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You’re Welcome, Cincinnati: How to Salvage the Bengals

A message to the Cincinnati Bengals:

Your record currently stands at 2-3, third in the AFC North, two full games out of first place. You looked hapless against the Patriots in week one, showed resiliency in a home victory over the Baltimore Ravens in week two, defeated the punch-less Carolina Panthers in week three, then squandered the next two games away in Cleveland and Tampa Bay, leaving the team mired in inconsistency heading into its bye week.

You just spent the last week resting and preparing for a battle you cannot win. Your remaining 11 games are brutal. You will need at least an 8-3 record to finish 10-6, a mark that might be good enough for a playoff spot in the rabid AFC. If you do not, the current incarnation of the Cincinnati Bengals will fail.

The Queen City fan-base will sour, and the cruel Ohio winter will set in, and the harsh reality of NFL scheduling will reign supreme as you head into an unstable 2011 and beyond. There is one reason, above all, why the franchise will continue to be stuck in mediocrity this year and the future, and it is the atrophy of Carson Palmer’s ability to consistently throw an NFL-quality pass. After eight long years of the Carson Palmer era, the time has come for your organization to find somebody else to throw the football and run the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense.

 

After you stick the fork in the cadaver of Carson Palmer's career, wash it off and use it in your cereal. For your health!

 

Evaluating Carson Palmer’s NFL Career

In April 2003, you had the first overall selection in the NFL draft, and selected Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer out of USC. Palmer was a risk, as is any top-drafted quarterback, but a risk you were willing to make. Prospect Carson Palmer had “great mechanics, good feet, size, arm and accuracy”, but also that he was an “erratic, hot-and-cold player” according to ESPN. Scouts praised Palmer’s improvement and many believed he had put it all together his senior season at USC and was a fantastic NFL prospect.

 

A Pac-10 quarterback who's stock rose dramatically after his senior season. Akili Smith or Carson Palmer? Trick question. Time will tell whether Palmer ends up playing for the Calgary Stampeders.

 

You took a cautious approach with your prized franchise quarterback, sitting him behind veteran Jon Kitna as the 2003 campaign unfolded. The team significantly improved, from 2-14 to 8-8, and was gearing up for the future.

Palmer took the reins in 2004, starting opening day. His progress was right on schedule, and he started 13 games, throwing for almost 3000 yards, 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions en route to another 8-8 season.

The 2005 season started very strong, with the offense elite and wins in their first four games. You went 3-3 over the next six games, before picking up steam and winning four out of the last five en route to an 11-5 record and the AFC North Championship. Carson Palmer started all 16 games, threw for 32 touchdowns and completed 67.8% of his passes, both career highs, while only throwing 12 interceptions.

On January 8, 2006, Paul Brown Stadium played host to your first playoff game in almost two decades, against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The city was electric, to say the least. On the second play from scrimmage, Carson Palmer loaded up and threw a 66 yard completion to Chris Henry, sending the home crown into hysteria. Then Kimo Von Oelhoffen happened. In one hit, Carson Palmer’s ACL and MCL tore, and the promising 2005 season effectively ended. The Steelers would go on to win the game, and eventually Super Bowl XL.

 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Go Fuck yourself Pittsburgh.

 

The rehabiliation of Carson Palmer’s knee was THE subject of the 2006 Cincinnati Bengals, but Palmer was able to return in time for the September 10, 2006 opening game. The team started quick, winning the first two games easily, leading up to a week three shot at redemption in Pittsburgh. Palmer led the team to a 28-20 victory in Heinz Field, a sign that he was back and better than ever. The offense would remain explosive throughout most of the season as the team ascended to 8-5 with three weeks remaining. Then a series of miscues, especially on special teams, derailed the season, costing you the final three games of the season as you finished 8-8 for the third time in 4 years. Palmer finished with over four thousand yards passing for the first time in his career, as well as 28 touchdowns and completed 62.3% of passes while only throwing 13 interceptions.

 

Too bad water training didn't teach Palmer how to long-snap or kick field goals.

