2012 Raiders team awards
Most Valuable Player: Carson Palmer
Yes, #PalmersFault took off in the Twitterverse this season, blaming Carson Palmer for any and all ill that befell the Raiders, and anyone with a lick of sense knew it was meant in jest. Because really, not only was Palmer the least of Oakland's problems, he was the most consistent thing going for them behind a leaky line, just as undependable wide receivers and a running back who just could not get untracked. The vicious hit he took in the first quarter of the season's penultimate game not only cracked ribs and bruised a lung, but also kept him out of the final seven quarters of the year. And still, Palmer became just the second Raiders quarterback in franchise history to pass for more than 4,000 yards as he finished with 4,018 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on 61.1 percent passing (345 of 565) for a QB rating of 85.3, his highest since 2007. Perhaps the most impressive thing Palmer did all year, though, was act as a mentor and father figure for Terrelle Pryor while not being threatened. Palmer restructured his contract last offseason and is reportedly due to make $13 million in 2013, with a salary cap number of $16.8 million.
Defensive Player of the Year / Newcomer of the Year: Philip Wheeler
Referred to as being a little light in the (behind) to be a strongside linebacker by CSN Raiders analyst Bill Romanowski, Philip Wheeler weighed in just right as the crown jewel of general manager Reggie McKenzie's first free-agent class, thank you very much. Starting 16 games for the first time in his career, the fifth-year linebacker led the Raiders with 150 tackles, 1,015 snaps and had a career-high three sacks. Early in the season, Wheeler began wearing the "green dot" on his helmet and assumed playcalling duties on defense, taking over from Rolando McClain. Yes, Wheeler was a bargain at a reported $700,000, but he is on track to be an unrestricted free agent and will command a hefty pay raise. The Raiders need to figure out a way to re-sign him.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Sebastian Janikowski
Is there any other choice? Really, you could make a compelling argument that the man known as SeaBass (FYI, he does not really care for 'Jano') was actually the team MVP. And many would agree. Still, a year after being named to his first Pro Bowl, Janikowski came back just as fierce. The Raiders' 2000 first-round draft pick made 31 of his 34 field-goal attempts and his only misses came from a mind-numbing 61, 64 and 51 yards. He was the AFC's special teams player of the month for October and, after kicking five field goals in the Raiders' 15-0 defeat of Kansas City in Oakland's home finale, Janikowski outscored eight other teams on the day. His season-long of 57 yards was his longest since he tied the NFL record of 63 yards at Denver in the 2011 season opener. He is under contract for 2013, unlike his running mate, punter Shane Lechler.
Rookie of the Year: Miles Burris
The fourth-round draft pick from San Diego State was supposed to learn at the knee of the similarly hyper Aaron Curry and spell him at times. Thing was, Curry's knees did not cooperate and Burris replaced Curry in starting every game at weakside linebacker. Burris's energy and activity was noticeable, even if he sometimes had trouble shedding blocks or bringing down a quarterback or running back in the backfield. Still, Burris was third in tackles, with 138, 84 solo, and had 1 1/2 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. When Rolando McClain was benched on passing downs, Burris stayed on the field and by the time the season ended, the purported role player had been in on 867 snaps. And while there have been rumblings about Burris moving inside as a middle linebacker next year, he said he would welcome the challenge.
One Ticket to Bustville: Rolando McClain
OK, so, not everything here is positive, right? Many point to Rolando McClain's off-field hijinks, and Hue Jackson's lack of discipline in the wake of his midseason arrest in Alabama in 2011, as a turning point. Consider: since then, the Raiders are just 5-16. And McClain, who was given a clean slate by general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen, sullied said slate, both with his putrid play and his Facebook histrionics. As if being stripped of his "green dot" was not enough, McClain lost his starting job and was slapped with a two-game suspension. And when it ended, he became the scout team fullback in non-contact practice and was made inactive as a healthy scratch for the last three games. He made $970,000 in base salary in 2012 and is due to make $4.005 million in base salary in 2013. So why didn't the Raiders simply cut him? The only thing that makes sense is if such a move would have put the Raiders over the salary cap this season. Still, it's hard to see the former No. 8 overall draft pick returning to Oakland next season.