Carson Palmer on the Back of an Envelope

Palmer is good QB, but he was what people call ‘elite’ for only one season, his second year which ended with that unfortunate knee injury in the playoffs. A lot of people say that since the injury, “he hasn’t been the same.” Perhaps the injury is the cause, but maybe he simply caught lightning in a bottle in 2005. Either way, how he performs as Jason Campbell’s replacement in Oakland is going to be fairly unpredictable. There are lots of considerations on both sides of the ledger—new team, out of practice, same system, familiar coach, etc. One thing we can be sure of, however, is that he’s going to be better than Kyle Boller.

Let’s take a quick look at Palmer’s career numbers to see where his typical level of performance slots among QBs in 2011.



YearGWPA/GEPA/PSR(%)SkIntAYPA
2004130.00-0.0244.325184.2
2005170.210.2352.119126.2
2006160.110.1348.436135.8
2007160.080.1351.417205.3
200840.19-0.0142.91143.5
2009160.150.0447.329144.2
201016-0.070.0750.026204.7
Totals980.090.0948.91631015.0

Palmer’s career averages for EPA/P, SR, and AYPA would slot him 17th, 10th, and 23rd respectively. So far this season, Campbell has posted better numbers on all accounts. Campbell was also having a career year, so maybe the ingredients for success, including a solid running game, are there for Palmer too.

If we just look at Palmer’s last three complete seasons (excluding his four-game 2008 campaign), most of his numbers look a lot like his 2010 season. His EPA/P, SR, and AYPA for this subset would slot him 18th, 9th, and 25th.

It’s a little unfair to stack his career stats up against this season’s crop of QBs. As everyone knows, passing is up by about 0.5 YPA over previous years. If we simply bumped up Palmers AYPA numbers by half a yard, his career numbers would rank 17th in 2011 and his three most recent complete seasons would rank 18th.

We’ll see how well Palmer plays for Oakland, but given those numbers and where they rank, it seems to me that a 1st and a 2nd round pick, plus his salary, are an astronomically high a price to pay for him. Right now our numbers show Oakland with a 55% chance of making the playoffs, seventh among AFC teams. Assuming Palmer holds serve and maintains that probability, could it possibly be worth two top picks for just a shot at the postseason?

Of course not, but Palmer will belong to the Raiders for four seasons and not just this year, which may be more of a curse than blessing. Although he's a good passer, Palmer is in the waning years of his career, and there is not much reason to think he’ll recapture the lighting of 2005. Palmer’s contract is expensive, and the Raiders now have two starting QBs on their payroll. To stay under the cap, the Raiders pushed some of Palmer’s current salary into future years. The Raiders have mortgaged their future in more ways than one to double down on this year’s chance of making the playoffs. Only if Palmer returns to near elite form would this deal be worthwhile.

The Bengals are making out like bandits, especially considering they aren’t really giving anything up. Those two picks are extremely valuable, particularly to “payroll-floor” types of teams like Oakland and Cincy. Top picks are huge bargains in terms of performance per dollar, and are even more so now under the new CBA. The future performance surplus from those two picks now goes from Oakland to Cincinnati. The Bengals have a good defense and appear to have a young rookie QB who’s only going to improve. The future is bright in the Queen City.

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19 Responses to “Carson Palmer on the Back of an Envelope”

  1. bigmouth says:

    Palmer's Y/A+ (95), NY/A+(99), AY/A+(95), ANY/A+(97) confirm he was basically slightly below average last year, though his career numbers in all four categories are actually slightly above average.

  2. James says:

    I wonder how Palmer's performance recently was effected by his receivers. TO's been declining for years and is now out of the league, same for Laveranues Coles, Houshmanzedah suffered a similar fate, and Ochocinco can't get on the field in New England. See a trend? Either the Bengals coaching staff is terrible at talent evaluation or Palmer is what was keeping these guys employed.

    Meanwhile Dalton's succeeding with two brand new receivers - AJ Green, a top draft pick and seemingly a legit receiver, and Jerome Simpson, a 2009 2nd rounder who broke out immediately once he was forced by injuries into playing time in Week 16 and 17 last year. The only other noteworthy receiver is possession TE Gresham, he of the 9.0 yards/catch.

    I'm not sure what this means for Palmer going forward as the Raiders aren't exactly boasting receiving talent, but it could work out. What I really wish if we could replay this season over again with Palmer at QB for the Bengals and see what difference that would make.

  3. Jim Glass says:

    Palmer hurt his throwing arm in 2008 and refused to undergo Tommy John surgery to fix it. After that his numbers clearly dropped to below average: EPA/P .23, .13, .13 before, .04, .07 after; AYA 6.2, 5.8, 5.3 before, 4.2, 4.7 after.

