PHOENIX – Carson Palmer, lugging his 33 years of mileage and holding firm to his hefty $13 million base salary, remains very much a part of the cap-strapped Oakland Raiders roster, sticking around while other costly veterans have been shown the door this offseason.
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For now, Palmer is defying NFL logic and the franchise’s ongoing payroll correction by remaining part of the Raiders’ 2013 plans. In fact, he is so much so, coach Dennis Allen insisted Tuesday the Raiders starting quarterback job is still the incumbent’s to lose.
That’s up to you to believe, but Allen sounds like he means it.
“Carson’s going into this offseason program as our starting quarterback,” Allen said during Day 2 of the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, killing -- at least for today -- the hopes of quarterback-hungry teams such as the Cardinals, that may be lying in wait for the Raiders to address Palmer’s current $6 million cap hit for 2013 by simply cutting him.
For now, the team is balancing the books with Palmer still on board by whacking bad contracts and being selective with under-the-radar free agent signings, bulking up a defense that is expected to return as few as three starters by luring high-value hard workers such as linebackers Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiva and Kevin Burnett.
And more savings are to come: The NFL Network reported Tuesday Rolando McClain’s agent has been given permission to work out a trade to get the troubled linebacker out of Oakland, rather than dump him via an outright release.
[GUTIERREZ: No, McClain is not part of Raiders' plans]
This retooling is in keeping with the Raiders’ long-term plan to be more like the 49ers, Patriots, Falcons and Ravens, teams that build and maintain through the draft while avoiding big-money Band-Aid additions that have put the franchise in its current salary cap Hades. Allen embraces the long-view philosophy because he saw it work during his time with the Saints.
“I’m in this thing for the long haul. I’m not in it for the microwave, quick-fix, one-year wonder,” Allen said bluntly.
But however long Palmer remains in Silver and Black, he’s got to fight to keep his job. Which brings us to the inevitable Terrelle Pryor question, which has come up repeatedly during this annual gathering of NFL owners, general managers, coaches and franchise number crunchers.
“We’ve gone on record and said we want to have competition,” Allen said when asked for the fifth time in 45 minutes whether the mobile Pyror is genuinely in the mix to be the No. 1. “We want to have competition at every position on our football team.”
Skepticism remains which quarterback will truly be included among those positions. Palmer started 15 games last season before being sidelined with a rib injury; the Raiders went 4-11 with him as the starter and three of those wins came against teams that finished with league-worst records (the 2-14 Chiefs and Jaguars).
And Palmer’s body of work in Oakland remains a mixed bag. He appeared in 10 games in 2011, passing for 2,753 yards, 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The performance and output arced positively last season when Palmer churned out 4,018 passing yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, the third-best yardage total of his nine-year NFL career.
While the rest of the NFL wonders how long the Raiders will park on Palmer’s $13 million base, there’s no doubt Pryor, who is entering his second NFL season and turns 24 in June, is a player who’s not only ready to challenge Palmer for his job, but to outright win it.
He boldly told Pro Football Talk he’s ready to “win over my coaches, win over my teammates and everybody in the facility and let them know that I wanna be a leader, a great leader and I’m there for the long haul and I wanna win just as bad as everybody else and that’s what I want to prove to everybody before I really get into talks of starting and stuff like that.”
Well, that’s exactly what Allen wants Pryor to say. The coach said Pryor “did some nice things” in his Week 17 start when Palmer was out with an injury. “But nothing has changed with our quarterback situation.”
Colin Kaepernick’s success with the 49ers has invited debate about the potential Pryor has to replicate that sort of read-option jumpstart for a Raiders offense that is still hoping Darren McFadden can stay healthy for a dozen games. Pryor has spoken up this offseason about his Michael Vick-style speed and ability to extend plays.
The Raiders like his progress, but they also want to see it every day in the building this offseason. Will Pryor comport himself like the leader he wants us to see?
“Terrelle has got to be able to show us something throughout the offseason program, and the more he shows us he’s capable of doing the things that he's going to need to do to be a starting quarterback in this league, the more opportunities that he’ll get,” said Allen, who wants Pryor to refine his timing, decision making and accuracy. "Everything we do in the NFL is being evaluated every day and especially at that position.
"I don't think there is any question that (Pryor) is committed to trying to do the things necessary to win. He is absolutely one of the hardest-working guys in our building."
That’s good news for the Raiders, who know they can’t move forward without carefully constructing that type of plug-away team during this important offseason, one vital piece at a time.