The Oakland Raiders traded for Matt Flynn on Monday and shipped Carson Palmer to the desert on Tuesday, basically exchanging a veteran starter for an unproven player with two career starts. The trades were necessary from a monetary perspective, but they also have very real on-field consequences.
Bringing in Flynn to go along with Terrelle Pryor may indicate that the Raiders intend to have a real quarterback competition in 2013. However, bringing in Flynn could just as easily mean that the team doesn’t believe Pryor can be a starter.
It’s entirely possible the Raiders made it harder for Pryor to win the starting job by bringing in Flynn, but easier for him to get on the field and become the starter later in the season. One thing seems certain: The Raiders will use Pryor more even if he’s not a starter.
The problem with any quarterback competition is that the offensive design is often going to heavily favor one of the quarterbacks. An offense that fits Pryor does not fit Flynn and vice versa, which means that the design of the offense is probably going to decide the outcome.
Flynn has primarily played in a West Coast offense, which was the offense the Raiders ran last year. Pryor would fit better in an offense that uses more read-option and deep passing with clearly defined reads. It just makes more sense to have a package of plays for Pryor than it does to design the offense around him and try to have Flynn run it.
Pryor also has a year of experience in the West Coast offense, which means he’ll be able to apply what he already knows and continue to improve as a passer. Pryor is not going to win the job unless he improves throwing the football and it should be easier for him in an offense he is familiar running.
While the West Coast offense might not fit Pryor’s athletic talents as much a read-option heavy offense would, it gives the Raiders a good idea of how far he has come as a passer. Pryor’s ability to throw the ball will ultimately impact if he ever becomes a good starting quarterback.
New offensive coordinator Greg Olson runs a version of the West Coast Offense, but he’ll incorporate other principles. From a terminology standpoint, there should not be a huge adjustment for Pryor or Flynn. The West Coast offense, by design, is going to favor Flynn and not Pryor and initially makes him the favorite to win the starting job.
Head coach Dennis Allen discussed how the trade for Flynn would impact the offense and said (via Raiders.com):
“Obviously, we feel confident about Matt Flynn as a quarterback and giving him the opportunity to potentially win the starting job. I think we still feel positive about giving Terrelle Pryor an opportunity to compete and specifically having a package of things that he can do really well and giving him an opportunity.”
It’s subtle, but Allen’s words are actually quite revealing. The Raiders are “confident” in Flynn and will give him “the opportunity” to win “the starting job” while they “feel positive” about giving Pryor “an opportunity,” but more specifically “a package of plays.”
The competition word has been thrown around a lot, but quite intentionally. Allen’s word choice is a lot less careful and actually provides little hints about the direction the team is going and how they are thinking they will used Pryor going forward.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Although there are exceptions, you can usually pick the starting quarterback on every team by simply looking at their contract numbers. Even in a quarterback competition, the player making more money usually wins the job unless there is a huge gap in their level of play.
Flynn will make $6.5 million guaranteed in 2013, according to ESPN, which basically means the Raiders have committed to him as the starter monetarily even if they haven’t done the same verbally. Flynn would have to be really bad for the Raiders to pay him $6.5 million to sit on the bench.
While the Raiders guaranteed Flynn $6.5 million, they also didn’t pull the trigger on getting rid of Palmer until the trade was completely. The Raiders could have released Palmer or traded him earlier if they were confident in Pryor, but instead they waited until they had a player they were confident could be a starter.
By talking about a quarterback competition, the Raiders kept Pryor’s value unrealistically high so that other teams could not use the team’s need for a quarterback against them in trade negotiations. If the Seahawks knew the Raiders needed Flynn to be their starter, they may have been able to get more in return than they did.
Flop or Fracture
If Pryor produces in his limited opportunities and Flynn is a flop as a starter, there is a chance that Pryor will get a chance to start in his place. Flynn doesn’t have a lot of experience starting, so the Raiders are taking a calculated risk that he’ll stabilize the position and be able to at least fill Palmer’s shoes.
At this point Flynn is a relative unknown with only two career starts. It’s possible that Flynn could be horrible and leave the Raiders with no other option but to go back to Pryor. At this point the Raiders don’t have another option at quarterback.
Pryor has also moved up the depth chart and is just an injury away from becoming the starter. Last season Matt Leinart was the first guy off the bench and Pryor served as the third quarterback until he was given the nod to start in Week 17. Even if Flynn runs with the starting job, there’s a chance that Pryor becomes the starter due to injury.
When the Seahawks signed Flynn last season, they did not anticipate drafting Russell Wilson. Part of the reason Flynn was traded to the Raiders is that he was being paid too much to be a backup quarterback. NFL teams project, plan, research and analyze everything, but there are always unforeseen circumstances.
When Wilson fell to the Seahawks, he instantly became competition for Flynn. Wilson’s ability to run the read-option allowed him to separate himself from Flynn, but only because he was also a good passer. The Seahawks could not have anticipated both drafting Wilson and him earning the starting job otherwise they wouldn’t have signed Flynn at all.
Players occasionally develop or fall in the draft unexpectedly. Pryor could just as easily be pushed back to being the third quarterback because a promising rookie falls to the Raiders. Flynn beat out second-round pick Brian Brohm to back up Aaron Rodgers in Green bay, so clearly unexpected things happen.
Pryor is far from a finished product, but his athletic ability will earn him opportunities. Even though it appears that the Raiders aren’t counting on Pryor to be anything more than an amazing athlete, he could unexpectedly develop.
The Raiders would be foolish to keep Pryor off the field if he develops significantly as a passer, which would obviously mean sitting Flynn. The Seahawks had to make the tough decision to go with Wilson over Flynn and it worked out for them. The Raiders would have to make the same tough decision if Pryor develops.