Rarely is there a late-season, baseball-like trade in the NFL. You know, where a good team is desperate for a player to complete its lineup.
But it happened this past week, after the Raiders lost quarterback Jason Campbell to a broken clavicle. Suddenly, they were in the market for a proven QB — Carson Palmer, the 31-year-old who retired on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bengals owner Mike Brown, who was smart enough not to send the five-day, did-not-report letter to Palmer, was prepared to sit on Palmer, who owed him three contract seasons, unless he received a trade offer he couldn’t refuse.
Raiders coach Hue Jackson, who coached Palmer at USC and later was a receivers coach with the Bengals, was the driving force behind this deal, one made basically nine days after the passing of Raiders owner Al Davis.
We’ll never know if Davis would have surrendered such a steep price — basically a No. 1 and No. 2 draft choice — for Palmer. A couple of NFL people who knew Davis well agreed with me that he probably would have tried to talk Brett Favre out of retirement first, giving him a one-year deal to finish this season. Jackson may not have liked that strategy, but Davis would have told his coach he would have controlled Favre.
It’s all hypothetical now, as team president Amy Trask and Mark Davis, Al’s son, assisted Jackson in his acquisition of Palmer, who won’t start today against the Chiefs but could see action nonetheless. We all know how little faith the Raiders coaching staff has in starter Kyle Boller.
Another way of looking at the Palmer deal is simple, too.
And most teams would never do it.
The Bengals basically traded away Palmer for a No. 1, No. 2 and Dalton … had they had Palmer, and knew he was coming back, they never would have drafted Dalton. But Brown decided to draft Dalton and start him immediately and get on with his team’s future instead of waiting for Palmer to change his mind about playing in Cincinnati.
Who knows how this season will end for Dalton and the Bengals, but they are 4-2 — and if the TCU kid keeps winning, he would be an early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Cam Newton may have superior stats, but Dalton has the better won-lost record.
The Raiders believe they had no choice but to pay Brown’s asking price. They also are 4-2, and with a great running game in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Also, Darrius Heyward-Bey is starting to show his first-round talents as a receiver.
If Palmer can recapture his golden touch, the Raiders, who swept the AFC West last season, have a great shot at winning the division. And if that happens and they actually win a divisional playoff game, that No. 2 in 2013 becomes a No. 1 pick.
The Raiders have five division games left, starting with the Chiefs on Sunday. And they also have beatable teams such as Minnesota and Miami on their schedule. They do have tough games with Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago, although the Lions and Bears both come to the west coast.
And if Palmer doesn’t fulfill his promise, the Raiders reworked his contract into basically $15 million for two seasons. In real dollars, it’s $2.5 million for these 10 games and $12.5 million for 2012. If he doesn’t pan out, the Raiders can cut him loose without another payday. But if they keep him and he’s a star again, Palmer will be in line for huge money in 2013 and 2014.
Speaking of the draft-choice compensation in the Palmer deal, fans should understand that the new collective-bargaining agreement was geared toward a rookie wage scale, one that reduced the pay to first-round players while also making it difficult to revisit their contracts. For example, Dalton could end up being a playoff quarterback in the next couple of seasons, but the Bengals can’t redo his contract until 2014.
In the new deal, draft choices are more valuable than ever because the rookie salary scale is set, and it means no more holding out and no chance for the agent to leverage his client’s contract, with varied incentives, to increase the financial ante.
The other thing the Raiders now must deal with is finding a general manager, a top personnel man to assist Jackson and the front office next year.
Most know that Jackson’s personal preference for this position is Baltimore’s director of player personnel Eric DeCosta. Others, though, who should be on any team’s short list are: Ron Hill, the NFL’s VP of football operations, who was a scout and personnel director for 26 seasons; Russ Ball, the Packers’ VP of football administration; Buffalo’s assistant GM, Doug Whaley; Les Snead, Atlanta’s director of player personnel, and Will Lewis, Seattle’s director of player personnel.
NFL ON FOX GAMES
St. Louis at Dallas, 4:15 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: No NFL quarterback has been sacked more than Sam Bradford this season, and his high ankle sprain will keep him sidelined against the Cowboys. It’s a smart move, considering how good Dallas is at rushing the quarterback.
A.J. Feeley will start, and the Rams activated Tom Brandstater from the practice squad to serve as the backup quarterback. The Rams are hoping that WR Brandon Lloyd, who was acquired in a trade with the Broncos, will stabilize a young receiving corps that has three rookies (Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and tight end Lance Kendricks) and two second-year players (Danario Alexander and tight end Mike Hoomanawanui).
Rams offensive tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith must slow down the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Ware has seven of the Cowboys’ 16 sacks.
Both of these teams are struggling on offense, and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has been criticized for being too conservative with his red-zone play calling. The Cowboys have scored only six touchdowns on 18 trips inside the 20. Their 33.3 percent touchdown percentage ranks second-to-last in the league. Only the Rams are worse, with three touchdowns in 12 trips.
The Cowboys will start rookie RB DeMarco Murray with Felix Jones out with a sprained ankle. Look for Cowboys QB Tony Romo to attack Rams CB Justin King, who has been beaten for six TDs this season. Cowboys rookie RT Tyron Smith, who had two penalties and a sack allowed last Sunday, must contain Chris Long, who has a sack in five of his last eight games.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo took his team to a few innings of Saturday night’s World Series game in Arlington between the Cardinals and Rangers. Since the opening of Jerry’s World, the new Cowboys Stadium, Dallas has a 10-9 record at home during the regular season.
Kevin Ogletree will likely be the primary punt returner now that Dwayne Harris has been cut. Ogletree lost his job as the third receiver, but Garrett still plans to use Dez Bryant and Terence Newman as returners, too. It depends on the situation.
Here’s the rundown on Garrett’s conservatism. On 20 plays inside the New England 25-yard line last week, only one of Romo’s 13 passes went into the end zone. In the Detroit loss, Romo threw nine passes in 13 plays in similar conditions, but four went into the end zone, three for touchdowns. Dallas had nine plays inside the New England 10-yard line last week, and of Romo’s seven passes, none was thrown into the end zone. His touchdown to Jason Witten was thrown a yard behind the line of scrimmage. So, 33 of Romo’s 39 pass attempts were thrown for 10 yards or less. It sure sounds like Garrett was making sure Romo didn’t take any unnecessary chances and lose the game with an interception.
Green Bay at Minnesota, 4:15 ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Packers have a great opportunity to stretch their consecutive wins to 13, including playoffs, which would be the longest in the franchise’s 93-year history.
After having only six dropped passes in the first four games, the Packers have had 10 in the last two games, and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin in unhappy about it.
But the story of this game is rookie QB Christian Ponder’s first start for the Vikings. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers figures to bring extra pressure off the edge because Ponder moves so well in the pocket. But that strategy didn’t work so well against Carolina’s Cam Newton in Week 2 this season. The overall No. 1 pick shredded Green Bay’s pass defense for 432 yards. Minnesota’s pass rush generally is better indoors, and LT Marshall Newhouse figures to have his hands full with Jared Allen, who leads the NFL with 9 1/2 sacks. Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson has rushed for 807 yards in his eight career games against the Packers.
CZAR’S SCOOP: The Vikings will be minus talented CB Chris Cook, who was arrested Saturday on a domestic-assault charge. The misdemeanor carries a no-bail charge, meaning that Cook won’t be free until after his hearing on Monday. This is Cook’s second arrest in the last nine months. Cook earlier was acquitted on a gun charge.
Since losing to the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, the Vikings are 7-15 and Leslie Frazier is 4-8. Frazier replaced Brad Childress last November after the Packers whipped the Vikings 31-3 at the Metrodome. Mike McCarthy owns a 7-3 record against Minnesota, including 3-2 at the Metrodome. In the same stadium, Mike Holmgren was 1-6.
The Packers lead the NFL with 197 points scored, or 32.83 points per game. Both Allen and All-Pro Kevin Williams took exception to Frazier saying that both his offensive and defensive lines were dominated by the Bears last Sunday night. Williams would like to hear Frazier single out players rather than dumping on the entire unit.
OTHER SUNDAY GAMES
Pittsburgh at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.: It’s still a work in progress for the Cardinals to start looking like the Steelers on defense. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was the Steelers’ secondary coach last season, and he still isn’t dialing up the right combinations.
The Steelers won’t get any easier to beat as they use their seventh different offensive-line combination. Rashard Mendenhall ran well last week, while the Cardinals’ big chance is for Beanie Wells to control the clock. It could happen with three Pittsburgh defenders out: Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and OLB James Harrison. Smith went on IR on Saturday for the third consecutive year and, at 35, his career is in jeopardy. The Cardinals are still waiting for QB Kevin Kolb to catch fire.
Kansas City at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.: The Chiefs catch a break with QB Kyle Boller starting, and there’s a chance that Carson Palmer will be inactive. Still, the Chiefs must focus on stopping Darren McFadden, who leads all NFL rushers with 610 yards after six games. League rushing is currently at an all-time low (41.5 percent of all plays) and doesn’t it figure that Oakland is going against the trend? McFadden had a breakout game against Kansas City in 2008, rushing for 164 yards on 21 carries. The Raiders have won eight straight AFC West games dating to last year. There is a good chance that Terrelle Pryor could play in some specific wildcat offensive style packages. Knowing Oakland coach Hue Jackson, there could be some trickery from the Raiders, who have a bye next week to get Palmer ready for the final nine games.
Indianapolis at New Orleans, 8:20 p.m.: It will be strange not to see Saints head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines Sunday night. After left leg/knee surgery on Monday, Payton will be forced to coach from the upstairs coaching box, with Pete Carmichael relaying his play calls to QB Drew Brees, who really struggled in the second half against the Bucs. It makes sense for the Saints to try to run at the undersized Colts defensive line and try to control the clock. Colts QB Curtis Painter has a strong arm, but the one Saints’ defender he should stay away from is CB Jabari Greer, who has 10 passes defensed this season. The Saints released former Bears center Olin Kreutz, who left the team on Thursday.