Back in the 1980s, the NFL's faux free agency rules mandated that raiding a veteran from another team's roster would cost a pair of first-round draft picks. Though some of the league's best players theoretically were there for the taking, signings were as rare as rock songs without synthesizer because the price was considered so prohibitive.
As one general manager put it at the time, "I wouldn't trade two No. 1s for God." Such was the blatant overvaluing of first-round draft selections that, if anything, has become even more pronounced in today's NFL.
And yet: On Tuesday, the Raiders traded either a pair of No. 1s (on the condition they make the AFC title game in either of the next two seasons) or a 1 and a 2 for Carson Palmer(notes), a human being who has looked anything but supreme in recent years.
[ Related: Mike Brown handles Carson Palmer situation perfectly ]
If this were your fantasy league, the commissioner might have voided the trade because the compensation was so out of whack.
This, however, is reality – and the post-Al Davis Raiders are really, really committed to excellence, with a premium on immediacy.
With rookie coach Hue Jackson apparently calling the shots, the Raiders are very much in the moment, of the moment. And when starting quarterback Jason Campbell(notes) broke his collarbone in Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Browns, their reality changed in dramatic fashion.
[ Related: Hue Jackson taking control in Oakland ]
Jackson reacted aggressively. He wanted Palmer, a player he'd previously coached at USC and interacted with in Cincinnati as part of Marvin Lewis' staff. Though the quarterback turns 32 in December and is coming off a highly disappointing season, Jackson wasn't dissuaded. He didn't get scared off by the ligament and tendon tears in Palmer's throwing arm that prematurely ended his 2008 season and, some speculate, may have carried over to his struggles throughout 2010.
To his credit, Jackson didn't get scared off by the Bengals' repeated assertion that they wouldn't trade Palmer – who'd essentially disowned the team after last season – because Brown wouldn't do so as a matter of principle. Jackson had a relationship with Brown from his time in Cincinnati and correctly surmised that, for the Bengals' owner (and so many others), everything has a price.
The visceral reaction of many analysts was that this was a move Davis would have loved. Because Davis had a penchant for bold, against-the-grain decisions – and given that Palmer is a strong-armed, former No. 1 overall selection looking to resurrect his career – I can understand that perception.
However, I actually believe the opposite: Davis, who died earlier this month, likely wouldn't have signed off on such a trade. The man was a pragmatist, and he didn't relish the notion of the football world believing he'd been fleeced in any deal. "Just win, baby" extended to trade terms, and on paper, this was a big victory for Brown.
|2001||28||* Derrick Gibson||DB||6|
|1999||18||* Matt Stinchcomb||G||4|
Jackson is different. For better or worse, the man just doesn't give a damn. His team is 4-2 and very much in contention for a division title and beyond, and suddenly it was all in danger of slipping away. Kyle Boller(notes), Campbell's backup, wasn't a viable option. He wanted Palmer, and he did what it took to get him.
I wrote back in August that Jackson had a lot of bravado, and some big plans for the 2011 Raiders. It was obvious then that he wasn't especially patient. "It's time to take the next step," he said. "The time is now. People say we're two players away, three players away – no, I'm preaching now."
With Davis no longer there to make the big decisions, and with no general manager in place, Jackson is filling the power vacuum and putting that philosophy into practice. He doesn't care if it seems crazy. It makes perfect sense to him, and he's betting on himself.
Personally, I have my doubts, but I'm also a huge Palmer fan and can see how he might flourish in Oakland. The emergence of Darren McFadden as an elite halfback should give Palmer a chance to feast on play-action passes, and speedy young receivers Denarius Moore(notes), Jacoby Ford(notes) and, yes, Darrius Heyward-Bey should provide separation and after-the-catch explosiveness.
[ AccuScore: Carson Palmer vs. Raiders' other QBs ]
Best of all, Jackson is a terrific play-caller who'll likely put Palmer in position to maximize his abilities. This could be a great marriage, even a Super one.
As for the draft choices, yes, the Raiders will surely miss them. Given that Oakland is now without its picks in the first four rounds of the 2012 draft, having spent three of them on quarterbacks (Palmer, Campbell and rookie Terrelle Pryor(notes)), its war room next April may be more boring than C-SPAN.
Jackson, however, is not a draftnik. He gets what so many fans don't – that while it's important and exciting to acquire young players who'll replenish and invigorate your roster, these selections are by no means an exact science. Ultimately, jobs will be decided and respect will be earned on the football field, not in some pouffy-haired analyst's imagination.
Besides, Davis left the Raiders with a ton of talented players, and Jackson is supremely confident in his ability to coach any of the men at his disposal.
Remember, if the draft were as unassailable and pivotal as commonly portrayed, the Raiders wouldn't have been so quarterback-needy in the first place. Taking JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007 was supposed to solidify the quarterback position for a decade or more, and it all washed away in a sea of purple drank.
Going back even further, remember when Davis traded Jon Gruden to the Buccaneers following the 2001 season? Upon parting with his coach, Davis was lauded for getting such a bounty, which included two first-round picks and a pair of second-round selections.
What happened to those specific picks is complicated, because of subsequent trades made by the Raiders, but this is basically what they netted: Cornerback Phillip Buchanon (later dealt for linebacker Kirk Morrison(notes)), offensive lineman Langston Walker(notes), defensive end Tyler Brayton, cornerback Fabian Washington and some guys you've never heard of.
The rest of the trade's impact, however, is quite familiar: Oakland made the Super Bowl the following year under Bill Callahan, only to get annihilated by Gruden's Bucs, who seemed to know the Raiders' game plan better than they did. An unprecedented run of futility (seven consecutive seasons with 11 or more losses) followed, as well as a streak of non-winning seasons that Jackson finally seems poised to end.
On Sunday night, he decided that his best chance of doing that involved acquiring Palmer, and he set out to make it happen, draft choices be damned.
"I'm here to win," Jackson said Tuesday night via text message. "Nothing less and nothing more."
One way or the other, his quest to do so will be fascinating to watch. And speaking of compelling theater, here's our weekly, query-tinged trip through the NFL's version of an inverted pyramid, with a mind-blowing Bay Area combo near the top.
5. Oakland Raiders: When Campbell said on Monday that he could be back from his broken collarbone in six weeks "if everything goes right," should he have added, "Or I'll be back never if everything goes wrong – for example, the Raiders trading two first-round picks for my replacement"?
6. Detroit Lions: If the Lions and 49ers hook up in a playoff rematch, can I get a ringside seat?
7. New Orleans Saints: When Sean Payton described Jimmy Graham(notes) as an "impact player" to me at training camp in Oxnard, Calif., this summer, is it safe to assume Sunday's collision wasn't what he had in mind?
9. Buffalo Bills: Yo, Ralph Wilson – now that C.J. Spiller(notes) is so unimportant as a running back that he's lining up at wide receiver, should your draft-day gloating from 2010 be repackaged as parody?
26. Denver Broncos: Now that Brandon Lloyd(notes) is gone, will former first-round draft pick Demaryius Thomas(notes) finally start playing to his potential – and, if given a choice, would the Broncos rather have Raiders rookie (and fifth-round pick) Denarius Moore?
32. St. Louis Rams: While congratulating themselves on the Brandon Lloyd trade, did the folks in the Rams' front office question the fact that they waited 18 months after drafting Sam Bradford(notes) to acquire an elite receiver?
- Hue Jackson