Home > 2011 Lockout, FNQB, NFL, Sports Commentary > FNQB: The Raiders and Quarterback Carson Palmer: A Fact-Based Debate

FNQB: The Raiders and Quarterback Carson Palmer: A Fact-Based Debate

Today’s Carson Palmer article features guest blogger Jason Hirschhorn of One Thirty BPM. You can find his work here, and you can follow him on Twitter at @JBHirschhorn.

Head Coach Hue Jackson with Palmer

The NFL trade deadline is typically not a place to find blockbuster transactions, but the 2011 NFL season has been a such crazy year that it felt somewhat expected when the Oakland Raiders leveraged the timing of the trade deadline to acquire QB Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals at the cost of a 2012 first round pick, and a 2013 second round pick.  The 2013 pick will upgrade to a first round selection if the Raiders win in the divisional round of the playoffs in either of the next two seasons, and are one of the NFL’s final four teams.

From the Bengals’ perspective, this trade is money in the bank.  The Palmer saga ends amicably, and they get a whole lot of draft pick value for which to rebuild their already young roster.  In return, their probability of winning the AFC Wild Card goes down a bit with the Raiders getting stronger in the short term. Potentially. LiveBall’s primary writer brings in a guest blogger in order to determine what, exactly, this trade really means to the Oakland Raiders in 2011 and beyond.

<INFO: Carson Palmer Career Statistics (PFR link)>

Jason Hirschhorn: Let’s not bury the lead: the Raiders will regret the Carson Palmer acquisition.

The closest trade comparison available is the 2002 trade of Drew Bledsoe from New England to Buffalo. Both players were in their early 30s at the time of their respective trades (30 Bledsoe / 31 Palmer), were coming off a series of disappointing but reasonable seasons (combined 34 starts, 57.8% pass completion, 6.8 YPA, 7676 yards, 38-36 TD:INT for Bledsoe / 36 starts, 60.9% pass completion, 6.6 YPA, 7795 yards, 50-37 TD:INT). From this we can gather than Palmer was a slightly more accurate when we account for league wide rises in pass completion, and he threw for more TDs. That said, the skill sets for both players were remarkably similar, and consequently their trade values should not differ too significantly. Bledsoe went for Buffalo’s 2003 first round pick, a cost that was thought at the time to be inflated due to the trade being within the AFC East. The trade was also done during the offseason, giving Buffalo time to acclimate Bledsoe into their offense. Palmer on the other hand will possibly be starting with less than a week back from retirement. His cost is at best an additional 2nd round pick, and at worse double the cost of Bledsoe. From this perspective we can conclude that Oakland massively overpaid for Palmer. Given that injured starting QB Jason Campbell could have returned in 5-7 weeks, a far smarter and cost effective approach would have been to acquire Kyle Orton (widely rumored to be available). Considering the price of fellow Bronco Brandon Lloyd (a 6th round pick that could become a 5th), Orton could probably also have been acquired for a 5th or 6th round pick: a far more reasonable price for a rental player than Palmer was as a permanent Campbell replacement. The efficiency numbers even suggest that 5-7 weeks of Orton plus the return of Campbell would be similar or better than Palmer. Quite the value, considering Orton would cost less than 3% of the price of the 2012 first round pick shipped for Palmer, not to mention the 2013 pick that could be a first rounder as well.*

Bledsoe’s tenure in Buffalo was a moderate success from an individual standpoint as he had a career year in 2002 in which he was Pro-Bowl selection and for a time chased Dan Marino’s single season yardage record. This followed by two mediocre campaigns in 2003 and 2004, and Buffalo made the playoffs 0 times during the Bledsoe era. Oakland may make the playoffs this year, but that was already their trajectory before the Palmer trade. Obviously, losing Campbell created a vacuum the team felt they could not fill internally. However, by trading those high picks for Palmer, Oakland is banking on this and next season being championship contending years.

This is where the trade really falls apart for the Raiders. As it currently stands, they are a half game behind San Diego, a team that by season’s end should prove themselves to be a top flight offense with a quality defense. More importantly, San Diego should have more wins than Oakland. The Palmer trade did not solve any of Oakland’s pass defense woes. For those familiar with defensive passer rating (possibly the best single metric in football for predicting success), Oakland currently is allowing opposing offenses a passer rating of 81.1. No team that made their conference championship last season had a defensive passer rating higher than 77.1. Since this strongly suggests Oakland will not be making the AFC championship this year, and Oakland’s limited 2012 draft picks and cap situation suggest that they will not likely improve going into next year, we can predict two things. First, Cincinnati will receive only Oakland’s 2012 first rounder and 2013 second rounder, and also that the Raiders will not be making any AFC championship game with Palmer at QB. Should this happen, the trade can only be viewed as a colossal failure.

