Oakland Raiders Carson Palmer: Can He Justify The Cost?
Justin Smith – Jun 13, 2012
The Oakland Raiders were marching along nicely last season when what appeared to be a harmless slide in Week 6 by quarterback Jason Campbell was, in fact, quite harmful. Campbell broke his clavicle, (collarbone) his season was over, and Kyle Boller rode to the rescue.
Only he didn't; Boller was awful in relief of Campbell in the Browns game. Simply awful. With Terrelle Pryor in a galaxy far, far away from being able to step on an NFL field—and suspended anyway—and punter Shane Lechler the next best option, coach Hue Jackson saw his team's playoff hopes—and his job security—slipping away before his very eyes.
So naturally Jackson mortgaged the farm to acquire a quarterback who hadn't played a snap in over a year and who was, at the moment of Campbell's injury, on his buddy's couch scarfing nachos and relaxing comfortably.
Carson Palmer was once a Pro Bowl quarterback, the first overall pick in the NFL draft, a strong leader and respected player. But in the fall of 2011 he was simply a husband, father, and California dude chilling and contemplating his future.
When the Raiders called, Palmer was surprised but excited. It's not that he didn't want to play football anymore. Shoot, he was only 31 at the time and healthier and more rested than he'd been in many years.
He just didn't want to play for the Bengals.
Palmer has always been a class guy when it comes shouldering blame and staying quiet about teammates or organizations. Even with Cincinnati he's been pretty classy and above-board, but he's been adamantly clear about his want to get out of there since before the 2011 season.
Playing year in and year out with attention-seeking divas like Chad (Johnson) Ochocinco, TJ Houshmandzadeh and some guy named T.O.. Watching their behaviour enabled—even lauded—was enough to handle. But Palmer always praised his receivers even as they were driving him insane, and never overtly complained.
At the time, the Bengals front office was still considered to be poorly run—a perception that, in part due to the trade of Palmer, has changed dramatically—and Palmer never out-right stated, but rather hinted that the firing of friend and long-time offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski rubbed him the wrong way and made him question the team's commitment to winning.
His relationship with Mike Brown and the team became so fractured he would've rather retired than play another down in Cincinnati. The two men did not like each other, and it was patently obvious to everyone.
But there was more to it; a more personal side. Bengals fans, and their treatment of Palmer and his family.
The story was kept pretty quiet but if you look you can find on various Bengals-related message boards from around February 2011 that Palmer's wife and small children were harassed publicly by Bengals fans; that their house was vandalized and trash dumped on their lawn and threats made; and that Palmer wanted out of CIncinnati post-haste after his wife feared for herself and her family.
Palmer's relationship with his teammates and front office had disintegrated and and his family was harassed and threatened. He was routinely booed at home, and perpetually unhappy. The trade to Oakland was a fresh start—and a welcome one.
From the Raiders' perspective it was a bit perplexing. Did they really need to give up a first-round and a second-round pick for a QB that hadn't thrown a ball in over a year and hadn't played at an elite level in over three seasons?
Coming in cold, unfamiliar with the playbook and his teammates and in relief of an already out-of-hand game, Palmer did nothing to quiet critics with three interceptions in his first half of Raider football.
As the season wore on Palmer got more comfortable, but still ended with more picks than touchdowns and made some really head-scratching decisions that cost the team. He was unable to rally the troops to a playoff spot, despite an opening and didn't look like an All-Pro QB, which is what you would expect from a player whom the team paid such a high price.
Palmer did do some encouraging things, including throwing for over 300 yards—a rarity in Oakland since Rich Gannon hung 'em up—showed a good deep ball and, as the season wore on, increased confidence and command of the offense.
His performance was surely hindered by the injury to star running back Darren McFadden, who went down in the first half of Palmer's first game—while Boller was still QB—against the Chiefs and missed the rest of the season. McFadden's ability to draw defenses away from the nickel and dime and force them to play the run would've certainly helped Palmer immensely, and the Raiders likely would have made the playoffs had he stayed healthy.
This offseason, Palmer has reasserted himself as team leader through both his actions and his words. He is routinely the first guy at the facility, has devoured the new playbook of coordinator Greg Knapp, professed his love and excitement for his coaches and teammates, and said he's ready to put the past behind him and move on.
Palmer has always had immense talent, but he's the kind of guy that seems to see more in life than just football and as a result needs a clear head and focus to excel. He has not had that in years, and as such has struggled on the field. But this year he has stated he is focused, ready, and concentrating on football only for the first time in a long time.
The Raiders gave up a lot for Palmer, but it's not as much as originally thought. It was reported numerous times over the last eight months or so that the Raiders gave up a first round pick in 2012, which just happened, and if they made the AFC Championship either last year or this year, then they would give up a first rounder in 2013. That is not true.
They must give up a second round pick in 2013 regardless of what happens this season. So the cost isn't as high as originally thought; and it's arguably worth it either way if you make the conference championship game anyway.
Right now Palmer hasn't come close to validating the trade or what was given up to get him in Silver & Black, but if you look at his track record when healthy, listen to the coaching staff and skill position players that are out there with him every day, and simply watch some of the highlights of the OTA's and camp, you can see Palmer looks far more like the Pro Bowl Carson of old than the thrown-in-the fire train wreck he was at times last season.
That's good because many in Raider Nation feel the team gave up an awful lot for Palmer at a time when draft picks were already limited due to other wheelings & dealings. Palmer needs to play at a high level in order to validate himself in the eyes of many.
Hue Jackson did what he felt was right at the time to get this team to remain in playoff contention, but Jackson is no longer with the team. It's not to say the two are related, but it's certainly perceived that Jackson panicked and gave up the farm to save his job and Palmer has to bear the brunt of that perception as he enters his second season with the Raiders
A season in which he completes 60% of his passes for 3,500+ yards and 25+ touchdowns with less than 15 interceptions would be a great individual season, and the best for a Raider quarterback in a long time. Some would say it would validate the trade, but it wouldn't mean anything unless the Raiders made the playoffs.
This isn't just about numbers or flashy play.
Palmer must lead this team to the playoffs for the team and fanbase to feel that the trade was truly worth it because, in hindsight, since they didn't make the playoffs last season they could've ridden it out, had Campbell back this season and still had two draft picks as well.
Fair or not, Jackson left Palmer with a lot of pressure to hold basically alone. Everything in his past and his current words and deeds say he's able to do so.
This is a team that's very close to success for the first time in many years, and Palmer needs to drive that success if he wants Raider Nation to feel he was worth his pricetag. If he does, he will be embraced. If he hinders that success, he will be vilified. There is no in between in Raider Nation.
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