It’s been a long and arduous season in Oakland. The Raiders are slogging through their first full year without Al Davis running the franchise, and it hasn’t been fun for the Raider Nation. The new regime was dealt a roster full of overpaid players and few draft picks, with the net result being four wins and 11 losses.
The Raiders have been giving the young players expanded playing time over the past several weeks and should also give Terrelle Pryor his first career start on Sunday. It made some sense to give Pryor more playing time before Carson Palmer was injured, and it makes even more sense now that the alternative is Matt Leinart.
The Raiders gain absolutely nothing by starting Leinart on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, but there is something to be gained by starting Pryor. This is a decision that really shouldn’t be hard to make, which is why it seems odd that the Raiders are still considering starting Leinart.
Dennis Allen said via his media session on Wednesday that Leinart and Pryor split the reps with the first-team offense evenly: “We got a chance to see what Matt (Leinart) could do, and we might need to see a little more of Terrelle (Pryor).” Allen said. “But we’ll evaluate that as the week goes on.”
Leinart is a known commodity, and starting him when nothing is at stake doesn’t make sense. The idea behind bringing in Leinart was to take the pressure off Pryor and provide a veteran quarterback that could start a game or two if the Raiders were still in the playoff race. Starting Leinart in the final game of a lost season doesn’t make any sense.
There’s only so much Pryor can do in practice, and eventually he’s going to need to get experience in a game. What better time to get Pryor some experience than when the game is meaningless and a loss actually assures the team of a better draft pick? There isn’t a better time than now.
The Raiders have been sitting on Pryor for over a year now, and if he’s not ready to start a game at the end of a meaningless season, he might never be ready. That’s not to say Pryor isn’t doing everything he can to be the starter, it’s just time to let the cat out of the bag.
Pryor’s athleticism alone will make up for a lot of his deficiencies as a passer, and it’s time to see what he can do in game action. The Raiders waited a long time to install a package of plays for Pryor, and they seem to be similarly dragging their feet on giving him his first extensive action of the season.
Why hide Pryor? What could the Raiders really have to gain from holding him out? There are two main theories on why the Raiders might be holding Pryor out of action.
It could be the Raiders don’t want Pryor to play poorly for risk of reducing his value in a trade. Pryor’s value in a trade is pretty low at this point, so this theory is seriously flawed. If anything, the Raiders could showcase Pryor’s athleticism to attract teams that are drawn to his physical abilities and that would use him creatively.
A bad game would demonstrate that Pryor is still a work in progress, just like the Raiders have been saying for weeks. Other teams would look at him the same way, but at least be able to make a more informed decision about his progress.
NFL teams like known commodities more than unknown ones, which is exactly why Leinart played ahead of Pryor last week and has been the No. 2 quarterback in Oakland all season. Knowing more about Pryor wouldn’t necessarily reduce his value—even if he played poorly.
The Raiders may actually like Pryor, and therefore, they want him to be successful when he gets his first start. That means not exposing him before he is ready and potentially shattering his confidence.
This scenario doesn’t seem likely because these Raiders inherited Pryor from the previous regime. Also, if Pryor’s confidence is so weak that he can't handle a poor performance in his first start, there’s not much chance he’s ever going to be a good starting quarterback in the NFL.
While the reasoning makes some sense, the logic behind it is seriously flawed. Protecting Pryor from himself is not going to help him become a better player. The Raiders can’t coddle Pryor forever, and he needs to be thrown into the water to see if he will sink or swim.
The coaching staff has done all they can at this point to help Pryor, and he’ll either rise to the occasion or shrink from it. It’s very possible that Pryor could rise to the occasion and still perform poorly or shrink from it and still win the game.
Only the Raiders will be able to gauge Pryor’s performance, but their inability to recognize that he should start on Sunday makes you wonder if they really know what they are doing. Releasing Rolando McClain also made too much sense, but they didn't do it.
The Raiders will probably start Leinart and give Pryor a handful of snaps, reasoning that Leinart gives the Raiders the best chance to win. The coaching staff is supposed to see the big picture and recognize that they actually win by losing on Sunday.