How can I say this forcefully enough? Maybe through multiple choice.
If the Raiders start Carson Palmer at quarterback Sunday, after just three days of practice, they would be:
B. Crazier than that.
C. Desperately premature.
D. Prematurely desperate.
E. Risking injury to their new most valuable asset.
F. Risking a greater chance of defeat, which ultimately trumps all of the above.
You will notice that, among the choices, the word "brilliant" is not listed.
Come Sunday, I realize that this could all be moot. Palmer's cleats may never touch the field at O.co Coliseum against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Yet as of Wednesday afternoon, barely 24 hours after Palmer joined the Raiders in a stunning trade with the Cincinnati Bengals, there were enough hints that he indeed will take snaps in the game. Perhaps even the first snap.
Most of those hints were contained in a Kansas City radio station interview with Al Saunders, the Raiders' offensive coordinator. The craggy Saunders, a San Jose State graduate and longtime NFL staffer, is generally a no-nonsense guy. But when he was asked by the radio hosts to describe what he needed to see out of Palmer to prove he was worthy of playing, Saunders tried to make a joke.
"As long as he's breathing," Saunders said to a laughing reaction.
As if to clarify, Saunders also said of Palmer's immediate starting chances: "It just depends on how quickly he feels comfortable in what we're doing, and that shouldn't take long."
Saunders is right. It shouldn't take long. But three days?
Palmer has not been in uniform since early January. But after eight seasons as a good and occasionally great NFL quarterback, he has not forgotten how to play the position. It's wishful thinking, though, to believe he needs just three days to digest the playbook before diving right into the zone-blitz mayhem. After such a long layoff? That's asking for ... well, something. Perhaps not trouble. But a potential minor or major traffic accident.
Learning a new NFL offense with a new team is not like learning a new route to the grocery store. It's more like entering a grocery store where all the groceries have labels in a foreign language and are in entirely different aisles.
And that doesn't even include the physical fitness part. Palmer said upon arrival in Oakland that he had thrown some passes during his down time but "not enough." Palmer also said that while he was in good shape, it wasn't the type of NFL shape that allows quarterbacks to pick themselves up after a big hit or long scramble and find enough quick oxygen to call the next play.
(Don't laugh. That's a major concern. Peyton Manning of the Colts, now on the disabled list, has been known to train in the offseason by jumping on a treadmill for hours and barking out football signals, to make sure he'll have the breath to do it in games.)
Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, who made the Palmer deal happen and crowed about it afterward, obviously worries about that, too. Jackson conceded as much after Wednesday's practice, in which Palmer took half the snaps with the No. 1 offensive unit. Jackson said that the critical thing was to gauge how Palmer feels Thursday morning, after he wakes up following his first strenuous football day in almost nine months.
"I'm in no rush," Jackson told reporters about making the Palmer decision.
Let's hope Jackson resists the temptation. The schedule, with the Raiders facing a bye week following Sunday's game, is timed almost perfectly for Palmer to gradually work into the starting job. He can practice this week before watching and taking notes this weekend. He can spend next week gearing up his fitness while memorizing the complete playbook. He can then go full-bore to prepare as a starter for the Nov. 6 game against Denver.
And what would be the big hairy problem with doing that? It merely means that serviceable Kyle Boller must start Sunday's game for the Raiders against a Chiefs team that has a 2-3 record, with the two victories coming by narrow margins over two of the league's worst outfits, Minnesota and Indianapolis. If the Chiefs can't be defeated with Boller at quarterback, the Raiders don't deserve a playoff spot, anyway.
I see such a downside if Palmer has to play all four quarters, so soon and so quickly. Too much could go wrong. I can see him, with way-too-rested muscles, pulling a hamstring or ripping a tendon in the second half because he's overdone it. At most, Jackson might install a small package of plays for Palmer and throw him out there for a series or two, so he can gradually grow accustomed again to NFL speed.
Otherwise? We all know the otherwise. Tossed right into the lineup, Palmer could be swallowed up in the pocket by the NFL speed (leading to sacks). The speed could also cause him to underreact by being just a touch slow on his passing motion (leading to interceptions) or overreact by accelerating his arm too quickly (leading to incompletions). And a loss would be likely.
Look, if Palmer is healthy, this trade was a good and strong move by the Raiders. But here is when they will most need him: In the two remaining San Diego games. In tough late-season matchups against Green Bay and Detroit. And with any luck, in the playoffs.
Sunday? Not so much. Even if Palmer does start against the Chiefs, isn't injured and the Raiders win, it won't change my opinion that the risk was too high. I understand why it could happen. When you get a new toy, the tendency is to peel off the wrapping right away and start playing with the darned thing.
Palmer isn't a toy, though. He is now the Raiders' most valuable asset. He doesn't need to be babied. But he does need more than three days.