* = value based on average trade chart value for a first round pick (1158.28125) and the average cost of a fifth round pick (34.171875)

Greg Trippiedi: I was delighted to see that you mentioned the San Diego Chargers, because at the heart of this trade for the Oakland Raiders, the only thing that truly matters is that they are better than the Chargers now and in the future.  The Carson Palmer trade makes a heck of a lot of sense for the Raiders if they can become the dominant team in the AFC West from now through 2013 or 2014.  It would be a fundamentally anti-competitive position to argue that the if the Raiders made a trade that set them up to dominate the division during the prime of Philip Rivers’ career, that they should actually be more concerned with their ability to compete with potentially rebuilt rosters from the Chiefs and Broncos over the rest of the next decade or so.  If Oakland becomes an 8-10 win/year team in the short term, as they appear to be now, they wouldn’t be able to compete with the teams in their division who are drafting far higher than they are.  Essentially, dealing a first and delayed second round pick for a starting quarterback is an admission that they aren’t going to compete with rebuilding teams in terms of acquiring low-cost, high upside talent in the 2012 and part of the 2013 NFL drafts.  And it ensures that a day will come where they fall behind teams that are building through those means.

I am plenty familiar with statistics that measure a team’s ability to defend the pass adjusted for the context of the situation and opponent, though I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the predictive ability of defensive passer rating.  I can affirm that the Raiders pass defense has been poor, though both film analysis and an understanding of statistical metrics such as DVOA, GWP, YPA, etc.  I noticed you didn’t spend a whole lot of time writing about the Chargers weaknesses or frankly, how every team the Raiders play the rest of the year is remarkably weak at defending the pass save one: the Detroit Lions.  If the Raiders were going to take advantage of the weakness of every opponent in their division, they needed to decide if they could do so with Kyle Boller.  They came to the conclusion that they were just biding time until Campbell returned from injury.

I do not think the efficiency numbers at all support the notion that 1 game of Kyle Boller + 5 games of Kyle Orton + 4 games of Jason Campbell = 10 games of Carson Palmer.  I think in the most pessimistic assessment of Carson Palmer (i.e. the problems with the 2009-10 Cincinnati offenses were totally his fault), you’re expecting maybe a player who replaces Jason Campbell, doesn’t run for as many first downs, but throws the ball a tad better, and roughly keeps the Raiders as the same team they were before the Campbell injury.  I don’t think that alone justifies the price tag on the trade, but the efficiency numbers absolutely do suggest that the Raiders are a 3 to 2 favorite to take the AFC West Title over the Chargers.  And that three to two figure makes the assumption that the Raiders don’t improve (or decline) as a result of this trade.

I might be accurately termed a Jason Campbell apologist from his Washington days, and I am one who believes that Campbell might have gotten to the Raiders to the playoffs anyway, but he unfortunately fractured his collarbone two days before the trade deadline.  It would be inaccurate to say the Raiders HAD to do something.  They would have been excused had they done nothing at the deadline.  The media would have given them a pass if they had dealt for Kyle Orton, even though that’s not a good trade for them.  If anything, Orton is the Bledsoe comparable here.  He’s the in-the-division trade candidate who lost his job this year after playing five poor games.  If your point was that the Raiders should have been looking to buy low, I couldn’t disagree more.  They already had Kyle Boller on the roster.  The point of a trade should be to avoid poor QB play.  I know this will be a point of contention, but with the Palmer trade, the Raiders did exactly that.  And this story will have a happy ending for Jason Campbell as well, who lines up as the prize jewel of the 2012 NFL free agency class, and he might be the best QB to hit the market since Drew Brees did so back in 2006.  Or at least since Brett Favre in 2009.

JH: I think we can both agree that if the Raiders do not play deep into the playoffs this year and next, the Carson Palmer trade will be a failure. As I’ve mentioned before, defensive passer rating is a powerful tool for predicting playoff success. Last season was an especially strong case, as the top two teams in DPR were the NFC and AFC Super Bowl representatives. While it will not always be the case that the top two DPR teams will make the Super Bowl, the 2009 champion Saints were ranked 5th, the 2008 champion Steelers were ranked 2nd and so on. The one noticeable exception was the 2007 Giants who were dead middle of the league with a DPR of 83.4. The Giants’ victory in Super Bowl XLII remains the greatest statistical upset in NFL championship history.

As I’ve pointed out, Oakland currently sports a DPR of 81.1. If they were to win a championship this year, it would fall just short of the 2007 Giants in terms of improbability. Obviously, Carson Palmer won’t do much to aid the Oakland pass defense, meaning that while he’s a significant upgrade over Kyle Boller, the chances of the Raiders capitalizing on this short-sighted trade are remote. And the Oakland DPR stands to worsen as the season progresses. If we assume that all their scheduled opponents play their current starters, their average passer rating is 88.8. Keep in mind that’s not accounting for the likelihood that division rival Philip Rivers, who the Raiders will see in week 10 and 17, will return to his Pro-Bowl form.

