If Al Davis had made a trade like this four decades ago, getting a guy like Carson Palmer for two first-round draft choices, he would have been called a genius.
If he would have done it in the past decade? He would have been laughed at.
Less than two weeks after Davis died, his coach, Hue Jackson, now in complete control of the Raiders, made the trade Tuesday. He got Palmer, the QB he had wanted all year but couldn’t get Davis to bring in.
The need hadn’t been there. The desperation wasn’t there, as the Raiders finally were looking good again. Then quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. And Jackson, running wild while free of Davis, gave up way too much for an aging quarterback with a bum elbow.
Palmer had lost his desire after fading for three years, and chose to retire this season rather than play for Cincinnati again.
But the Bengals still held his rights. So they got something big for nothing. That’s the best deal Jackson could cut.
If Davis were still here, would he have made this trade?
Hell yes. He would have loved it, risking everything, selling off the future for now, now, now. In fact, in some ways, this trade comes off as a tribute to him.
And it’s funny seeing some analysts say stuff like that, because I think they mean it as an insult to Davis, Jackson and Palmer all in one. It’s as if they’re saying, “Yes, Davis would have made a crazy deal like that for a washed-up player. That’s why the Raiders have been such a joke for so long.’’
But they manage to say it lovingly somehow.
As Davis got older, he lost his way. He didn’t know how to do it anymore. He became too enamored with just getting the best athlete, no matter what else went with that. He didn’t care how the pieces fit together, and whether that talent came with brains or responsibility, or whether it showed up half an hour late to practice or with a mug shot.
Davis couldn’t understand the concept that some players today won’t do every last thing to win, that winning isn’t the only thing to them, or even the most important thing. He couldn’t even recognize it, couldn’t connect with it.
As someone who grew up watching the Cubs, let me just say this: God bless an owner with that mentality, even if it did burn him. Winning is a goal worth being reckless for.
The truth is, this trade isn’t about Davis, but instead, maybe a budding Davis. Jackson is taking the chance, and no one has more to gain than … Jackson.
He is in his first year as a head coach, and now, suddenly and amazingly, is loaded with power. The Raiders surely will hire a new GM next year, and a GM likes to have his career tied to his own coach.
That’s not to say that Jackson would have been in trouble if the team had started to lose — a likely case without a quarterback. But he sure would have been weakened.
And with an entire franchise in flux, when else could Jackson get a shot like this? He spent years working his way up from the bottom, and suddenly finds himself making giant career leaps.
The Raiders are 4-2 and haven’t had that good of a start since 2002.
They haven’t had a winning season since then, either.
You don’t make this trade if you’re 2-4 and in a tough division. The Raiders have an easy schedule and only one team to beat: San Diego.
It sounds much more sensible for Jackson to have started to build an organization. Davis’ recklessness and bad decisions would now stop. Jackson could start from scratch knowing that he would have at least some job security.
Hah! Build with what? Davis already traded off this coming season’s second-, third- and fourth-round picks. Jackson is taking a huge chance here because if Palmer is washed up, and the Raiders fall apart with him — and also don’t have their high draft picks — then the franchise becomes an even bigger mess.
The hope is that Palmer has enough left to get this team to the playoffs, where those lost first-round picks won’t be that high, anyway.
And the truth is, no matter what Palmer has left, he makes the Raiders playoff contenders. Without him, they are not.
Make the big deal, reach the playoffs, win now, baby, and where does that leave Jackson? He has a crack of big-time opportunity here, and has decided to swing for the fences.
Davis would respect that. If it works.
He would have liked the criticism about the trade, too. Of course, over the past decade, Davis’ moves really were absurd. A kicker in the first round of the draft?
Well, Davis would have liked Palmer for his big arm, and for his experience. The Raiders can run the ball already, and now will be able to throw down field accurately, too. Not many teams have that combination.
The Raiders haven’t won in a long time, and have gone through an incredible run of quarterbacks ranging from mediocre to disastrous. They have had a similar run of coaches.
Palmer will turn 32 in December. Jim Plunkett was 33 when he took over the Raiders for 11 games and led them to the Super Bowl title.