Carson Palmer to Arizona: 2013's Most Impactful QB Move
Here's a question to (Christian) ponder: which offseason quarterback move will be the most useful to their team?
Sure, it's nice to get Tony Romo under contract, but he's not really worth the money. Joe Flacco? His contract was even worse. Matt Cassel and Alex Smith won't do that much for their new teams, and I'll have a hearty chuckle at whatever team takes Geno Smith in the top five.
Nope, the top quarterback acquisition this offseason has to be the recent trade of Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders to the Arizona Cardinals. I know that most of the time, one individual player (and an 11-year veteran to boot) isn't going to change his team's fortunes dramatically.
But then again, sometimes you get the perfect storm where one player nearly doubles his team's playoff chances.
Bad, Bad Cardinals QBs
To understand just how poor the Cardinals' quarterback situation was last year, let me direct you to one key stat that we use in a lot of our NFL projections: NEP.
NEP stands for Net Expected Points, and just like the name would have you believe, it measures how many expected points above or below the league-average play that a player has gained his team. Alongside its little brother NEP/P (NEP per play), it tells the whole story in one handy package.
Since passing is often more efficient than rushing, it's pretty tough for a quarterback to manage a negative NEP score (meaning he's averaging below the league-average play). In fact, only 10 NFL quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts managed negative net expected points for their team last season. Most of them are names you'd expect, like Mark Sanchez or Blaine Gabbert. But then you look even further down the list, where two names stick out at the bottom.
That's right: two Cardinals quarterbacks were among the three least efficient players in the entire NFL last season.
Despite throwing only 184 passes, Ryan Lindley managed to lose 69.63 points of expected value for the Cardinals through the air. That turns out to be 0.38 expected points lost for Arizona per attempt. Since 2000, the only QB to perform that inefficiently with over 150 pass attempts in a season was rookie year Alex Smith.
John Skelton might not have been at Lindley's level of ineptitude, but he wasn't helping Arizona out, either. Skelton earned the Cards -45.64 NEP over 216 pass attempts, or -0.21 NEP per attempt. That mark placed him third in the NFL in total NEP lost, behind only Brady Quinn and his old buddy Lindley up there.
The Average QB Savior
Carson Palmer might not have been the second coming of Rich Gannon in Oakland; the Black Hole might have a few (NSFW) phrases to say about their now-former QB. However, he wasn't as bad as Arizona, where quarterbacks were about as effective as Kim Jong Un's diplomacy skills. Think of Carson Palmer more as Qatar: he'll surprise you with how effective he can be.
In 591 pass attempts, Palmer gained 50.75 NEP for the Raiders during the regular season, an average of 0.09 NEP per attempt. That total placed him a dead-average 17th among NFL QBs. Among those behind him on our list was Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, and yes, that $120 million dollar man, Joe Flacco.
It's amazing how putting even an average, 17th place quarterback should help the Cardinals become respectable once again. Larry Fitz might even stop sobbing for a few minutes. While placing Palmer behind Arizona's offensive line may slightly change his numbers, our estimates of his play in Arizona's system help see a huge increase in their overall offensive efficiency.
According to numberFire Chief Analyst Keith Goldner, Palmer alone should add close to a full win to this Cardinals squad. Our preliminary pre-draft projections see them rising from 4.9 projected wins to 5.9 projected wins in 2013. That's how much of an impact he can have.
Our playoff odds present an even more striking picture. Arizona previously held only a 10.1 percent chance of being one of the NFC's six seeds. Thanks to Mr. Palmer, those odds now jump to a 19.7 percent chance at the playoffs this season. Those aren't overwhelming odds, but if you're the Cardinals, you'll take what you can get.
For Arizona, there's nowhere to go but up. They were the least efficient offense in the NFL last season, scoring 205 points less than a league-average offense would have in the same situation. Second-worst was Jacksonville... at a much-lower 108 points under expectation.
Carson Palmer may not be the final cure, but he's a big step in the right direction. And in an offseason of big contracts and notable trades, the most interesting one may have just happened all the way out West.