What Does a Quarterback Competition Mean for the Oakland Raiders?

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystJanuary 24, 2013

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Terrelle Pryor #6 of the Oakland Raiders is stopped for a loss by Shaun Phillips #95 of the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After throwing for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns in 15 games, Carson Palmer is no longer the unquestioned starter in Oakland. It doesn’t matter that the Oakland Raiders are still underwater on their investment in Palmer, that he’s a team leader or that he has a $13 million base salary in 2013.

General manager Reggie McKenzie went on SiriusXM radio and told Alex Marvez of FoxSports that Pryor is going to get his chance to start and head coach Dennis Allen reiterated that plan in his appearance on NFL Network. If it seems odd to create a competition between a player with one career start and a veteran like Palmer, that’s because it is odd.

There were a lot more reasons that the Raiders didn’t win in 2012 and Palmer got blamed for a lot of things that simply weren’t his fault. Palmer isn’t an elite quarterback, but he is a solid starter that about a dozen other teams probably wished they had last season.


Salary Cap Implications

If the Raiders are really considering a competition at quarterback, there is no reason to make Palmer part of it. Players that make over $10 million dollars shouldn’t be backups. The Raiders are in a salary cap pickle partly because of Palmer and they would save nearly $6 million in cap space by releasing him.

Palmer’s cap number in 2013 is $16.9 million according to spotrac.com, with nearly $8 million left in prorated signing bonuses. His base salary is $13 million in 2013 and $15 million in 2014.

Creating a competition and saying Pryor will get a chance to start may mean that Palmer is not in the team’s plans in 2013. It’s not unrealistic to think the Raiders might have Pryor compete with a rookie quarterback for the starting job.

Since the Raiders have the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, they may be in a unique position to add a franchise signal-caller. The Raiders obviously have other needs and Palmer may help the team wait another year or two to draft a quarterback, but creating a competition certainly changes what has previously been the consensus.


Out With the Old, In With the New

They always say the NFL is a copy-cat league, which makes you wonder if the Raiders might decide to use the read-option, pistol or other option offense in 2013 with Pryor under center. Innovation really is the key and the Raiders have a chance to do something unique with a player like Pryor.

Palmer and Pryor are opposites when it comes to the movement skills needed to execute a new-wave offense. Palmer is very much the old-school pocket passer. Even if Palmer is a better athlete than people think, he’s not going to be running an option offense anytime soon.

The offense has to fit the quarterback and the Raiders are no in the position to install a different offense for each quarterback. The competition would obviously be unfair to one quarterback if the offense is built to suite the other quarterback.

It seems by giving Pryor a chance to compete for a starting job, the Raiders are either going to install an offense that fits what he can do or they are setting him up to fail. The former seems much more likely.

“(Pryor) definitely flashed some things that we’re going to try and see what we can do with him in the offseason,” McKenzie told Marvez. It seems reasonable that the Raiders are going to really see what they can get out of Pryor’s athleticism even if he isn’t the long-term answer.

The hiring of Tony Sparano as offensive line coach, who at one point turned the NFL upside down with the Wildcat offense, seems like the type of thing that makes sense if the Raiders were planning on doing some things a little different in 2013.


Leverage & Motivation

Creating competition is one way teams motivate players. Certainly a veteran like Palmer doesn’t need the motivation, but a young player like Pryor might need that extra push to take his game to the next level.

The loser of a competition may never get another shot to start again and an athletic one like Pryor might not get a better chance. Creating a competition could be nothing more than the coaching staff trying to get the most out of Pryor, knowing that Palmer is still likely to be the starter when the season starts.

By creating the competition, the Raiders also give themselves flexibility when it comes to Palmer’s contract. If Pryor wins the job (or gets close) then Palmer can be released for maximum cap savings. If Pryor falls on his face or Palmer looks like he’s 25 again, the Raiders can restructure Palmer’s base salary for cap savings.

If Palmer wants job security instead of the possibility of getting released at the end of training camp, he may accept a team-friendly restructuring of his contract. Palmer will then have to decide if he’s worth more on the open market right before the season starts or if he’d rather remain the starter at a reduced price.


What’s the Point?

Clearly the Raiders are trying to accomplish something or have some motivations for suggesting Pryor could start next season. Maybe the Raiders are trying to trade Pryor for a draft pick and want people to think he’s progressed to the point that he can go toe-to-toe with Palmer in training camp.

This type of information coming out isn’t an accident and McKenzie and Allen are too smart to slip or suggest information that would hurt the football team. The Raiders have embarked on what may be the most interesting offseason in their history and it’s clear now that improvement at the quarterback is necessary.