Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar quarterback situations in the entire league is the one in Oakland. Carson Palmer is due $13 million in 2013 if the Raiders don’t release him or get him to take a pay cut.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it’s now “highly unlikely” that Palmer will be willing to restructure his contract. If that report is accurate, the Raiders would either have to pay Palmer what his contract stipulates or release him. The latter choice means going into 2013 with Terrelle Pryor, a rookie or a veteran free agent as the starter.
The Raiders are a rebuilding team, which would make a veteran free agent an odd choice to be the starter. There also aren’t really any quality vets looking for jobs at this point in the offseason. Since Palmer is still on the roster, we can only assume that the Raiders aren’t comfortable handing the job to Pryor.
Given all the factors, it’s not much of a leap to assume that Palmer’s fate could be tied to a rookie quarterback, presumably taken with the third-overall pick. Geno Smith is the player most people believe will be the first quarterback drafted, which makes it possible the Raiders are simply waiting until after the draft to make a decision on Palmer.
The Raiders could draft Smith and then release Palmer and save about $6 million against the salary cap. Since the Raiders don’t know for sure if Smith will make it past the Jaguars at No. 2, they are holding on to Palmer as insurance. It’s hard to imagine the Raiders paying Palmer $13 million, but given their options, they might not have much of a choice.
Pryor is the only alternative the Raiders have right now, which is scary given his track record or lack thereof. While Pryor may get his chance to compete for the job in training camp, that doesn’t mean he should be given the job by default. Pryor proved in his first career start at the end of last season that he was still a very raw passer, but that he could make plays with his feet.
Unfortunately, the Raiders don’t have a lot of good options. There is a very good chance that Oakland can’t make a good decision on their starting quarterback in 2013. There’s a realistic possibility that the Raiders will simply be picking between several players who aren’t or will never be franchise quarterbacks.
If the Raiders keep Palmer for $13 million and he’s even worse in 2013 than he was in 2012, that’s a bad move. If the Raiders decide to start Pryor and he doesn’t progress, that’s also a bad move. If the Raiders decide to draft Smith and he ends up being a bust, that’s a terrible move. The Raiders will have to weigh all their options.
The lowest risk move in the short term is to keep Palmer for another year while continuing to look for a franchise quarterback. This is probably the most likely option at this point because there is no guarantee Smith will be available at No. 3 and Palmer is still the best quarterback available to the Raiders. Keeping Palmer is just a very poor value, but he might buy the Raiders a little more time. Keeping Palmer also provides the lowest reward of just about any option.
The move with the potential for the highest reward is to draft a quarterback, make him the starter and release Palmer. Just about every draft pick comes with some risk, but the penalty for missing on a top draft pick isn’t nearly what it was before the rookie wage scale. Of course, the Raiders also need to factor in that using a draft pick on quarterback makes it harder for them to address other roster weaknesses.
Starting Pryor is high risk, but with a potential for a big reward. Unfortunately for Pryor’s most ardent supporters, the chance that he develops into an above-average passer is actually quite low. If Pryor were to develop into a solid passer, he’d be an outlier and not something that the Raiders could have predicted. In other words, the Raiders will be lucky if Pryor ever becomes more than a below-average passer with amazing athletic ability.
When was the last raw athletic quarterback developed into a starter at the NFL level? Recent history suggests that athletic-project quarterbacks never develop enough as passers. It would be a great story if Pryor turned into something special, but the odds are stacked against him. The Raiders surely realize that Pryor’s best chance to be a success is for him to learn from the bench until they decide he is ready and not when the Raiders need him to be ready.