Once, it was JaMarcus Russell. When the Raiders drafted Russell with the first overall pick of the 2007 draft, the former LSU standout was anointed the quarterback who would lead Oakland back to the Promised Land.
When the Russell experiment blew up, the Raiders traded for Jason Campbell. Then they drafted Terrelle Pryor. When Campbell was injured, they mortgaged their future for Carson Palmer, a player coach Hue Jackson believed was the missing link to a team on the verge of the playoffs.
Now, the Raiders have turned to Matt Flynn.
Is there any reason to believe Flynn – who once was Russell’s backup at LSU – is any better than Russell, Campbell, Pryor or Palmer?
The jury certainly is mixed.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie – who was part of the Green Bay Packers braintrust that drafted Flynn in the seventh round in 2008 – were optimistic Monday after Oakland traded a fifth-round pick in 2014 and a conditional pick in 2015 to the Seahawks to get Flynn.
The 27-year-old Flynn, they say, will get an opportunity to compete against Pryor for the team’s starting job now that Palmer is on his way out.
“I’ve known Matt Flynn since 2007 and scouted him before and after he entered the NFL,” said McKenzie in a statement released via the team’s website. “Matt is a tough football player and a talented quarterback. He will get the opportunity to be a starter. … I believe Matt has that potential, but I also know he hasn’t had enough experience.”
Flynn, in fact, has exactly two NFL starts, both for Green Bay when he was backing up Aaron Rodgers. In 2010 he threw for 251 yards and three TDs in a loss to New England; in 2011 he was 31-for-44 for 480 yards and six TDs in a win over Detroit.
Flynn then parlayed those flashes of brilliance into a three-year, $26 million free-agent deal with the Seahawks for the 2012 season – but then lost the battle for the quarterback job to rookie Russell Wilson.
Now Flynn is coming to Oakland and should be considered the favorite to beat out Pryor and give the Raiders a fresh start. If he’s successful, it would be a boon for a franchise that has had woeful quarterback production since 2002 when the team last went to the playoffs.
According to ESPN Stats, the Raiders’ cumulative QB rating of 72.2 since 2002 ranks third worst in the league ahead of only Cleveland (71.1) and Chicago (71.8). The list of Raiders starting QBs over that span is Kerry Collins, Russell, Palmer, Campbell, Rich Gannon, Josh McCown, Andrew Walter, Bruce Gradkowski, Aaron Brooks, Rick Mirer, Daunte Culpepper, Charlie Frye, Marques Tuiasosopo, Pryor and Kyle Boller.
Not all NFL observers believe Flynn is the answer, however.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com calls Flynn “just another guy.” Charley Casserly of NFL.com calls the acquisition of Flynn just “a stopgap” move. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com believes Flynn’s brilliant play in Green Bay was likely the result of being surrounded by a great cast.
“Without similar support on the Raiders, he could become another disappointing starter for a team in desperate need of a franchise quarterback,” Brooks wrote.
The Raiders’ Allen, however, sees similarities between Flynn and Matt Schaub. Allen was an assistant coach with the Falcons when Schaub was the backup to Michael Vick. When Schaub was traded to the Texans, finally getting his chance, he thrived.
Allen said Monday he can see the same thing happening for Flynn. After making the trade, Allen says, “We felt like we got better.”
“We’re excited about the fact we’re bringing in a young guy that we feel like has potential to be a starting quarterback in this league,” Allen told reporters. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity of having him on our roster and giving him a chance to potentially be that.”