Well, here we are. The week has arrived when people can dredge up whether the Raiders made the right decision in firing coach Hue Jackson and whether the trade Jackson engineered for quarterback Carson Palmer was worth it or not.
Oh, and Sunday’s game against the Cincicnnati Bengals just happens to be Palmer’s first game against the team that selected him No. 1 overall in the 2003 NFL draft.
Make no mistake, it’s going to be fans and media doing most of the talking in the run up to the game. Jackson isn’t talking, Lewis isn’t shedding much light on Palmer turning his back on the Bengals, and Palmer is taking the high road.
“I’m not going to dive back into that,” Palmer said. “To me, this is three seasons later, two seasons later. That was in the past. I’m here now. I don’t want to dive into that.”
Palmer forced the Bengals hand last season by saying he would retire rather than play for them again. The Bengals said that they wouldn’t trade Palmer.
Ultimately, the Raiders pried away Palmer from the Bengals last season for a 2012 first-round pick and a 2013 second-rounder just before the trade deadline, in response to starter Jason Campbell suffering a season-ending collarbone injury.
The trade set off an ongoing debate as to whether the Raiders got fleeced and if Palmer is a better option than Campbell.
It says here, the Raiders had no choice, and who cares if they overpaid. They weren’t going anywhere with Kyle Boller as the starter.
Sure enough, Palmer guided the Raiders within one game of winning the AFC West and their first playoff berth in nine seasons.
Lewis said it looks as if Palmer is having fun with the Raiders. Palmer said he didn’t have any fun during his final season with the Bengals.
Palmer said he and former teammates have talked about how things ended in Cincinnati, without elaborating.
“I have seen guys, run into guys back in San Diego, talked, texted,” Palmer said. “Anybody that’s ever played for that ownership knows what I was doing and why I was doing it.”
Still, there remains a sizable faction bitter over the trade, with much of the venom directed at Jackson.
Lo and behold, Jackson ended up in Cincinnati, where is coaching the cornerbacks and helping out on special teams. One of his prized pupils is Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, the players selected by the Bengals with the first-rounder they received from the Raiders as part of the Palmer trade.
“He’s been great,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of Jackson in a conference call. “He’s been a great asset to me, having spent the year again as a coordinator and then as a head coach. He sees everything from a completely different perspective than other assistant coaches and position coaches do. His knowledge of offense has been incredible to go along with our defensive staff.”
On and on Lewis went in extolling the virtues of Jackson, who was fired by the Raiders shortly after last season ended.
“He’s a great technician as a coach and he sees the details and he sees the big picture,” Lewis said. “That’s why he’s so special as a coach. He can see both the detail work you have to have to be great but he can also see the entire big picture. He’s done that same thing in helping with and working with the special teams and our special teams coach as he coaches his segments. He envisions those plays as almost offensive plays and so forth. He comes with that enthusiasm and everything. It’s been great.”
For Jackson’s part, he steered clear of delving into much about the Palmer trade and being fired by the Raiders.
“It’s really another football game,” Jackson told Bengals writers. “For me, it is. it has to be. You can’t get caught up in the emotional part of it because that’s not what this is about. This is about winning and losing. There’s a team that’s really hungry, very talented. They have some big-time players that are going to try to come here and win a game. And we’re finding ourselves and we have to do everything we can to win a football game.”
Lewis said he thinks Jackson deserves another shot at being an NFL head coach. It remains to be seen whether Jackson will get that opportunity.
Already, Jackson’s name has been mentioned as a possibility for the Cal coaching vacancy. Jackson coached at Cal earlier in his career.
Palmer said he is “excited” about the prospect of playing in front of the fans that once cheered his every move from 2003-10.
“It’s a big game,” Palmer said. “But it’s obviously a much bigger game for our team. We have to get a win. We’re going to fight, we’re going to grind this week. We have a lot of room for improvement, a lot of areas we need to improve on. Obviously, going into Cincinnati, it’s a big game.”
For McKenzie and the Raiders too. You can bet that McKenzie and owner Mark Davis want a victory Sunday for more reasons than the fact the Raiders are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
Asked if he has any regrets about forcing his way out of Cincinnati, Palmer said: “No regrets.”
Let the debates continue.
— Most players that were here for either or both of Jackson’s two seasons with the Raiders held him in high regard. Naturally, there were those that didn’t warm to Jackson, for one reason or another.
