There’s no doubt Carson Palmer was the best available quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, who are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive in the aftermath of losing Jason Campbell, possibly for the season, to a broken collarbone.
But the question that will define the Raiders for the next few years is: Is Palmer worth the steep price the Raiders paid Cincinnati to get him?
The Raiders sent the Bengals their first-round pick in 2012 and a conditional pick in 2013 -- a pick that will be a first-rounder if the Raiders win the AFC title game this season or next. (If they don't, the 2013 pick is a second-rounder.) That is a huge commitment for a player who will turn 32 this year, hasn’t played since last season and has been in decline.
Yet the Raiders, who had Vince Young as their backup plan to Palmer, think Palmer is the best quarterback for them as they move forward. A lot of it has to do with the familiarity between Palmer and Oakland coach Hue Jackson. Jackson coached Palmer both at USC and in Cincinnati.
Palmer has a big arm, and he’s accurate. He should benefit from the Raiders’ athletic group of young receivers. Plus, Oakland has the NFL’s best rushing team.
But can he still be productive?
Palmer, who has completed 62.9 percent of his career passes, struggled in 2010. He threw 20 interceptions. His 23 turnovers were the fourth most among all NFL quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His last statistically strong season was in 2007, the season before he missed 12 games with a serious elbow injury. Jackson last coached Palmer in 2006.
Palmer’s completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per game and touchdown-to-interception ratio have slipped in the past three years, according to ESPN Stats & Information. From 2004 to '07, Palmer threw 104 touchdowns. He has thrown 50 touchdown passes the past three seasons combined. Palmer's Total QBR for 2010 was 46.2, good for 25th best in the NFL.
Since 2008, Palmer has struggled against seven or more defenders in coverage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He's averaged 6.5 yards per attempt in those situations, which is 29th best in the NFL.
Campbell was efficient in the Raiders' offense because he was a good game manger and didn’t make many mistakes. Palmer will have to improve on his recent spate of poor decision-making. The trade is risky considering the price it cost Oakland -- veterans such as Kyle Orton and Donovan McNabb likely could have been had for much less.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t think Palmer is a top player anymore.
“Palmer does fit the offense, and I think he might, might, be an upgrade over Campbell,” Williamson said. “But I think Oakland way overpaid for an older quarterback that really has not played well for the past few years. He used to be an elite passer, but I haven’t seen that in quite a while. He doesn’t move well. I do think a change of scenery will help him. But he also had led the league in near-interceptions, and his decision-making is just average. He isn’t close to what he once was.”