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Why the Oakland Raiders Should Cut Carson Palmer

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Why the Oakland Raiders Should Cut Carson Palmer
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The Oakland Raiders have a decision to make on Carson Palmer’s future with the team: release him or pay him $15.3 million in 2013. The business world might do a cost-benefit analysis to determine if they should keep Palmer, and since the NFL is a business, it would make sense that the Raiders would do the same.

In this case the cost is known, but the benefit is a little bit more complicated. The benefit of Palmer is basically equal to his future production and can be evaluated in many different ways. There is subjective analysis that can be done (scouting) or you could use data from the past (statistics). General manager Reggie McKenzie will likely use both to arrive at his conclusion.

Once the analysis is done, the answer is pretty clear: the Raiders should cut Palmer. Palmer’s cost is too high, and his benefit is too low for the Raiders to keep him as their starting quarterback. Palmer’s production is far from irreplaceable at this point, and the Raiders would save over $6 million by releasing him.

 

Cost

Data via spotrac.com

There are a few ways to evaluate Palmer’s cost. Palmer's cap number will be $15.3 million in 2013, but that’s only his salary cap cost if he’s on the team. If Palmer is released, his cost goes down to $9.3 million against the salary cap. The Raiders also have the option to spread the cap hit out over two years ($4.67 million per year).

The Raiders also have to consider real dollars. A singing bonus has already been paid (or in some cases, will be paid), but a base salary is not guaranteed unless the player makes the roster. Palmer’s base salary is $13 million in 2013 according to spotrac.com, and the team wouldn’t pay him that if he’s released.

If Palmer is on the roster, he will cost the Raiders $13 million in real dollars and $15.3 million in cap dollars. If Palmer is released, he will cost the Raiders nothing in real dollars and $9.3 million in cap dollars. Palmer’s value might best be summed up in the difference between these costs: $13 million in real dollars and $6 million in cap dollars.

 

Benefit

USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have a good idea what Palmer costs, it’s time to look at his benefit. This is where some people will say that he had over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdown passes in 2011. Others will point out that a lot of Palmer’s statistics were put up in garbage time when the Raiders were down 10 or more points.

The reality is that one season is not enough to confidently tell us how Palmer will perform in the future. It’s also not fair to discount all of Palmer’s stats because the team fell behind. You could make a case that Palmer was the only reason the Raiders were able to score at all in 2012.

To accurately judge Palmer’s benefit to the team, it’s necessary to project his benefit (stats). Subjective analysis like scouting and statistical analysis can also be used, but opinions vary wildly. However, even the most favorable scout probably wouldn’t suggest that Palmer was worth $15.3 million per season.

Palmer is just good enough to keep a team from finding a franchise quarterback, but he’s not good enough to win a Super Bowl without a great supporting cast. The Raiders are several years away from putting a strong supporting cast around Palmer, and by that time it will be too late. Palmer’s career is undeniably trending down, and the Raiders would be unwise to continue to pay him when all the statistics point to him being worse in 2013.

 

Touchdown Percentage

Every quarterback throws touchdown passes at a certain rate. It’s a simple formula: passing touchdowns divided by pass attempts. Pro-Football-Reference.com does the calculation and provides the result.

Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan had the highest touchdown percentages in 2012. Typically speaking, the best quarterbacks have a pretty good touchdown percentage.

To project Palmer’s touchdown percentage, it’s relatively easy to look at his career numbers. What you will see is that after jumping in as a starter in his second year, Palmer’s touchdown percentage has decreased every season. Basically, Palmer’s ability to throw touchdown passes is declining every year.

Palmer could have a good year, but you wouldn’t project it based on his career trend. While Palmer threw for 22 touchdowns in 2012, you might project him for 21 touchdowns in 2013. If Palmer is worse at throwing touchdown passes in 2013, the Raiders will need to get a lot more out of their running game.

 

Interception Percentage

Just like touchdown percentage, interception percentage is simple math: interceptions divided by pass attempts. Brady, Robert Griffin III, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Manning were the best in the NFL in 2012 in interception percentage. It’s safe to say interception percentage is a good statistic to judge a quarterback.

Palmer’s interception percentage has gone up and down each year, but there is an overall trend upward. While Palmer threw only 14 interceptions in 2012, his career suggests that his interception percentage will go back up to around 3.2 percent.

