Raiders Acquire Carson Palmer: Al Davis Lives On

It’s hard not to wonder if the spirit of Al Davis continues to run the show in Oakland, and the two most recent Raider trades, most notably today’s acquisition of Carson Palmer from the Bengals, has done nothing to diminish that curiosity. While banter will go back and forth all season long about whether or not the Palmer trade was worth the compensation, no one will argue that this transaction had Mr. Davis’ handprints all over it. Yes, Al loved high draft picks. He drooled over 40 yard dash times, groveled over bench reps, and could not help himself when it came to enormous physical specimens. The draft process was an incremental part of his oversight of the Raiders, to the point that every high pick, if not all of them, ultimately came down to Davis’ choice. Of course, this is part of the reason why Davis accumulated the notorious reputation that he did. Often times it seemed as if his decisions were not just simply shortsighted, but completely contrary to the rationale of the modern game. But Davis also recognized the potential value that could be gained by trading away high picks for established dominant NFL players, rather than risking it all on the assumed potential of a collegiate player. It was not too long ago that Al Davis was being condemned as the worst owner/GM in all of professional sports (by myself included) after acquiring Richard Seymour from the Patriots for a 1st round pick in the next draft. But hindsight being 20/20, apparently Davis knew what he was doing. While a 1st round pick was a lot to give up, Seymour has led the charge in transforming the Raiders defense into the “bully” Hue Jackson has promised. I’m not saying all similar types of risks that Davis took turned out quite as well, but I argue today’s acquisition of Carson Palmer should be viewed in that light, at least for now. Let’s take a closer look:

As compensation for Carson Palmer, the Bengals will receive the Raiders 2012 1st round and 2013 2nd round picks (Note: The 2013 2nd round pick will become a 1st round selection if the Raiders win a playoff game this season.) At first sight, I can understand why the consensus might be that the Raiders got ripped off. Potentially two 1st round picks for a guy who’s never won a playoff game, who’s QB rating has dropped in each of his last six full NFL seasons, and who hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2006 (when Marc Bulger and Vince Young were Pro Bowlers too) seems like a lot to give up. But in all situations, context must be considered, and after doing so, the trade becomes a lot more tolerable, if not beneficial to both teams. First off, let’s face it: the Raiders desperately needed a quarterback. Jason Campbell has somewhat surprisingly provided above-average play, but after breaking his collarbone against the Browns last week, the Raiders needed to make a move. Campbell had surgery on Monday, but even the most optimistic prognostications have him being out at least six weeks. For a Raiders team that is certainly in the thick of it with the Chargers for the AFC West, not to mention the Wild Card race, they simply could not realistically expect to continue their high level of performance with Kyle Boller at the helm. Also, don’t forget that today was the NFL trade deadline. It’s not as if the Raiders could wait around a few weeks for the Bengals to lower their price. This had to happen, and it had to happen now. And if I’m the Raiders, I’d much rather trade more to a non-divisional opponent, than trade minimally less to an AFC West rival, such as the Denver Broncos for Kyle Orton.

Another aspect to consider is the long-tenured relationship between Carson Palmer and Hue Jackson, going all the way back to their days at USC. Jackson served as the Trojans’ Offensive Coordinator from ’97-’00 and personally recruited Palmer to Southern Cal. Jackson was also the Bengals WR’s Coach from 2004-2006, which just happened to coincide with Palmer’s best years in Cincinnati. You have to believe that when Jackson pulled the trigger to acquire Palmer, he had reason to expect some sort of revival of the past. Jackson knows what Palmer can do, and Palmer has to be comfortable reuniting with an offensive mind that helped produce some of his most successful years in the NFL. Palmer needed a fresh start, and what better place to do it than in Oakland under Jackson? The Raiders are first and foremost an excellent running team. One is hard pressed to find a better one-two punch at the RB position than Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, and with that kind of dynamism and production, Palmer won’t be asked to carry the offense like he was in Cincy. Let’s face it, while Jason Campbell had been playing pretty well, he’s definitely not the reason the Raiders are challenging for the division crown. If Palmer can find a way to get up to speed in a few weeks, say by Week 9 when the Raiders play the abysmal Broncos at home, he has a chance to not only equal Campbell’s level of play, but surpass it entirely. And if he does, watch out for the Raiders. Seriously. No one wants to put eight or nine men in the box to stop McFadden if they have a quarterback who can win a game, rather than just not lose it.

Let’s also address the argument that the Raiders’ draft cupboard is now bare. After the Palmer trade, yes, the Raiders do not have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 7th round pick in the 2012 draft. At least not yet. Everyone seems to forget that the Raiders will be receiving a number of middle-round compensatory draft picks for losing Nnamdi Asomougha, Zach Miller, and Robert Gallery to free agency this past offseason. So let’s assume the possibility that the Raiders get a 3rd and 4th round pick back, leaving them without a 1st, 2nd, or 7th round pick. Suddenly, that doesn’t look so bad, especially when you consider the following: Both the 1st and 7th round picks have now been traded away to not only upgrade the team for this year, but also to satisfy some of the draft needs for this upcoming offseason. Getting Aaron Curry, a former Butkus Award winner and 4th overall pick, from Seattle for a 2012 7th round pick and 2013 4th/5th pick (depending on performance) is not only an absolute steal, but addresses their need for a dynamic OLB to play alongside budding star MLB Rolando McClain. And if Carson Palmer turns out to be a good acquisition who remains with the team for a few years, that addresses the obvious need for a quarterback, of which the Raiders have only one other signed beyond this year (Terrell Pryor). And let’s not forget, the Raiders are good. And if these trades work out, they’re only going to get better, potentially meaning a playoff spot, but certainly, a worse draft selection in each round. If Palmer and Curry can make a significant impact this year and beyond, then that’s the type of trade that takes a team to the next level. At the same time, if they don’t, maybe the Raiders take a step back. But I don’t see it.

If anything, the Palmer trade symbolizes a very important message sent to the entire Raiders organization: We’re going to win, and we’re going to win now. You can criticize Hue Jackson for his willingness to mortgage the future, but you can’t help but applaud his unbridled confidence. That’s what it takes to win in the NFL. You have to win the players to your side. And how could anybody on the Raiders today not have full faith in their coach to do whatever it takes to win?

Last year the Raiders took the long-awaited step from inferiority to mediocrity. But at what point in time was mediocrity ever tolerated by Al Davis? That is not what he stood for, and not what he aspired to achieve. He may not be around Raiders headquarters anymore, but his mentality lives on. He would have supported this move, and could have cared less what the critics thought. His message to Palmer would have been simple: “Just win, baby.” The rest will take care of itself.

-BW

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