Sunday, January 23, 2011

Carson Palmer calling Bengals' bluff?


CINCINNATI -- When The Franchise says he wants out, you can’t paper over your issues, the way the Bengals have so far this offseason. Marvin Lewis can’t “fix us’’ when Us says he’d rather retire than play again for the misguided local 11.

This is so unlike Carson Palmer, you wonder what’s real and what’s posing. ESPN has reported Palmer wants to be traded and if he isn’t, will retire. How bad is it really down at PBS when the quarterback suggests that retiring is a better option than returning to play for the Bengals?

Rome-on-the-Ohio burns. Lewis and Mike Brown fiddle. When it comes to Bengals earthquakes, this is as seismic as it gets.

This isn’t the wide receiver formerly known as Johnson, conducting an offseason trade-me blitz in the media. It was easy for Brown to call Eight-Five’s bluff. This is Carson Palmer, Great Soldier, who has never popped off publicly, whose only lobbying has been behind the scenes, in the offseason, for the good of all. There’s also the matter of Palmer being QB1. Like him or not, Nine is so clearly No. 1 on the depth chart, No. 2 isn’t even on the board.

Given Palmer's demeanor and personality, the Bengals have to take him seriously. What his motivation is, is a mystery. It doesn’t matter. You think things were dreadful last fall? Imagine next fall, without Nine.

For Palmer to take this route, he has to be as fed up as the fans. About what is anybody’s guess. Palmer could power-play his way to a change in the offensive coaching staff. He could have an opinion on current offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. He could have an opinion on potential offensive coordinator Brad Childress, in town last week for dinner with Lewis.

(By the way, why do you dine with Childress in such a public place, Jeff Ruby’s downtown, when less than a week later, your entire coaching staff is heading to the Senior Bowl? Regardless of what you think of Bratkowski, is it necessary to embarrass him this way?)

Palmer also could be tired of taking hits, in the backfield and out. Prima donna wideouts running bad routes, cutting routes short and free-lancing generally has made for lots of interceptions for which Palmer has assumed blame. There has been a shortage of players and coaches speaking on his behalf.

The unsettled labor situation doesn’t help. Trades can’t be made without a new collective bargaining agreement. No one is predicting when that might happen. There would be a few teams very interested in an erstwhile Pro Bowl QB in his prime, though. How about every team but San Diego that is close to Palmer’s San Diego County home?

His USC coach Pete Carroll could use him in Seattle. Hue Jackson, who recruited him to Southern Cal, might be interested in Oakland. San Francisco and Arizona need quarterbacks. Worst-case scenario: Mike Brown doesn’t trade him, Palmer makes good on his pledge and stays out, Brown’s hand is forced midway through next year. So long, another Bengals season.

Bengals ownership is reaping what it sows. Its faithful ability to do the wrong thing has alienated fans and sparked jokes nationally for years. Now, the willful mismanagement is getting to players. Palmer ought not to be derided for his demand; he should be praised. It’s one thing for paying customers to grumble. As Lewis once noted, fans aren’t “invested’’ in the team. It’s quite another for your starting quarterback to do the same.

You could suggest that Palmer’s supposed willingness to walk away from the last three years – and $50 million – of his contract indicates a lack of football passion. You could say the Bengals got him the receivers he needed to return to his 2005 form, and that he continued to be an average-at-best QB.

They’re good arguments. But Palmer is a grounded homebody, who doesn’t need the money, not even $50 million. He hunts some, he plays some golf. He’s not a conspicuous consumer. The man is desperate enough to float retirement as an alternative. That says more about the franchise than it does about him.

Palmer took a beating in 2010, on the field and in the court of public opinion. He’s fed up. Can you blame him?

Paul Daugherty's Morning Line blog

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