    Being in NYC I don't see him play that often, and the first time I saw him play after that injury he just didn't look like the same guy of my memory, it was striking.

    Since Campbell will be back next year, they effectively are paying those picks to get this 32-year-old damaged QB to come back out of retirement cold to play half a season for them.

    Kyle Boller's not feeling appreciated today, eh? Are they planning to sell the team or is there some other business reason that makes it urgent to make the playoffs this year? Or is it simply that without Al they're just as loopy as they were with him?

  4. Brian Burke says:

    I think Al is to blame for this. Who was it that left the team with Boller as their backup to Campbell?

  5. James says:

    JaMarcus Russell.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I like that article from Brian b/c most "mainstream" media praised both teams for the deal, yet OAK is the clear loser in this. Well, Coach Jackson also thinks he can win with the run (i have read it here first :-), thanks Brian). So it´s no surprise.

    Jim Glass, indeed i am surprised that you compare Palmer´s stats before and after injury. You know that individual stats are not really working in football. We just see it (as predicted by us) in Indy. Painter puts up (almost) the same numbers as Manning after he got the much needed reps in practise. BTW, that they (IND) signed the always inaccurate Collins in front of his face was a bad panic move.

    Karl from Germany

  7. Tarr says:

    "We just see it (as predicted by us) in Indy. Painter puts up (almost) the same numbers as Manning"

    Whaaaaaaa?

    Indy was 8th in passing efficiency in last year's season-ending rankings. This season, with several good additions on the offensive line and a healthier receiving core, they are 27th.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Tarr

    Did i talk about Painter who knows the offense for some years now or about IND as a whole (including bad mechanics and thus "rollercoaster" performing Collins)? Please read before posting. Thanks :-)

    Karl, Germany.

  9. Tarr says:

    Karl, Painter's numbers don't remotely compare to Manning's, either, even if we don't adjust for the terrible pass defenses he's faced or the friendly passing environment of this year. Please tone down the condescension.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Tarr

    Didn´t want to, but the "Whaaa" needed some return :-)

    So back to the conversation: In the pre season article about Manning, it was discussed how much more wins is Manning worth over his back ups. AFIR, Jim Glass was on the same page as me, saying QB-Play/Stats are overrated. I ended up with a guess that Manning is around 1 more win worth over his back ups (i don´t believe, and am not convinced that any model could make true correct assumptions). By that time i didn´t knew they sign Collins (no reps, inaccurate, rusty). Now if i compare Painter (7.1 Y/PP)to Manning (6.6 Y/PP in 2010) it´s around the same, b/c of the 0.5 Y/PP improvement in the NFL as a whole. I know Painter´s a small sample size and Manning is 7.2 Y/PP in his career. So, again i can safely guess that Manning is the better QB (by around 1 more win per yr i´d guess), but not as much as 15 Mio. $ per year vs. minimum salary.

    I don´t go with ANY/A (or whatever new age Stats come and go, like QBR) b/c TD and Ints lack sample size or are polluded by high randomness.

    The only thing you can read out of QB-Stats are those who really choke (like Collins, Mirer, McNown etc.). Otherwise Y/PP and other QB-Stats shall be only read as Team-Stats. You need 11 players to be a good passing team, with the (good) Q´s having impact, but not as much as everybody thinks.

    Hope you understand all, b/c english isn´t my orignial language.

    Cheers, Karl from Germany.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Edit:
    "...good passing team, with the (good) Q´s having impact, but not..." should read

    ...good passing team, with the (good) QB´s having impact, but not...

    Karl, Germany

  12. Tarr says:

    Karl,

    Fair enough, one bit of condescension deserves another. ;)

    At least you acknowledge that Painter's Y/A has an unreasonably small sample size. I would further argue, as I said earlier, that this is also a function of playing against a couple of weak pass defenses in his first two starts and also a function of the Y/A inflation we've seen this season (whether you think it's due to the new rules cutting back on aggressive hits or something else).

    However, as I suspect you know if you looked up the stats on Y/A, that stat is pretty much the only measure where Painter compares well with Manning. Even if we look only at 2010 (Manning's worst season since 2002 at least, and arguably his worst since his rookie year), Manning had a higher completion percentage (by over 10 points), a higher success rate, a lower sack rate and interception rate, and a higher EPA/play.

    When you look at accumulated stats like EPA/game, it's not even close. And (unsurprisingly, given the respective records) they're not even comparable on the WPA stats. If you compare to Manning's career averages, it's even more lopsided.

    I think the reasonable conclusion when looking at the totality of the data is that a healthy Peyton Manning, playing under the new rules in 2011, would be significantly outperforming his 2010 numbers, drastically outperforming Painter's current numbers, and would have led the Colts to something like a 4-2 record. (The latter is a bit unfair to Painter, as the Colts have been pretty unlucky to be winless in the four games he's played, but there it is.)

