The Oakland Raiders turned the page on their 25-game rental of Carson Palmer this offseason, and brought in a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks—Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson—to compete for the starting job.
Flynn, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks a year ago for $10 million guaranteed, was acquired by the Raiders for just a fifth-round pick in 2014 and a conditional pick in 2015. Flynn was the favorite to win Seattle's starting gig last summer, before rookie Russell Wilson won the job and went on to lead the Seahawks to the playoffs.
And now, for the second year in a row, Flynn, 27, will compete with a rookie to be his team's starting quarterback. For Flynn, it's another year, another Wilson.
Wilson was the starting quarterback at Arkansas for the past two seasons. With Wilson as the starter, the Razorbacks passing attack ranked No.13 in the FBS in 2011 and No. 21 during his senior year.
Wilson's draft stock was sky high following his junior year, after Arkansas finished the season 11-2 with a victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The team's only two losses came on the road against No. 3 Alabama and No. 1 LSU.
Russ Lande of SportingNews.com ranked Wilson as the top 2013 prospect a year ago, before Wilson's senior season.
But after Arkansas' 4-8 train wreck a year ago, Wilson fell all the way to the fourth round in last month's NFL draft, where he was selected by the Oakland Raiders.
As a rookie, Wilson has a legitimate shot at being the Raiders' starting quarterback. Flynn, in two career starts with the Green Bay Packers, threw for 731 yards and nine touchdowns, but he failed to ward off Wilson in Seattle last year.
In an effort to protect themselves against the possibility of another Flynn flop, the Raiders reworked his contract so they owe him no guaranteed money beyond the 2013 season.
Combine Flynn's cloudy future with the implementation of a new offensive system, and the battle for Oakland's starting quarterback job will be one to watch this summer.
The Raiders have brought in Greg Olson to run the offense. That means Flynn and Terrelle Pryor, who started a game for Oakland last season, face similar schematic challenges to WIlson in his transition to the NFL.
Pryor is an interesting case.
After being the subject of Ohio State's "Tattoo-Gate" scandal, Pryor withdrew from the university in 2011 and became eligible for the NFL's Supplemental Draft. Two years into his professional career, the Raiders have been adamant that Pryor will compete for the starting job in 2013.
But Olson, who was Purdue's quarterbacks coach when Drew Brees was in college, will likely opt for a more skilled passer than Pryor to lead his offense. In all likelihood, the competition will come down to Flynn and Wilson.
It's only May, but the rookie quarterback was impressive in the team's rookie mini-camp earlier this month, according to Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times.
”Wilson is on track to push Matt Flynn for the starting job right away and certainly push (Terrelle) Pryor for the backup spot held by Matt Leinart last season," Corkran opined.
With Pryor being expendable and Flynn's future in question, building around Wilson makes some sense for the Raiders, both financially and schematically.
“I’ve liked the way Tyler’s commanded the huddle,” head coach Dennis Allen said during Oakland's rookie mini-camp, according to SI.com. “I like the way he’s gone through his reads. Obviously, picking up a new system, I think there’s still a little bit of rust there but throwing the ball, I think he’s done a nice job. I don’t have any question about his arm strength and his accuracy.”
Wilson will need to continue to impress the coaching staff this offseason in order to lock down the starting job. But if he's the best quarterback, he'll be the starter.
Game action in the preseason will go a long way in determining who starts under center for the Raiders. Coming into the draft, there was a lot of concern about Wilson's hand size.
According to DraftInsider.net, most teams have a cutoff at nine inches for hand size. Wilson was the only quarterback at the Senior Bowl under that number.
But if Wilson can prove hand size isn't and issue by limiting his turnovers in the preseason, the starting gig may be his to lose. As a rookie, experience isn't in Wilson's favor, but Flynn and Pryor only have three combined NFL starts.
It's not as if Wilson is battling it out against a pair of proven veterans.
“I’m comfortable out there; it’s fun, it’s football,” Wilson said, according to Raiders.com. “There’s a lot going through your head ... Even if I’m not right the first time, we’ll get it right eventually.”
Wilson will surely endure some speed bumps in his bid to earn the starting gig. However, despite being the sixth quarterback drafted last month, Wilson may have the best odds of all rookie quarterbacks to be a Week-1 starter.