The Oakland Raiders are staring down a very difficult decision. In light of Adam Schefter's recent report that Carson Palmer won't be caving to a restructured contract any time soon, the Raider have two basic options: Keep the veteran, or cut him. Unfortunately, neither option puts them in a very good spot for the 2013 season.
Trading Palmer is likely out of the question, as the SB Nation blog Silver and Black Pride points out. Palmer is due to make $13 million in base salary next season, and $15 million in each of the final two years of his contract. Potential trading partners will likely be turned of by the contract, preferring to wait in the weeds and pounce in case Palmer is released
With a $15 million cap hit due next season, however, keeping Palmer may be unpalatable. The Raider are just 8-16 under Palmer as a starter. He has completed 61 percent of his passes for 6,771 yard for the Silver and Black, but he has also been erratic, throwing 30 interceptions to go with 35 touchdowns passes. The Raiders are already on the hook for $9 million of Palmer's contract, but they could squeeze out over $5 million in cap space this year by releasing him.
So what would the Raiders do without Palmer?
Start Terrelle Pryor?
It's either Pryor or Matt Leinart in terms of what the Raiders can do with their current roster. Neither player dazzled when they were thrust into the lineup late in the season, but Pryor's performance in Week 17 was mostly positive. He went just 13-for-28 passing for 150 yards against the San Diego Chargers, but managed two touchdown passes to one interception, and added 49 yards and a touchdown on nine carries on the ground.
With another full offseason under his belt, the Raiders may feel that Pryor is ready for primetime. Otherwise, they'll have to start Leinart, whose track record suggests a far lower ceiling.
Draft Geno Smith?
The Raiders have the No. 3 overall draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and could target the near-consensus No. 1 overall quarterback prospect. A phenomenal pro day in West Virginia last week all but guaranteed Smith a spot in the Top 10 in April, and without a reliable starter on the roster, the Raiders may be tempted to hand the reins of the offense over to a rookie. If not Smith, the Raiders could take a gamble on the likes of Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel or Tyler Bray later in the draft. There are options, though this year's draft class is regarded as being particular weak for quarterbacks.
Target _______ in free agency?
The free agent market is bone dry at this point. Kevin Kolb is the biggest name left, though two shaky, injury-plagued seasons in Arizona have soured many teams on the once-promising Philadelphia Eagles backup. After Kolb there's Rex Grossman, Brady Quinn, and a lot of other quarterbacks whose performances have ranged from oof to ugh in recent seasons.
A trade for a quality backup currently sitting on an NFL roster elsewhere is always possible, in which case it might have been nice if the Raiders still had the second round pick they gave up this year in their original trade with the Cincinnati Bengals for Palmer.
The Raiders are surrounded by rocks and hard places. They have already eaten sizable chunk of cap space this year due to Palmer's contract, and will be hard-pressed to find a willing trading partner. As hard as it may be to hear for some, holding on to Palmer for this 2013 season may be Oakland's best and only choice at this point.