GameDay: The Risk Of Carson Palmer

CBS 5 Sports Director Dennis O’Donnell hosts “Gameday” every Sunday night at 11:30pm and offers his unique sports analysis here.

OAKLAND (CBS 5) – March 24, 1978. The San Francisco 49ers supposedly mortgaged their future by trading five draft picks to the Buffalo Bills for OJ Simpson. The picks were a first, two seconds, a third, and a fourth round pick. The 49ers didn’t know that Simpson had a knee injury and arthritis before making the trade. He rarely practiced and his infamous reverse-field direction ability could be seen only in NFL films.

I went to OJ’s final game at Candlestick Park in 1979. He was limping noticeably after a nice run to the outside on his final play. Bill Walsh motioned for the Juice to come off the field. He did, to a standing ovation as his friend Al Cowlings gave him a bear hug (that’s another story). Nice moment, but it will never erase the reality that the acquisition of OJ Simpson stands as one of the worst deals in 49ers history. But a mortgaged future? Hardly. Two years later the 49ers won their first Super Bowl in what would become one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports.

Fast forward to October 18, 2011. Carson Palmer comes to the Oakland Raiders in return for two number one draft picks. Radio, TV, the internet, twitter and the blogosphere were dominated by discussion of “The Trade.” Allow me to join the debate.

Carson Palmer is an immediate and significant upgrade. He will make the plays Jason Campbell could not. Palmer’s ability will help overcome an average defense where Campbell could take this team only so far. Palmer IS a Super Bowl quarterback.
Draft choices. They are only as good as the players chosen. (Insert JaMarcus Russell joke here) This is not meant to diminish the value, just to point out that while the Raiders received a guaranteed star quarterback, there is no guarantee they gave one up in return. After all, the Bills used the #1 pick they received in the Simpson deal on Tom Cousineau (who, by the way, eventually became a 49er anyway). Position solidified. Palmer joined the NFL in 2004. Since his arrival, the Raiders merry-go-round has included 11 quarterbacks. Since Palmer is signed through 2014, the Raiders don’t have to worry about the position, unless Palmer is injured.

The money. Palmer’s contract pays him $11.5 million in 2011. (pro-rated, of course) Compare that to the top four QBs. Peyton Manning at $23 million, Sam Bradford at $18.4 million, Tom Brady at $18 million, and Michael Vick at $15.9 million. Manning’s career might be over, Bradford’s Rams are 0-5, the Patriots are 5-1, and Vick’s Eagles are 2-4. I’d say Palmer’s price tag is a bargain with better playoff prospects than his higher-compensated peers.
Back-up QB. I hope the Raiders don’t place Campbell on IR. Ironically, the former starter would be a significant upgrade as the back-up to Palmer.

So, in the end, what the Raiders have is a QB that can take them to the next level. The pressure is on Palmer to win and the Raider talent evaluators who will have to work the draft with fewer cards in their deck. But great teams are often built on what they do the later rounds of a draft. I often refer to the 49ers draft of 1986 in which San Francisco picked up 8 starters WITHOUT a first round pick. Larry Roberts, Tom Rathman, Tim McKeyer, John Taylor, Charles Haley, Steve Wallace, Kevin Fagan and Don Griffin set the 49ers up for the rest of the decade. The point is, very good teams can be built without #1s. That burden will be on the Raiders talent scouts to do a better job than they have in the past.

As for Palmer? Just Win NOW, Baby!

See you on TV.

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