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.
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.