 

2007 came, and the team lost some of its luster, starting a lowly 3-7, perhaps distracted by a bevy of off-the-field issues affecting the entire organization. Palmer was still a high-quality quarterback, and led the Bengals to victories in four of your last six games to finish 7-9. He threw 26 touchdowns, but his interceptions reached a career-high 20 for the season. He completed 64.9% of his throws and accrued his second-straight four thousand yard year, but couldn’t get the Bengals over the hump and back into the playoffs.

 

This pretty much sums up the 2007 Bengals

 

The 2008 season never got off the starting blocks, as the Bengals only managed one offensive touchdown in their first two games, both losses. You would then rally in week three, but ultimately fall, losing to the New York Giants in overtime 26-23. Carson Palmer missed the next game nursing a sore elbow, and your offensive woes would continue, losing 20-12 to the Cleveland Browns. Carson Palmer would return for the next game in Dallas, only to be sent packing with their fifth straight loss. Palmer was shut down the rest of the season as you limped to 0-8 and 1-11-1 starts, before finishing the year 4-11-1.

 

Everybody dey in 2008. Who ties in the NFL, Cincinnati, seriously?

 

In 2009, you became identified as a run-first, hard-nosed team built to win in the brutal AFC North. And win you did, sweeping the six divisional games and winning the division crown for the second time in almost twenty years. But along the way, something happened to Carson Palmer. He still ran the offense well, managing the game admirably and making just enough plays to remain effective. But the new, atrophied Carson Palmer couldn’t do virtually anything in the wild card playoff game against the New York Jets, and your season ended without a playoff victory once again. He didn’t finish with terrible numbers for the 2009 season, with 21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 60.5 completion rate. He did, however, turn sour in the playoff game, completing only 18 out of 36 passes for 146 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

 

While the New Orleans Saints have Super Bowl rings, the NFL found it only fair to commemorate the shit Carson Palmer took on the field against the Jets in the playoffs with this gold earring.

 

In the offseason you added future hall-of-famer and reality star Terrell Owens to play wide receiver opposite Chad Ochocinco, creating a self-proclaimed “Batman & Robin” duo, as well as using a first round pick on tight end Jermaine Gresham and third round selection on wide receiver Jordan Shipley to bolster the passing game and give Carson Palmer an opportunity to return to his 2005-06 all-pro form. For naught. In five games this year, Palmer’s completion percentage has dipped below 60% for the first time in his career, and he is no longer the effective on-field general he once was, tossing a game-clinching interception against Cleveland and then turning around and handing the Buccaneers two fourth-quarter interceptions, and ultimately, the game. Unfortunately, Cincinnati, Carson Palmer can no longer perform the duties necessary to lead an NFL team deep into the playoffs, and therefore measures must be taken to find a suitable replacement.

 

At least these guys can catch balls thrown at them.

 

Finding a replacement

So, now you’re wondering, where should I turn to find a suitable signal-caller? Well, let’s check the current roster. Carson Palmer’s backup is his own flesh-and-blood, little brother Jordan Palmer. In three NFL seasons, Jordan Palmer has appeared in three games, with 12 attempts, 7 completions, and 2 interceptions. While it may seem prudent to give him a starting opportunity, he has shown little to nothing that would suggest he has superior ability to his brother, trading a spade for an inferior spade.

Dan LeFevour, a 2010 6th round draft pick, may actually have a chance at NFL success. In four years at Central Michigan, LeFevour amassed more total touchdowns than any player in NCAA history. At 6’3”, 230, LeFevour has NFL size, and great accuracy, completing two-thirds of his collegiate passes. He is also a terrific dual-threat, having gained over 2500 rushing yards in college. His arm strength is somewhat questionable, as well as his ability to perform under center, having worked primarily out of the shotgun in college. If he improves, he may have what it takes to lead an NFL franchise.

Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh x2, Indianapolis, New Orleans, NY Jets, Cleveland, San Diego, Baltimore. Read it again. You will be lucky to win five of those games, which would give you a 7-9 record in 2010, pretty optimistic given what you have put on the field so far in 2010. Over the last four seasons a 7-9 record has earned an average draft position of 11.8. So, given the difficulty of your schedule (a draft position tie-breaker), let’s hypothetically say you have the 11th pick in next April’s draft.

As of right now, Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland, Minnesota, San Francisco, Seattle, and Arizona may be looking for franchise quarterbacks come next season.