  13. Tarr says:

    Ugh, it looks like the comment gremlin ate my post, so I'll try again.

    I suppose turnabout is fair play on the condescension; point to you there.

    At least you acknowledge that Painter's Y/A has far too low a sample size to be taken very seriously. I would further add that it's a function of the weak pass defenses he played in his first two starts, and the generally inflated pass environment of this year (whether that's due to the rules cutting back on aggressive defensive play or something else).

    Moreover, as I suspect you already know, Y/A is pretty much the only stat where Painter compares reasonably well to Manning. Manning put up a drastically higher completion percentage, a higher success rate, a higher EPA/play, and lower sack and interception percentages (indeed, Manning's ability to avoid sacks is one of his more underrated abilities).

    When we look at accumulated stats like EPA/game, then it's not even close. This is meaningful because it reflects how the team has become more run-oriented (and consequently, less efficient) in Manning's absence. And (unsurprisingly, given the records), Manning and Painter are not even comparable by WPA.

    All of this is true even if we are comparing to 2010, which was Manning's worst year since 2002 at least, and arguably since his rookie year (in part due to a series of injuries on the O-line and receiving core that haven't been duplicated this year). I think it's reasonable to argue that Manning would have progressed towards his career averages this year, and probably a bit above them given the pass-friendly environment.

    If that were the case, then Manning would be blowing all of Painter's numbers out of the water, and I think it would be reasonable to expect the Colts would be 4-2 or thereabouts.

  14. Tarr says:

    This doesn't seem to want to post; hopefully this won't be a triple post.

    I suppose turnabout is fair play on the condescension; point to you there.

    At least you acknowledge that Painter's Y/A has far too low a sample size to be taken very seriously. I would further add that it's a function of the weak pass defenses he played in his first two starts, and the generally inflated pass environment of this year (whether that's due to the rules cutting back on aggressive defensive play or something else).

    Moreover, as I suspect you already know, Y/A is pretty much the only stat where Painter compares reasonably well to Manning. Manning put up a drastically higher completion percentage, a higher success rate, a higher EPA/play, and lower sack and interception percentages (indeed, Manning's ability to avoid sacks is one of his more underrated abilities).

    When we look at accumulated stats like EPA/game, then it's not even close. This is meaningful because it reflects how the team has become more run-oriented (and consequently, less efficient) in Manning's absence. And (unsurprisingly, given the records), Manning and Painter are not even comparable by WPA.

    All of this is true even if we are comparing to 2010, which was Manning's worst year since 2002 at least, and arguably since his rookie year (in part due to a series of injuries on the O-line and receiving core that haven't been duplicated this year). I think it's reasonable to argue that Manning would have progressed towards his career averages this year, and probably a bit above them given the pass-friendly environment.

    If that were the case, then Manning would be blowing all of Painter's numbers out of the water, and I think it would be reasonable to expect the Colts would be 4-2 or thereabouts.

  15. Tarr says:

    As an addendum - I read your (and Jim Glass's) comments in the preseason piece on Manning. I think that, in general, you're right - the overall environment matters quite a lot. The cleanest recent example of this is Cassel producing 105 EPA (#6 in the league; worse than Brady but still very good) in the Pats offense in 2008, and immediately turning into a train wreck when moving on to KC in 2009. You could also argue that Rodgers' immediate success in Green bay in 2008, while Favre put up a mediocre performance with the Jets, reflects the strength of the Green Bay passing attack. The Steelers going 3-1 in 2010 with Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon is another nice example. You can come up with more, I'm sure.

    That said, my argument since 2003 or so has been that Manning is a bit of a special case. No quarterback is as responsible for the success of his passing attack as Manning is. This is a reflection of the enormous flexibility he has to call plays at the line, but also simply reflects that the Colts passing offense relies on some very specific things that Manning can do better than anyone else.

    As I said above, I think the Colts would be 4-2 with a healthy Manning at the helm. This is a bit of an unfair comparison to Painter/Collins, as the Colts have been pretty unlucky to go 0-6; their points scored/allowed is consistent with a team with 1.5 wins. Still, I think the utter collapse if the Colts, when compared the the non-collapse of other teams that have had to replace star QBs, demonstrates that Manning may be the exception that proves the rule.

  16. Jim Glass says:

    Jim Glass, indeed i am surprised that you compare Palmer´s stats before and after injury. You know that individual stats are not really working in football...

    Hi, Karl. I still completely agree that personal "QB stats" are far more team offense stats than most believe, and that in the popular mind the importance of the QB is greatly exaggerated. But that doesn't mean QBs don't matter, or a bad arm doesn't matter to a QB.

