At 3-5, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Oakland Raiders aren't going anywhere this year. Two of their three wins came against teams that are even worse off than Oakland right now—the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers somehow, but that wasn't their most impressive game of the season. In Week 6, the Raiders went into Atlanta and gave the undefeated Falcons all they could handle.
With Carson Palmer due $13 million next year, the Raiders need to make a decision about whether he will be leading the team into the future. Putting his performance against the Falcons under the microscope is a good start to answering the question of whether he is worth keeping.
The Raiders offense is very young. Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey are still playing on the rookie contracts, and Darren McFadden is only 25 years old. Palmer provides veteran stability with his crisp play execution and excellent anticipation on timing throws that are the bread and butter of an NFL passing offense. He makes a long completion to rookie undrafted free agent Rod Streater on a deep comeback that requires him to release the ball as Moore is making his break:
This demonstrates not only timing and chemistry with a young developing receiver that Palmer has been playing with for all of one year, it shows that he has the arm strength to throw longer routes outside of the numbers. Streater was able to make the catch in tight coverage from Dunta Robinson, which has to help his confidence going forward.
Another reason to keep Palmer is his pocket presence and underrated ability to move in the pocket. Here, Kroy Biermann is getting ready to come free right up the gut, which is the most dangerous type of pressure for a quarterback to face in the NFL:
Palmer keeps his eyes downfield and takes a few steps to his left, rendering the pass rush ineffective:
He was able to complete a pass inside the 10 on the play. This ability to sense and avoid pressure is crucial, because the Raiders are one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the league. Here, John Abraham pauses and plans his outside leg to set up Willie Smith for an inside move:
Abraham gets inside of Smith and has a direct route to Palmer, who is vulnerable because he is trying to throw deep on a seven-step drop:
Palmer is battle-tested, and he can endure another season of getting flushed from the pocket and facing constant pressure better than a rookie or free-agent retread.
Most importantly, Palmer can keep the team in games with big plays. The touchdown that originally gave the Raiders the lead came on a play where Palmer didn't hit the first read. First, he expertly executes a play-action fake to get the defense to move to his left:
Palmer is looking downfield for Darrius Heyward-Bey streaking toward the end zone, but he has two defenders ready to converge if Palmer targets him:
Palmer instead resets and locates Denarius Moore outside:
He hooked up with Moore, who did the rest of the work, eluding the Falcons defenders for a touchdown. A rookie or retread quarterback isn't going to keep this team as competitive as Palmer will. Winning and losing are both habits, and the Raiders need to go forward, not backward.
This is going to be an especially weak year at quarterback in the draft, with no prospects that look worthy of a top-10 pick at this moment. If the Raiders abandon Palmer, they will be more tempted to reach for a quarterback that isn't worth a premium pick, in a year with so many other players at need positions for the Raiders that are worth it.
There's the matter of the $13 million due to Palmer. First of all, general manager Reggie McKenzie can persuade Palmer to take a pay cut. Chances are he would just be seen as a stopgap elsewhere and he would be lucky to get $5 million. The Seattle Seahawks gave Matt Flynn $10 million guaranteed to basically be a backup.
The reality is that a team's dollar doesn't go nearly as far at the quarterback position as it does at other spots on the field. The money the Raiders would spend would be worth it to keep the franchise's momentum going in a positive direction.
Lastly, there's the matter of his age. Palmer will be 33 at the end of the season. In this NFL, that isn't that old. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are older. None of those teams appear to be worried about the future of their team at quarterback. Palmer is healthy right now and he should have at least two or three more good years left in him.
Will he get the Raiders to the Super Bowl or outperform his contract? Probably not. Will he keep the team on the rise and not vastly underperform his contract? All signs point to yes, which should be good enough for the Raiders to keep him next year.