Buffalo will very likely be picking in the top 5, and will grab the best quarterback available.

I believe in Mike Holmgren, and therefore Colt McCoy, so it seems highly unlikely the Browns take a quarterback in the first round, especially when so many holes remain elsewhere in Cleveland.

Jacksonville will have their eyes set on the future at the quarterback position, and may take the franchise’s second first round signal caller.

New England owns Oakland’s first round draft pick via the Richard Seymour trade, and therefore will be out of the quarterback market.

 

More evidence that Al Davis has been dead since 2004

 

Minnesota may be looking to replace Brett Favre, but are built to win now, and they will probably look for a new quarterback in places other than the first round of the draft.

If Mike Singletary survives as head coach in San Francisco, it would behoove them to stand behind Alex Smith, who looks like a legitimate NFL quarterback and has the confidence of the coaching staff despite the team’s struggles this season.

Seattle traded a first day draft pick for Charlie Whitehurst, whom the Pete Carroll regime has faith in to develop for the future, and therefore will not use such a high draft pick on a field general.

Arizona is currently testing Max Hall’s strength, and if he is passable, they should win the dreadful NFC West and earn a draft selection after you.

In summary, you really only have to worry about Buffalo, Jacksonville, and potentially Minnesota taking quarterbacks before you, and given all three of those franchises’ draft inconsistency and unpredictability, one is bound to look elsewhere, even if they pick ahead of you.

It just so happens that there are three top quarterback prospects potentially available: Andrew Luck, Stanford; Jake Locker, Washington; Ryan Mallett, Arkansas. They are the highest ranked group of quarterback prospects since 2004, when Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all were selected in the first 11 picks. Six years later, they have three Super Bowl rings and a combined starting record of 163-87.

 

Also, 2 sexual misconduct allegations and 1 motorcycle crash while not wearing a helmet.

 

There is no guarantee that all three will be as successful as the 2004 class, but you will have the assets and position to get a potential franchise quarterback if you do not believe in Dan LeFevour’s potential. If you do take a quarterback next April, what will you do with him? Don’t worry, I have a plan.
The Plan

When the quarterback of the future is on the roster, be very careful with Carson Palmer. Don’t do something stupid like release him to save money, or trade him for pennies on the dollar in what currently is a terrible seller’s market for potentially washed-up 30+ year old quarterbacks. Palmer can still be very beneficial to the future of the team, just not in the position he’s currently in.

You are still going to want Carson Palmer as starting quarterback through 2011, as you obviously cannot just throw the rookie to the wolves. If Palmer follows on his current path, this will not result in a Super Bowl by the end of 2011, but will keep the team functioning at a high-enough level to keep all of the personalities in check and help the youth on the team to develop.

Then, in 2012, hand it over to a fresh signal caller with Carson Palmer as the backup. Over time, Palmer can become a hybrid player/tutor/coach. When he deems it time to hang up the spikes, remove the player/tutor aspects from his duties, and make him the quarterbacks coach. Under this plan, you can harness Palmer’s best attributes (leadership, game management, poise, grasp of offense) and let the new kid learn the ins and outs of the position with a secure safety net, something very infrequently afforded in the NFL.

 

Think of this as the future of Carson Palmer. Except less douchey. Take off the bluetooth, Jeremy Piven!

 

If Palmer manages to regain his 2005-06 form in 2011, so be it. Play the situation by ear a la Green Bay-Aaron Rodgers. The Packers don’t seem to be hurting too much. If he doesn’t, well, you are in a position to move forward to a brighter tomorrow, with the sage wounded general still around to spread his wisdom on the next generation.

Somewhere between Kimo Von Oelhoffen and 2009 something happened to Carson Palmer. Maybe it was mental. Maybe it was physical. Maybe it was both. But one thing is certain, the decline of Carson Palmer’s passing skills is evident. Whether through Dan LeFevour or a 2011 draft pick, you need to make a move, unless you want to be in this same position in 2015 or ‘16, typically around the time your front office reacts. It is a near impossibility to win a Super Bowl without a franchise quarterback, and Carson Palmer is not that caliber anymore. Wake up and smell the Ohio River, Cincinnati.

 

On second thought, hold your nose.

 

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Categories: Cincinnati, NFL