Running back Darren McFadden enjoyed his best seasons under Jackson’s play-calling. He remains appreciative for the time and effort Jackson took in finding a way to get the most from McFadden’s ability.
“I felt like he helped me a whole lot, just building my confidence in the league and he gave me the opportunity to show folks I can go out there and run the ball the way I do,” McFadden said.
McFadden rushed for a career-high 1,157 yards in 2010 and 614 in seven games last season. Both seasons, he averaged more than 5 yards per carry. He hasn’t averaged more than 4.4 yards in any of his three other NFL seasons, including a 3.3 mark this season.
Jackson made a point of talking about how he pulled aside McFadden in 2010 and asked him which plays he liked to run and then relied upon those plays in games.
“I just felt he tried to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers on offense,” McFadden said, “and I felt like that was something he did with us well, and that’s something he can do anywhere that he’s at.”
McFadden said he and Jackson have exchanged texts since Jackson was fired and that if a team is willing to give Jackson another shot at being a head coach in the NFL that “they’ll have a great head coach.”
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is another player that flourished under Jackson’s tutelage.
Jackson said he and then-offensive coordinator Al Saunders determined the things that Heyward-Bey does best and concentrated on those things in games.
Heyward-Bey responded with career-highs in receptions (64), yards (975) and touchdowns (4) last season. Heyward-Bey has 28 catches for 440 yards and three touchdowns so far this season.
“He just saw the work I put in,” Heyward-Bey said. “He believed in me. He was the type of coach that, he will call plays because he wanted to see if you were going to make a play. He did that the years he was here.”
Heyward-Bey said he also enjoyed Jackson’s gutsy play-calling.
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain said he enjoyed the energy and passion that Jackson brought to the team. He certainly didn’t expect the Raiders to fire Jackson after an 8-8 season.
“I guess you never know what’s going to happen, especially not with this team,” McClain said. “I guess you never know what will happen. That’s just the business that we’re in. It caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect it.”
— No emotional send-offs for veteran linebacker Aaron Curry. At least not from coach Allen.
When asked whether Curry’s departure owed to Curry’s knee injuries or an inability to make the defense better, Allen wasted little time responding.
“We just didn’t feel like he was a fit for us moving forward,” Allen said, without elaborating.
Guess there really isn’t a need when the answer is that succinct.
— Wide receiver Denarius Moore and Palmer at times in recent games looked as if they were playing together for the first time.
Only one of seven passes directed for Moore against the Saints found the mark. Against the Buccaneers, a late pass by Palmer ended up in the arms of a Bucs defensive back, with Moore breaking toward the middle of the field, away from the ball.
Allen said everyone has a share of blame for Palmer and Moore not being on the same page as often as desired.
“It’s all of our responsibility,” Allen said. “First of all, all of us need to look internally at what we need to do better to make this thing work. And then, collectively, as a group, how can we work to make this better?”
Part of the issue also stems from Moore being a second-year player, still acclimating to the NFL and learning a new offense for the second straight season.
“Yeah, and that’s what happens when you have young players,” Allen said. “There’s a growing process, and Denarius is still continuing to grow and he’s going to continue to get better, but it’s part of the process.”
Palmer said he bears the brunt of the responsibility.
“I need to look at the film and see what happens and we need to sit down and talk about it,” Palmer said after the Saints game. “He’s our go-to guy. He’s our No. 1 receiver, he’s got a lot of plays for him and we haven’t had a ton of time on task and that’s why some of the miscommunication things come up.
“The guy had a bad hamstring injury all offseason, all training camp, there’s times it shows and it’s my fault. He’s a second-year guy, we need to do a better job getting on the same page with him, seeing things the way he sees ‘em and I need to improve in that aspect.”
— Allen said it’s possible that the vacancy on the 53-man roster created by waiving Curry on Tuesday will be filled by signing a player from the practice squad.
— Allen still isn’t sure when McFadden, Mike Goodson or Richard Seymour will be able to get back on the field. All he can do for now is remain hopeful. None of the three practiced Wednesday.
“Well, I don’t know when they’ll be back,” Allen said. “Hopefully they all will be back soon. All I can tell you is they are all rehabbing. Tyvon was out here practicing today. They’re going to rehab as fast as they can and when they’re healthy they’ll be back out here.”