Like many of you, I spent the majority of this past year hating Carson Palmer’s guts. Not just at the standard hatred level mind you, but major league hate; right up there with the way I hate the US tax code, slow drivers in the left lane, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and slow drivers in the left lane with Steeler bumper stickers who work for the IRS.
In other words, epic hate.
Who could blame me? After all, this is the guy that all of Bengal Nation embraced for years; the one guy who we put our faith in as the leader of our beleaguered Bengals, who symbolically and literally took his ball and went home just like that punk kid on the sandlot from grade school.
At the time it seemed like the ultimate act of betrayal and a purely selfish move that would set the franchise back years. On the surface that’s exactly what it was, but looking through the prism of time that knife in our collective back has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Enough of a blessing in fact that I’d argue his actions did more to improve the Cincinnati Bengals than any other single player, coach, or team executive in 2011.
Thus I hereby nominate Carson Palmer to be the 2011 Bengals Most Valuable Player.
The fact is that Palmer’s trade demand set off of chain of events that led the team on a series of decisions that now, in hindsight, were hugely positive.
First, they dumped Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski after 10 looong years with the team. Fans had been calling for his head since 2008, but it wasn’t until January 2011 that he officially got his walking papers. Some may argue that the firing happened prior to the news of Carson’s demand came out, but I surmise that it was decided upon shortly after the now infamous meeting between Palmer and Mike Brown took place. That decision turned out to be a Godsend for fans who were begging for a change and in reality it worked out about as well as it could have.
While the Bengals finished roughly the same in total offense in 2011 as they did in 2010 (ranked 20th both years), Jay Gruden’s offense was much more imaginative (screen passes work!!—whadayaknow?) and less predictable, despite being an admittedly simple form of the West Coast Offense. This success came without the aforementioned 8-year vet Palmer and superstar receivers Chad Ochocino and Terrell Owens. Instead, Gruden accomplished the feat with a rookie QB and rookie receiver–while winning five more games.
And that “simple” tag should be removed next year, when Gruden has a full offseason and camp to work with QB Andy Dalton. Gruden’s success in his first year was so great, he was considered for a head coaching position in Jacksonville. Now that he’ll be back, expectations are understandably high for the “O” in 2012.
Next, they traded Chad Ochocinco to the Patriots. The value they got, most immediately a fifth round pick in 2012, is miniscule compared to his career production in Cincinnati, but it’s a king’s ransom compared to what the team would have been willing to get to dislodge him, or when evaluating how much he’s actually contributed to the 2011 New England Patriots.
Ochocinco’s antics had run their course in Cincinnati, and it was best for the team and the Ocho to move on. Knowing they were most likely going with a rookie quarterback, babysitting a bipolar nutbar wideout was not something the team wanted the new guy to inherit. But if Palmer had stayed in the ‘Nati, would Ocho have stayed too? Gotta wonder.
Next, of course, came the drafting of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. Saying these two youngsters exceeded expectations would be a colossal understatement. They have to be considered home run picks, and while it’s still very early in their careers they are clearly cornerstones for the future and will only get better with time and help. Had Palmer remained with the team, their first two picks might have been different. While Green may very well have still been a Bengal (though not guaranteed) it’s probable that the Red Rifle would have been donning another team’s helmet.
And what a shame that would have been.
Looking to the future, things are looking exceptionally bright, and again, we have number 9 to thank. The team will go into free agency with tons of cap room, due in large part to the 10 million in cap room he saved the team in 2011 by not playing, and the 12.5 he saves them in 2012. Thanks to the rookie wage scale enacted as a part of the new collective bargaining agreement, Dalton’s 4-year, 5.23-million dollar contract is comparatively miniscule. While he’ll likely get a fat raise and extension in the near future (assuming next offseason), the money saved through Palmer’s defection will be well applied elsewhere as the team tries to re-sign valuable contrbutors and shops for WR and offensive line help in free agency.
And, also in the coming spring is the 2012 NFL draft. Here is where Palmer’s contribution will most be felt as the Bengals will be on the clock twice in the first round. The Palmer trade could ultimately result in two first rounders, but at worst it’ll be a first this year and a second in 2013; an embarrassment of riches for a signal-caller who has thrown 36 interceptions in his last 26 games.
The Bengals have been drafting fairly well as of late, and these picks may go a long way towards helping the team continue to build a championship-worthy foundation. Picks that they never would have had if it weren’t for Carson’s refusal to satisfy his contractual obligations.
In the end, Palmer’s Betsy-Wetsy routine might turn out to be the greatest boon for Cincinnati football ever. It might be seen as that seminal moment for a franchise’s ascension from also-ran to dynasty. Obviously that’s a bit presumptuous, but it’s happened before. After all, the Packers were a doormat franchise when they signed Reggie White. The Cowboys were a joke until they traded Herschel Walker to the Vikings. New England was a perennial loser until they hired Bill Belichick and a guy named Brady to take over under center.
Here’s hoping that the trade of Carson Palmer will be remember in the same vein here in Cincinnati: as a precursor to greatness.
For that I thank you, Carson. Who knew your greatest performance as a Bengal would come off the field? Who could have known your greatest contribution to us would be your refusal to contribute?
Anyway, I officially rescind my hatred and wish you the best (especially next year).
You are the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals MVP.