The Oakland Raiders have a decision to make at the quarterback position this offseason between Carson Palmer and Terrelle Pryor. One is a known commodity, while the other, 23-year-old Pryor, could allow the Raiders to build a dynamic offense for the future.
Palmer has gone 8-16 over his last two years as a starter and has thrown 30 interceptions. At 33 years old, he is clearly on the decline. Palmer is owed $15 million in 2013 and $17 million the year after (Spotrac).
According to Rotoworld, the Raiders are expected to ask Palmer to take a pay cut. If not, the team is likely to part ways with him. His contract is not guaranteed, but the move would still result in a lot of dead money for the franchise.
Either way, moving on from Palmer in favor of Pryor makes sense, both financially and on the field. There is no reason to continue to roll with a declining player when there is a young prospect who has shown some promise sitting on the bench.
Pryor made his first NFL start in Week 17 last season and flashed abilities to hurt defenses on the ground and through the air. He ended up throwing for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the audition and also added 49 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The performance should give Raiders nation some semblance of hope for the future, and look no further than the San Francisco 49ers' use of Collin Kaepernick for inspiration.
Oakland's coaching staff, especially new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, is at least intrigued by Pryor's skill set and has said there will be an open competition at the position as well as special packages for him this offseason to see what he can do (via Steve Corkran, The Oakland Tribune):
That's what we'll have to find out with Terrelle Pryor. We know what kind of an athlete he is. We need to find out what kind of decision maker he is. We need to find out if he's a guy that can also sit in the pocket and deliver the ball from point A to point B accurately and on time and making the right decisions. That above all else becomes most important.
The read-option offense frenzy is hitting its peak at the NFL level, and Olson and Co. would be smart to jump on board. Pryor has the capabilities to run the offense and could find success if the coaching staff implements it properly.
All the Raiders have to do is build the offense effectively around Pryor's skill set.
Given the state of the salary cap in Oakland, that is easier said than done. The team has already made a step in the right direction under the guidance of Olson. According to Eric Gilmore of Bay Area Sports Beat, Olson is eliminating the horrendous zone-blocking scheme in favor of a power scheme the team used to employ that produced running back Darren McFadden's best years as a pro.
According to ProFootballFocus, the Raiders had the third-worst offensive line in terms of run blocking a year ago. Axing the plan and playing to McFadden's strengths will infinitely help Pryor. McFadden is a downhill runner in the utmost sense similar to Adrian Peterson.
As long as McFadden can stay healthy, defenses will have to stack the box in order to stop him. This opens up passing lanes for Pryor. Should the Raiders choose to run a read option, it also provides another wrinkle defenses have to prepare for as he could simply fake to McFadden and take off down the field himself.
For the scheme to work, there cannot be any weak points along the offensive line. Oakland has had a weak point at right tackle for years with Khalif Barnes, who is now headed for free agency.
There are a few names the Raiders could attempt to sign on the market to upgrade the position if they find the cap room. Phil Loadholt and Sebastian Vollmer are two names that top the list for right tackles the team may be able to afford.
Of course, Olson and Co. will not succeed is building the offense around Pryor if he does not have some legitimate threats to catch the ball. Fortunately for the Raiders, there are plenty of talented players at the wide receiver position already on the roster.
Darrius Heyward-Bey has been the supposed No. 1 receiver in Oakland for four years now, but according to CSN Bay Area, the team will ask him to restructure his lucrative deal or he could find himself released.
Whether or not DHB sticks around, Pryor will have a variety of young targets to throw to thanks to the likes of Rod Streater, Juron Criner and Denarius Moore.
The wide receiver position is fine, but the major weakness in the passing game comes at tight end. Brandon Myers is a free agent after a breakout year, but most of his numbers came after games had already been decided.
Myers may end up costing more than the Raiders can afford, which is fine because he does not truly fit in an offense centered around Pryor. According to ProFootballFocus, Myers was the worst run-blocking tight end in the NFL a year ago. Blocking is a critical element in a read-option, so Myers may be allowed to walk.
There is no lack of quality free agents at the position who are better all-around players than Myers, including Dustin Keller, Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett and Fred Davis.
Of course, Oakland could turn to the NFL draft for some of its issues, but keep in mind the team is missing a second-round pick thanks to the trade that acquired the declining Palmer in the first place.
In all likelihood, the Raiders will use the No. 3 overall pick in the draft to address the defensive tackle position, which happens to be the position that is the worst off on the roster right now. Utah product Star Lotulelei makes a lot of sense there.
It is also within the realm of possibility the team takes a quarterback with the pick such as Geno Smith. This new regime in Oakland seems to have a level head unlike the past, so the safe bet would still be on the team picking the best player available and potentially addressing quarterback at a later date if Pryor falters.
In the end, the draft will likely be used to shore up the defensive side of the football. Oakland can afford to do this with so many talented pieces already on offense that simply needed a schematic change to be effective.
Terrelle Pryor could grow into the role of a starter in Oakland as it continues to rebuild next season. A lot of his mistakes can be corrected via coaching and experience. The success of the Raiders offensively next season will hinge on if the staff can properly build the offense around him.
A lot has gone wrong in Oakland over the course of the past few years, but the franchise has been blessed with a versatile quarterback in Pryor at just the right time. Now the coaching staff and front office has to take the ball and run with it.
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