I think you’ve made a crucial error in your assessment that 10 games of Carson Palmer > 1 game of Kyle Boller + 5 games of Kyle Orton + 4 games of Jason Campbell. It assumes without warrant that Carson can step in and play at or better than his 2010 form. This seems to me an utterly unrealistic expectation. Palmer last played competitively January 2, 2011; he has not practiced in an NFL facility since. To expect him to step in with less than half a week of practice, in an offense he hasn’t played in before (while Hue Jackson has coached Palmer previously, Palmer has never had to learn Al Saunders’ infamous 700 page playbook) suggests Palmer won’t have any real grasp on the offense for several weeks. Even Kyle Boller, limited a player though he may be, has over a year in the system and is likely the more capable Raider QB until Palmer is finally acclimated to the Raiders both mentally and physically. What also must be accounted for is the amount of time it will take Palmer to build timing and trust with his receivers. This is a difficult task even for veterans in their prime, but the Raiders receivers average only 24.3 years of age. They’re young, prone to making route running mistakes, and their new starting quarterback has absolutely zero experience throwing to them.

Had he been acquired instead, Kyle Orton also would have had some (though not all) of those issues. However, we already know he is in football shape, and he has more recently been in an NFL environment learning an offense. The amount of unknowns with Orton is less than that of Palmer. Given all of that, and the significantly lower price tag for Orton, renting Orton until Jason Campbell would have returned would have been the smarter move. I’m also not convinced that Palmer is a better quarterback for Oakland than Campbell. Campbell is a less risky passer, as he’s statistically far less likely to throw an interception compared to Palmer (2.3 vs. 3.1 interception % respectively) and is far more of a running threat (4.3 vs. 1.8 yards per carry, again respectively). Considering that Oakland runs more than it passes (190 rushing attempts against 180 passing), the importance of the QB in the Raider offense is mitigated, even if only by a little. The idea that Palmer will propel this team deep into playoffs is far-fetched at its best, Lou Holtz crazy at its worst.

GT: I don’t know if I can make a sound argument that Carson Palmer can lead the Raiders deep into the playoffs.  It’s not that this doesn’t seem plausible, as it actually seems rather plausible.  I just can’t make an argument that it’s definitely going to be Palmer propelling the Raiders to victory as opposed to the Raiders propelling Palmer to victory.  To separate the two perspectives would result in resorting to dishonesty.  A healthy Jason Campbell likely directs the Raiders to the playoffs, but the Raiders had to act one way or the other in the absence of their most prudent option.

There is a business term used primarily in evaluating derivative trades known as a “hubris-motivated” swap, which essentially means what it sounds like: to pull even on (not lose) this trade, the Raiders will need to receive more out of Palmer than he was actually worth to the Bengals (none of this should matter to the Bengals, who sold high).  And the Raiders had a big problem if the Bengals were not accurately assessing Carson Palmer’s value to the Bengals, which is that they weren’t in a position to talk down the Bengals’ high asking price to a fair deal.  They had to pay on prospects, motivated by the Hubris that Carson Palmer can be one of the ten best quarterbacks in football. But the thing is, I don’t know if there are warning signs to point to in order to suggest that the Raiders aren’t going to be right.

If there are signs, they likely revolve around Palmer’s declining statistical record, something I addressed in this December 31st article following Palmer’s explosive passing performance for the Bengals throwing to the youngest players on the Bengals roster against the San Diego Chargers pass defense.  That’s the loss that knocked San Diego out of the playoff race last year.  And now this year they will have to beat Palmer and the Raiders. Twice.

While there may not be enough of a sample to even hint that the Raiders pass defense is likely to be as poor in December as it is right now, there is definitely enough of a sample to evaluate Palmer against a team that was rated incredibly well on offense with Jason Campbell over it’s last 16 games.  I’m not crass enough to say the Raiders are definitely better now that their starting quarterback is injured, but if the NFL Lockout taught us anything, it’s that plays (particularly on offense) will run just as smoothly following close to a year of down time as those plays would have if teams or players had enjoyed the benefits of a full offseason.  Palmer shouldn’t be considered an exception to this rule.  The Raiders should be skeptical that Palmer will be able to come in and take every snap the rest of the year: he’ll be very sore on Monday.  But I don’t see why the team would (or should) think he would be otherwise limited.  He’s not studying to try to earn a law degree prior to Sunday’s game; it is still just football.

The Raiders didn’t pay a first and delayed second round pick for just some quarterback like Kyle Orton or Drew Bledsoe as has been done in the recent past, they did it to acquire a specific player who they wanted to bring in over the offseason.  Did the leverage equation change in favor of the Bengals when Jason Campbell got hurt?  Sure it did.  But between the Bengals, who “won” this trade, and the Raiders who “lost” it, only one team is going to win a division as a result.  And that’s not the Cincinnati Bengals.  It’s the Oakland Raiders.

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