If Palmer throws the same number of passes in 2013 as 2012, his interception percentage would lead to four additional interceptions. Palmer threw 14 interceptions in 2012 in an offense designed to minimize his mistakes. If the Raiders opened up the offense like Hue Jackson did in 2011, Palmer would almost certainly see an increase in interceptions.

If these projections hold true, Palmer’s interception and touchdown rates will continue to narrow as he ages. The Raiders have to ask themselves if they want to pay $15.3 million for a quarterback who is on a steady decline and who in any given year could throw more interceptions than touchdown passes.

 

Sack Percentage

Sack percentage is just like touchdown percentage and interception percentage, except with sacks. As we know, the quarterback is able to heavily influence if he’s sacked. The top quarterbacks in the NFL in sack percentage in 2012 were Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Brees, Matthew Stafford and Brady.

This is one area that seems to favor Palmer sticking around. Palmer was seventh in the league in sack percentage in 2012, and the trend line suggests he is steadily improving in this area.

The problem is that Palmer’s sack percentages are erratic. Palmer has yet to improve on his sack percentage in back-to-back seasons. Palmer is either going to improve slightly or get slightly worse in 2013, but it’s hard to predict either considering how it fluctuates every year.

Palmer’s ability to avoid sacks is likely what helps him pile up yardage, but also makes him throw more interceptions and hurts his ability to throw touchdown passes. Palmer can probably statistically improve in other areas if he takes more sacks, but he will also be putting himself at greater risk of injury.

 

Yards

Touchdowns, interceptions and sacks don’t necessarily take into account yards. There’s some value in yards, because the team can get a field goal or win the field-position battle. Just as Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards in 2012, yards can also be a bit deceiving.

For this there are several statistics that can be used, but the most basic one is yards per attempt. Griffin, Manning, Cam Newton, Wilson and Rodgers were the top quarterbacks in yards-per-attempt in 2012. Presumably, the running quarterbacks all had good yards-per-attempt because they were more likely to run.

Palmer is statistically getting better in terms of yards-per-completion, unless you take out his nine-game stint as a starter in 2011. With this extreme outlier removed, Palmer’s numbers are actually declining. It is unlikely Palmer would be able to equal his 2011 numbers in a full season without an increase in interceptions.

Palmer’s career average is 7.2 yards-per-attempt, which is a number he hasn’t equaled since before his knee injury, if you don’t include 2011. Palmer’s 7.1 yards-per-attempt in 2012 was actually his best since 2007, if you exclude 2011.  

It’s hard to project anything using these statistics, but Palmer will probably be able to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark again in a full season. Palmer is likely to remain a cut or two below the top quarterbacks in the league in passing yards. It’s too bad that 4,000 yards isn’t what is used to be.

 

Completions

Completion percentage has been used to judge quarterbacks for years. Average quarterbacks are expected to be able to complete 60 percent of their passes, with the best quarterbacks able to complete 63 percent or more of their passes.

The shorter routes run in the West Coast Offense are more conducive to completing passes than those in a vertical offense, so this statistic is more useful when you consider the offense. This holds true for Palmer as it does many other quarterbacks.

Despite Palmer performing better in a West Coast Offense, he’s still steadily declining in this area. This is another statistic where Palmer had been erratic over his career, and another in which 2012 seems to indicate Palmer will be worse than the year before.

 

Conclusion

Should the Raiders release Carson Palmer?

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Just about all of Palmer’s career trends suggest he will be worse in 2013. A decent projection for Palmer might be about 4,000 yards, 21 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. While this is still better than the Raiders would get from chasing Alex Smith in free agency or via trade, the Raiders would still be better served releasing Palmer and starting fresh with a rookie or giving Terrelle Pryor his chance.

It just doesn’t make sense for the Raiders to pay Palmer the third-largest base salary in the NFL (second when/if Michael Vick is released) when his career is headed in the wrong direction. Palmer’s cap hit is also the 10th-largest in the league (ninth when/if Vick is released).

Either the Raiders will draft a quarterback or Pryor is going to get his shot in 2013, but it’s hard to imagine the team sticking with Palmer. Palmer would have to perform better than he has in years for him to be worth his 2013 salary, and expecting it would be foolish when all signs suggest otherwise.

The only case for keeping Palmer at this point is lack of alternatives, which is hypothetical because there are options, including Pryor and Geno Smith. 

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