“As far as being close to a playoff team, it’s more than that. We’re close to a championship team. There’s a lot of work that needs to be put in and a lot of hurdles that we need to get over, but we need to be heading into this season thinking more than just playoffs.” — Carson Palmer to the Contra Costa Times.

This isn’t going to be me lambasting Carson Palmer for that headline-inducing comment. Why else would Palmer have come out of semi-retirement to quarterback the Raiders if he didn’t believe that they’re “close” to a championship team? And what exactly does “close” mean? He didn’t make any bold predictions — he simply implied that this Oakland team should have a championship mentality.

Fair enough.

I understand that point of view. But I disagree with the notion that this team is on any sort of brink.

The problem is that the Raiders are in at least a miniature state of flux. They have a brand-new general manager and their third head coach in as many years. This’ll be their first full season sans Al Davis since 1962 and they’re already making odd changes that may very well prove to be counterproductive.

For instance, why return to the very same zone-blocking scheme that seemed to shackle Darren McFadden during the Tom Cable era?

This is a team that still hasn’t finished above .500 since 2002, surrounded by a trio of divisional opponents that seem to be getting better, and dealing with one of the biggest salary cap dilemmas in the league. They were forced to release starting cornerback Stanford Routt earlier in the offseason (Routt signed with the division-rival Chiefs) and now face a similar situation with starting linebacker and pass-rushing specialist Kamerion Wimbley.

They might be able to shave off approximately $25 million and get under the $120-million cap without gutting the roster, but there’s a decent chance they lose at least one more veteran. And with that in mind, they won’t be able to join the free-agent party at all.

No biggie, right? Free agency is overrated. Sure, but what really aches the Raiders is the fact that the team currently holds only two — two! – 2012 drafts picks, one in the fifth round and one in the sixth. They’re likely to be awarded an additional compensatory pick or two for losing Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller and Robert Gallery last year, but they still won’t pick until the end of the third round in the best-case scenario.

Without free agency and the draft and with a few holes already needing to be filled, how does an 8-8 team improve?

I just don’t see it happening. But crazier things have taken place in this league, which is part of the reason I can see where Palmer’s coming from.

And with a $43-million salary, I’d expect nothing else from the guy.