Patience pays off for Mike Brown

Mike Brown has owned the Cincinnati Bengals for 20 years. And in that span, his team has failed to win a single playoff game. Based on that sad-but-true history, there’s a chance that an injury suffered Sunday by a quarterback 2,400 miles across the country was the best thing to happen to Brown in his two-decade run as the team’s owner, president and general manager.

Because the moment Jason Campbell went down with what’s likely to be a season-ending shoulder injury, the Oakland Raiders became desperate for a quarterback. It just so happens that Raiders owner and general manager Al Davis passed away about a week prior, leaving Oakland without an experienced figure in charge of personnel.

Hue Jackson might be a great coach, but Davis’ death suddenly moved Jackson into a de facto GM role for the first time in his career. There’s no indication that the 45-year-old was prepared to take on those responsibilities.

An in-over-his-head “general manager” + panic as a result of a fallen quarterback = remarkably lopsided trade.

Now, Brown is laughing. He just added one, maybe two first-round picks (worst case: a first-rounder and a second-rounder), giving up nothing in the process. He was criticized harshly for refusing to deal the disgruntled and temporarily “retired” Palmer in the offseason, but his patience has been rewarded.

Brown gambled that, eventually, someone would become desperate enough to sell the farm for Palmer, who is a lot more enticing than, say, Jake Delhomme or an injured David Garrard. He was rolling the dice that a contender would lose a starting quarterback. Not only did that happen, but it happened in the perfect place at the perfect time.

The stars aligned for Brown and the Bengals, because I just can’t see Davis making this trade. As much as he liked living on the edge, Davis valued his first-round draft picks and probably wouldn’t have surrendered two for a pivot that some would argue is washed up at 31.

Now, Palmer is reportedly in “excellent physical condition,” but wasn’t that also the case in 2010, when Palmer’s passer rating was below 80 and his completion percentage below 60 before he sort of salvaged a poor season with two good games in Weeks 16 and 17? Knee and elbow injuries derailed Palmer’s career quite some time ago. He hasn’t been to a Pro Bowl since 2006. He hasn’t averaged seven yards per attempt since ’07.

For the last four years, Palmer has been an average-at-best starting quarterback. In other words, he’s been Jason Campbell. Is that better than Kyle Boller or Jake Delhomme or Trent Edwards? Sure. Is it worth two first-round picks for a franchise that is already without four picks in next year’s draft and considers itself a run-first team as is? Absolutely not.

This is a team that needs a caretaker under center. If they make the playoffs, it’ll be because Darren McFadden gets them there, not the quarterback. They’ve leveraged the future in order to win now, but as Sean Tomlinson pointed out earlier, they still have a shaky defense, they still don’t have Nnamdi Asomugha and they still aren’t as good as the San Diego Chargers.

So there’s a very good chance that this doesn’t pay off. But there’s a small chance it does. I’ll admit that I admire Jackson’s courage. He’s staking his job to this risky move, because he believes in Palmer from the days in which the two worked together in Cincinnati. Maybe a rejuvenated and well-rested Palmer becomes a star again and the Raiders become a legit Super Bowl contender. They’re taking a chance in Oakland, and I understand that.

But for Palmer to be worth the price (he’s also costing them over $7 million this year, which gives them no cap space), the Raiders will have to win several¬†playoff games. That’s what two first-round picks should get you. Palmer’s yet to win a playoff game in his career, and I wouldn’t bet on that changing with a mediocre defense in Oakland.

This was a deal so sweet that even Mike Brown couldn’t turn it down, which is never a good sign for the other team in a trade with Cincinnati. Unless Palmer and the Raiders knock the Bengals out of the 2011 playoffs, there’s no way this wasn’t a complete victory for Brown.

But in sports trades, there is such a thing as a win-win deal. And while it’s very improbable, it’ll be fun to see if Jackson can get out of Palmer what Brown was never able to: a win in January.

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