At last we’ve reached the end. Or, perhaps more fitting, a new beginning. In a season that has promised—quite correctly—a new start, the one thing that still lingered from the first part of Marvin Lewis’ tenure was Carson Palmer. He’s been, in the parlance of Allison Krauss, a ghost in this house. Even as the team has continued to show flashes of being not only a competent team, but also a good one, questions about Palmer and his status remained. Even as Andy Dalton or the Red Rocket or whatever we’re going to call the new starting quarterback has proved himself to be remarkably capable, the question of what the Bengals were really going to do about Palmer hung around, poisoning the waters of a surprisingly good start.
With Palmer’s trade to Oakland, we can move on…sort of. In the months that followed Palmer’s first trade demand from Mike Brown, fans have piled on the Bengals owner. Why would you not let someone who doesn’t want to be here stay? Why let your ego get in the way of draft picks and bettering a team that was 4-12 last season?
When Boomer Esiason wanted out, you let him rejoin Bruce Coslet for a disastrous tenure with the New York Jets. What’s the difference here?The answer is a lot. Esiason had watched Sam Wyche, his coach and mentor go and saw a new—albeit god-awful era—coming and addressed Brown as a man. They needed to move on just as much as he did. Instead of holding him hostage, Brown let Esiason essentially choose his hometown team and then made the trade a reality.
I’ve often said that perhaps Brown’s great flaw is his loyalty. He demands it from his front office personnel (most of whom are his family) and from his players. When he signed Palmer and Chad Johnson to long extensions, ones that would take them deep into their then-promising NFL careers, he did so with the idea that they would remain franchise staples, players who could prove his detractors wrong about everything wrong that had come before. These were lucrative deals that asked only one thing in return: winning.
But everything that was supposed to happen didn’t. Palmer, following his knee and shoulder injuries never brought home the Super Bowl title those first two seasons promised. Chad, while statistically brilliant, couldn’t even win on Dancing with the Stars. Fans looked longingly down I-74 to Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning and his bevy of receivers won division title after division title, reaching the Super Bowl twice. More hurtful was the success of the Steelers, directed by Miami’s Ben Roethlisberger, who managed two Super Bowl wins in the same span that Palmer was the Bengals starter.
And yet Brown stuck with his men. The reason? Love. By all accounts, Brown cared deeply for Chad, and more deeply for Carson. Perhaps the best indication of that was last season when he agreed to sign Terrell Owens after Chad lobbied for him and Palmer gave his O.K. You guys have everything you wanted, now go play. During a season where Palmer was simply awful in stretches—fumbling during key stretches, throwing interceptions late in games—there was never a question that, so long as he wanted, Palmer would remain the starting quarterback in Cincinnati.
When Palmer asked for a trade, following a year where he quarterbacked the team to 10 consecutive losses, one can’t blame Brown for being hurt. During last year’s disastrous run, never once did Brown criticize Palmer publicly or start looking for quarterbacks in the draft. Carson was his guy. And then he wasn’t.
Indeed, if we’re to believe media reports, the only reason this deal happened was because of Brown’s ties with Raiders head coach Hue Jackson. Even so, by waiting to trade Palmer, Brown got more for his pseudo-son than anyone could have possibly imagined. He showed keen football acumen in getting potentially two first-round draft picks and lifting the shroud that’s colored this team’s auspicious start.
As much as it is a new start for the team and franchise, it marks a new beginning for Brown, the man. He did the smart thing, a move devoid of emotional attachment and sentiment. Stepping from his father’s shadow, he has left the past behind, walking, albeit tentatively, into today’s NFL.