By Tony Softli and Adam Gabriel
With the2011 NFL deadline closed for another year, the Cincinnati Bengals were the big winners of the day. They refused to trade quarterback Carson Palmer all offseason and stood strong when the season started after a lockout and waited for the right opportunity or a team in a desperate situation. The Oakland Raiders made the right phone call.
The Raiders mortgaged their future, giving up a 2012 first-round pick and a 2013 second-round pick, which could turn into a first if the Raiders advance to the AFC Championship game this season. Palmer hasn’t played well since 2007 due to poor decisions and injuries. The question is whether the Raiders’ trade will bear playoff fruit.
During the NFL’s salary cap era, the league’s trading deadline often passed without much fanfare. However, in recent years, a number of teams have made important deadline deals that helped them not only get to the playoffs, but make it deep in the playoffs.
In 2009, the New York Jets acquired wide receiver Braylon Edwards from the Cleveland Browns for players and picks, in order to add a deep threat for quarterback Mark Sanchez. Edwards subsequently helped the club to the Jets’ first appearance in the AFC title game since 1998.
Similarly, in 2007, San Diego went out and got an extra target for Philip Rivers by picking up Chris Chambers from the Miami Dolphins. Chambers contributed down the stretch and in the playoffs and helped the 11-5 Chargers get to within one game of the Super Bowl.
In 2006, the Colts made a move to solidify their run defense and dealt for Anthony McFarland from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McFarland helped plug the middle and Indianapolis won its first and only title since the franchise called Baltimore home.
However, none of those trades caused the same buzz of arguably the biggest deadline deal in the free agency era. The Raiders pushed most of their remaining 2012 NFL draft capital (and a hefty chunk from 2013) into the middle of the poker table and effectively stated, in an ode to deceased owner Al Davis, “Just go all in, baby.” By potentially giving up two No. 1draft picks for a 31-year-old quarterback with arm issues, the Raiders are gambling on making an immediate impact on the 2011 AFC playoff picture.
The Oakland faithful should collectively be holding their breath the first time Palmer attempts to throw a 16-yard out cut into the field (from the left hash to the far right sideline or vice-versa.) If he can still drive the ball effectively on this pattern, then he will have passed a major physical check. If he cannot, then the Black Hole may need to wonder if this move is akin to the one for another former Pro Bowler, that of the Dallas Cowboys’ trade for Detroit Lions wideout Roy Williams in 2008 (which cost Dallas its 2009 first-, third- and sixth-round draft picks) and did not result in an appearance in the Vince Lombardi tournament.
Statistically, Palmer has not played at an elite level since his back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in 2005 and 2006. Perhaps not coincidentally, Raiders head coach Hue Jackson was the Bengals’ wide receivers coach those years. During those two campaigns, his touchdown to interception ratio was 60 to 25 or 2.4:1. Subsequently, over the past four years, during which he endured multiple injuries, Palmer tossed 76 touchdown passes along with 57 picks, a 1.3:1 ratio. Just as concerning is his drop in average yards per attempt from 7.7 in 2005 and 2006 to 6.7 in 2009 and 2010. While it is true that a quarterback’s performance can be impacted by the quality of his receivers, his line’s blocking prowess and the offensive scheme in which he plays, the fact remains that Palmer’s arrow has dropped from outstanding to merely above average over the past several years.
However, given Jason Campbell’s injury, lack of available quarterback talent on the free-agent market (with David Garrard about to undergo back surgery) and the Raiders’ decade long string of futility, the franchise’s hand may have effectively been forced. Add in Jackson’s familiarity with Palmer from their time together in Cincinnati and his apparent control of personnel decisions and you have Oakland’s bold win-now move.
Tracking Palmers performance the next two seasons, as well as the players the Raiders will miss on in the coming drafts will tell the tale of this blockbuster trade.
Visiting writer and quantitative analyst for TonySoftli.com, Adam Gabriel’s background includes 15 years of experience as a statistician working for ESPN, NBC, FOX and CBS on NFL and NHL telecasts. He has experience in college football as both a player and a coach. He holds an MBA in finance from Saint Louis University and studied Sports Law at Washington University Law School. Gabriel has also conducted research as a Quantitative Analyst on NFL free agency, NFL draft, salary cap and player contract projects for the St. Louis Rams’ player personnel and football operations departments.