The Oakland Raiders traded a first and a second round draft pick to get Carson Palmer in the middle of the 2011 season. That kind of price tag is only paid in order to land a franchise player. The problem is, Palmer has not been a franchise caliber quarterback in years. And in the interim, he has suffered injuries and sat out half of a season in a dispute with the owners of the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the prime of his career from 2005 till 2007, Carson Palmer was one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL. Over those three years, Palmer threw for over 12,000 yards and 86 touchdowns. His average quarterback rating over those years was 93.8 and he went to the pro bowl twice and was the AFC Player of the Year once. After getting injured in 2008 and missing most of the season, Palmer has just not been the same quarterback.
But, while Palmer has not had any great seasons since 2007, he also has not had any terrible seasons. Besides the 2008 season when Palmer only played four games due to a torn ligament in his elbow, Palmer has not had a passer rating that dipped below 80.0 (including last season with the Raiders), has not thrown fewer than 2,500 yards and only threw more interceptions than touchdowns once and that was last season. There may be question about whether Palmer can return to his once great form, but he is still a solid quarterback.
In addition, you have to consider the situation in Cincinnati. Dealing with an ownership that is notoriously dysfunctional while throwing to two of the biggest divas in NFL history in Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens could not have been easy. While there may be concern over the fact that Palmer packed it in with the Bengals and questions over how much he actually wants to play, if he can play like he did in the mid 2000's when he is happy, those concerns will fly out of the window. That of course, is assuming he will be happy in Oakland.
No one can be sure how Palmer will play next season. Last season is hard to analyze since Palmer was thrown into a volatile situation and asked to be a savior. But one negative really stands out, 16 interceptions in 9 starts. While that is worrisome, 3 of those picks came in the Kansas City Chiefs game where he didn't even know the playbook. He was also asked to throw the ball a ton, logging 328 attempts in his short time with Oakland.
Despite the situation he was placed in and the massive number of interceptions, Palmer also threw up some promising numbers. He threw for 2,753 yards and 13 touchdowns. He completed over 60% of his passes and had an average completion distance of 8.4 yards, the highest average in his career. That high average is likely due to the players that surround Palmer in Oakland.
The three best receivers that Palmer has had in his career before getting to Oakland were Ochocinco, Owens and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. All three receivers had great careers and were quality receivers. However, Owens came later in his career when his skills were in decline and only Ochocinco was a fit for Palmer's best attribute, his deep ball. T.J. and Owens are more possession style receivers who do not stretch the field. As Palmer showed last season when hooking up with the Raiders speedsters, he can throw the deep ball and do it well.
The Raiders are stacked with speedy receivers who can take advantage of Palmer's arm. Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey can all stretch the field vertically and outrun a lot of the secondaries in the NFL. In addition to their speedy wide outs, the Raiders create mismatch hell for opposing coordinators with fullback Marcel Reece and tight end David Ausberry. Both of those guys have logged 40 yard dash times in the 4.4 range and cannot be covered by many linebackers.
Palmer has always thrown more interceptions than one would like. The magic number most quarterbacks see as being the mark for interceptions is 10. If a quarterback can throw single digit interceptions, they have had a very good season. Palmer has never thrown fewer than 10 interceptions, but he has come close three times, throwing 12 interceptions in 2005 and 13 interceptions in 2006 and 2009. It would a wise bet to say that Palmer will throw his fare share of interceptions this season.
Considering all of the background, the question remains, what should the Raider Nation expect from Carson Palmer in 2012? It would be reasonable to expect Palmer to throw for a ton of yards and finish the season somewhere in the 3,500 range. He will probably put up a touchdown number in the mid to high 20s and an interception number in the high teens. His average yards per pass will likely be one of the highest in his career but will have only an above average quarterback rating due to the high number of picks he will throw.
Palmer obviously has a ton of potential to both exceed and fall short of these expectations, but the reasonable bet is that Palmer has a good, but not great season. He will not return to elite form, but he will play better than he has the past few years and will be a top 15 quarterback in the NFL.