolis

A: When you trade for a player, you trade for his contract. Jones-Drew is making more than $7 million a season and he wants more. That's not going to sell in Green Bay. The Packers will take care of their own before they would trade for such a high-priced commodity. Plus, they can look for a running back in the draft. The Jaguars also would be making a big mistake in trading him. They wouldn't get proper value and they would be losing one of their best players. If you are a Jaguars fan, would you rather watch MJD or a fourth-round pick?

Q: Why is so much more importance placed on sacks than tackles for a loss when they have basically the same impact on the game?

Jack in Denver

A: Tony Dungy used to tell his defense a sack usually cuts the chances of an opposing offense getting a touchdown drive down to around 18 percent. Tackles for losses may be 1 yard, 2 yards or 3 yards. A sack could result in a 7- or 8-yard loss. The stat might be overrated, but teams pay a premium -- $10 million a year or more -- for players who can get 10 or more sacks in a season. They may not be a lot of plays, but the impact of sacks on the game is huge.

Q: Why do so many quarterbacks wait until one second is left on the play clock to snap the ball? All the adjustments at the line of scrimmage go to waste when the defense gets a great jump off the ball because they know the ball will be snapped.

Alex in Chicago

A:The wait to one second may give defenses time to get set, but it also gives the quarterback more time to project the progressions and study the defenses. As the clock gets closer to one or two seconds, the quarterback gets to see if the defense commits itself for blitz and where the blitz might be coming. The quarterback and the offense control the line of scrimmage because the offense knows the play. Defenses are forced to react. Quarterbacks and offensive coordinators like to use as much of the clock as necessary to process the info.

Q: I have noticed that the recent change for when a play is reviewed has put more power back to the officials' ruling on the field and taken away the coaches' ability to challenge the most important plays of a game. For example, because all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, a coach is not allowed to challenge the play. Do you see this as a problem?

Douglas in Richardson, N.Y.

A: I'm not in favor of it. When replay was allowed back in the league, its support stemmed from the idea that not everything should be judged by replay officials and referees. The challenge system gave coaches the option of picking and choosing which plays to review. The league is now moving in a different direction. Coaches aren't totally fighting it because they can save their challenges for key moments. I worry that increased involvement of replay officials and referee decisions could slow down the pace of the game.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer