Analyzing the Carson Palmer Trade

By Alex Koenig

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard that the Oakland Raiders traded their two first-round picks in the upcoming drafts (2013 is conditional, and will turn into a second round pick if they don’t make the playoffs) to the Bengals for 31 year-old injury-ridden quarterback Carson Palmer.

Carson Palmer is a Raider, but at what cost? photocredit: wikimedia

The move raised some eyebrows around the league and in the media, and with good reason, as it exhibited both the Raiders commitment to win now (sorta) and their disregard for the future. But just how bad of a trade was it? Analysis after the jump.

The Bengals, unequivocally, won this trade. They essentially got rid of a nuisance who had already declared he had played his last down for them, and got two first round picks for it. It’s not surprising that the city of Cincinnati is pretty excited right now, as many lauded it as “the best move in Mike Brown’s tenure as owner,” though that isn’t necessarily saying much, it’s something.

The counter-argument to the “the Bengals swindled the Raiders” camp is one that both assume Palmer will lead the Raiders to the playoffs and that downplays the importance of first round picks. Though the former will remain to be seen, the latter is simply untrue. Despite famous busts, like Jamarcus Russel and Ryan Leaf, and surprising success stories, like Tom Brady, by and large players picked in the first round are selected there for a reason: because they are better.

Looking at data from the 1980 to 2005 drafts (2006-2011 are excluded because many of the players drafted are still active, and therefore have not finished their careers) we can see the relative success of players based upon which round they were selected in:

Note: All numbers are averages. Career AV is a measure of career success developed by pro-football-reference.com

Round

# of All Pro Teams

# of Pro Bowls

Years as Starter

Career AV

1st

0.346

1.146

4.967

38.985

2nd

0.112

0.500

3.271

25.947

3rd

0.053

0.256

2.047

17.069

4th-7th

0.020

0.102

0.958

9.746

The numbers show that clearly there is something to be said for being drafted in the first round as there is a clear drop off there on out – Not to alarm Raider Nation, but Oakland’s first pick in this upcoming draft comes in the fifth round.

Fine, so the Bengals made out pretty well in this deal, an extra first round pick in, potentially, the next two drafts doubles their already substantial chances at acquiring a player who will have a long, meaningful career for them. But Raiders’ apologists still cite the failure of the organization to capitalize on first round picks in the recent past, as a reason why two first-rounders isn’t a huge loss for Oakland.

Though there have been some impressive busts in recent Raiders first round history, notably the aforementioned Russell, the picture isn’t as bleak as we may think.

Jamarcus Russell was a bust, but it’s not been all-bad for the Raiders in the first round. photocredit: wikimedia

Yes, since the 2005 draft, the Raiders have only selected one Pro-Bowler in the draft: Tight End Zach Miller, a second rounder who is now catching passes for the Seattle Seahawks. That being said, four of their six first rounder’s – RB Darren McFadden, FS Michael Huff, MLB Rolando McClain, and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey – in that time span opened this season as starters – the two exceptions being CB Fabian Washington and, once again, Jamarcus Russell. Say what you will about the quality of the play, but those six players started a 206 of a possible 372 games for them. That’s not amazing, but it’s still significantly more than the 10 games Palmer may end up starting for them.

This is where the trade becomes even more confusing: what do the Raiders see as the expected value of Carson Palmer? I understand that Kyle Boller is bad (really bad) but the Raiders are 4-2 and are mortgaging their future on a past-his-prime quarterback. Unless he turns his career around and returns to 2005-form, Palmer is not going to win the Raiders a Superbowl this year (even if he does, it’s unlikely), and shouldn’t that be the goal when you make a trade like this?

The Raiders are a relatively talented, young team, but they need help in their secondary (they are 28th against the pass). While I’m not saying the next Asomugha or Revis is going to be available in this draft or the next, I think it’s fair to say their chances of finding him have dropped considerably with this move. Maybe Palmer will lead Oakland to the playoffs, and maybe they’ll pull off a Seahawks-like upset or two. But they are essentially forfeiting the 2012 draft and the potential long-term repercussions of that mitigate whatever short term benefits a playoff berth may bring. Congratulations Cincinnati, for the first time in what seems like forever; your front office is the envy of the NFL.

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