The longer the Raiders wait, the more Carson Palmer's leverage evaporates.
Raider Nation wants action, but the best thing for the team actually might be inaction. At least that’s the case with Carson Palmer, who has a cap number of $15.3 million in 2013, according to overthecap.com. The Raiders would be somewhat crazy to go into 2013 paying their quarterback such an absurd amount considering his level of production, but time is on their side.
Palmer holds all the cards right now because the Raiders probably aren’t comfortable handing Terrelle Pryor the starting job in 2013. Palmer would also be interesting to other teams looking for a quarterback, so he’s not likely to take a pay cut knowing he can catch on elsewhere as a starter.
The good news is that Palmer’s leverage is going to evaporate, but the Raiders will have to carry his cap number until the draft. After the draft, any team looking for a starting quarterback will have found their guy. The Raiders will also likely bring in a quarterback, which could either be a draft pick or a veteran.
By late April, the Raiders are going to have a lot more leverage in trying to get Palmer to reduce his $13 million in base salary than they will prior to and during the first wave of free agency. We’ll never know if the Raiders are really interested in Geno Smith unless they draft him, but the interest could have just been a tactic to get Palmer to take less money.
If the Raiders were to release Palmer, they would save $6 million and be charged $9.3 million against the cap (dead money). The Raiders can also create plenty of cap space by releasing Tommy Kelly ($4.7 million in cap savings) and Darrius Heyward-Bey ($5.3 million in cap savings).
Free agency is really divided up into three sections. The first wave of free agency lasts for about a week or two and is when all the big names and premium free agents are signed, usually for much more money than they are worth. The second wave of free agency is where the solid starters are picked up for about what they are worth in the two weeks before the draft. The third wave of free agency comes after the draft and is where the bargains are, but it is also filled with players who aren’t very good.
The Raiders aren’t in position to be active in the first wave of free agency even if Palmer were to be released or take a pay cut, so there isn't any rush. It’s usually a poor idea to be active in the first wave anyway, which is why the Green Bay Packers have rarely spent valuable cap dollars on first-wave free agents. Al Davis used to be very active in the first wave of free agency, and the Raiders often lacked depth as a result.
It’s unlikely that the Raiders would even need the savings on Palmer to be active in the second wave of free agency, because they will be able to create plenty of cap space by releasing Kelly and Heyward-Bey. It would be surprising if they were really active during this period, but this is where Desmond Bryant and Philip Wheeler would come into play.
Saving on Palmer would give the Raiders the flexibility they need to bring in several players after the draft. These moves would include giving money to the best undrafted players and undervalued veterans. The Raiders have just 46 players on the active roster, which means they need to bring in a lot of players at minimal cost.
Oakland will need to sign almost 50 players to reach the maximum of 90 players they can bring to training camp. If the Raiders are going to sign that many players, saving money on Palmer is going to be a requirement.
The $6 million they would free up by cutting Palmer would only be enough to sign a maximum of 14 rookies to minimum contracts. That’s not even a third of the number of players the Raiders need to bring in, nor would they be players with any experience. It’s much more likely that the Raiders use that money to bring in a handful of veteran free agents and a handful of rookies.
While not saving any money on Palmer’s contract is not an option, the Raiders can afford to wait. The time will come where the Raiders need to press the issue, but now it not that time. It’s risky to enter next season without a proven signal-caller, and if the Raiders don’t want to burn their top draft pick on a quarterback, they would be wise to wait out Palmer until his leverage has evaporated.