    I go with what Lombardi said 50 years ago, QB is a unique position in that it is a linchpin -- a bad QB (broken linchpin) who throws bad picks and makes bad calls can lose games all by himself, while a good one enables the other players on the offense so he becomes one of 11, and "his" numbers are set largely by them.

    E.g., Sanchez as a rookie was terrible, I saw him throw five horrible picks in one game, lost it all by himself (while they had more than 300 yards rushing!!) for a very good team.

    Brady is a very good QB, yet his career average ranking by AYA was only 10th, highest 8th (IIRC) through 2006 -- then Moss, Welker and Stalworth showed up and "his" numbers rocketed up to an historic #1 by a mile in 2007. Well, those 2007 numbers weren't his, he didn't suddenly get so much hugely better, they were "team offense numbers" courtesy of the new players. But Brady did his job by getting the ball to the others. If rookie Sanchez had been the QB on that team, I have no illusion that those team numbers would have been anything like the same.

    Logically what this points to is diminishing returns to increasing quality of QB. A very bad QB is visibly really bad by himself, people see that and are right about it. Improving the quality of the QB from "very bad" to "average" helps the team W-L more than improving it from "average" to "very good". And among the better QBs, their numbers are set largely by their teammates, so the ones on great teams end up in the HoF, those on middling-to-poor teams don't, and they all get a huge amount of credit (and blame), very much including in "their" statistics, that really belongs to their teammates. Competent but very mediocre QBs on great teams can become hailed as "MVP! All-Pro!" (say Earl Morrall, twice). But there still is a real difference from "bad" to "good".

    For an empirical slant: PFR.com's "approximate value" metric attributes 28% of passing offense to the QB. A lot of fans would laugh at that: "the QB is *only* 28% resposible for the passing??" But there are 10 other players on the offense at all times, they get 7% each on average so the QB is worth *four* of them.

    Push the back-of-the-envelope a little further: Say offense is 45% of football team performance (defense 40%, special teams 15%) and passing is 75% of offense. Then the QB's passing accounts for 9% or 10% of team results (maybe as much as the third- or fourth-best player on a basketall team). Well, 9% or 10% is a long, long, long, way from "The QB carries the team", "The QB wins the championship", and all the ridiculous personal W-L records we see now. (What would Brady's personal W-L record be if he'd been drafted by the Matt Millen Lions?)

    But OTOH, that 9% or 10% is probably worth three other starters on the team, making the QB the most important single player by far, so you want to have a good one. And a *bad* QB as a broken linchpin might have a negative value much larger than that.

    Anyhow, this is how I see it, IMHO, FWIW. Quantifying a QB's value in stats is not so easy.

    If the Raiders think Boller is *that* bad a broken linchpin ... they still are way overpaying for a half-season of Palmer. If they think he's that bad, why is he on the team at all?

  17. Anonymous says:

    @ Tarr and Jim Glass

    i had a very good (long) post to continue the discussion and then... i hit the wrong button. arrggg...

    Anyway, i mostly agree with your last post Tarr. But about Manning i have a little other opinion.

    Jim, i almost totally agree with your great post, but still think the guys at PFR (i was reading their article too) still overvalued the QB. Still the QB is the most important player on a football team. There´s no doubt about it between us three :-)

    I hope i find some time to come back to the story tomorrow if i recollect my lost post.

    Karl, Germany

  18. Jim Glass says:

    Early returns on the Palmer deal indicate the Raiders were right to think they needed another QB...

    Boller: 7 of 14, 61 yards, 0 tds, 3 picks.

    ... but might have paid a bit much for the one they got...

    Palmer: 8 of 21, 116 yards, 0 tds, 3 picks.

    Even combined, they couldn't match mighty Matt...

    Cassel: 15 of 30, 161 yards, 0 tds, 2 picks.

    If one goes by adjusted yards (+20 for a TD, -45 per pick) Boller was -74 yards on 14 attempts, Palmer -19 yards on 21 attempts, and Mighty Matt 71 yards on 30 attempts. Both sides combined: 7 yards on 65 attempts.

    Game of the Week!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Jim & Tarr

    ... and may praising of Painter and/or the unpraising (does that word exist in english?) of Manning really backfired ;-)

    7 points on offense before being replaced. Wow!! Not as excuse, but i think Painter isn´t that bad. Seems the moral of the whole team was down after 15 minutes of play. The rest was going trou the motions.

    What i can see is he´s got some fumble problems, something random indeed.

    As a whole i stand by my words. He isn´t Manning, but with enough reps and experience he isn´t that far off (not 15 Mio. $ per year). Where Manning is really good at, is avoiding the sack. That one i totally agree with Tarr.

    Karl, Germany

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