Quarterback of the Past

I do my best to avoid being a vindictive person. I also spent the better part of this past week contemplating Carson Palmer’s impending return to Cincinnati this Sunday, as the Raiders take on the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The latter sentence did very little to help the efforts of the former.

The Carson Palmer saga and his self-induced departure from the club last autumn has been widely publicized and discussed, and as I’ve come to realize over the past week or so, there is nothing I can add to the discussion that sheds any new light on the situation. I was and remain unhappy with how Palmer handled the ordeal. For a franchise that has struggled since Paul Brown’s passing to make a committed and consistent effort toward winning and being successful, the treatment of Palmer during his time in Cincinnati was evidence to the contrary.

The Bengals selected him with the first overall pick in 2003. They signed him to his rookie deal days before the draft even took place, preventing any chance of a training camp holdout. They allowed him sit on the bench and acclimate himself with the playbook and the professional game during his initial season. They signed him to a contract extension in 2005 that made him the NFL’s highest paid player. They made concerted attempts to surround him with talented offensive weapons—which he approved of—and make him as comfortable as possible as the team’s franchise quarterback. They even gave his younger brother, Jordan, a roster spot as a backup quarterback for multiple seasons. If you remember watching Jordan play at all, you know what a charitable offering this was. And yet Carson still snaked his way off the roster, crossing his arms and stomping off because things didn’t go quite as well as he had hoped. He paid no mind to the fact that he was in the midst of that lucrative contract extension he was so willing to sign in the first place. All he cared about was himself.

But there was also the side of me that could understand what Palmer was feeling and going through. I have no qualms with someone that doesn’t want to work for Mike Brown. I have sympathy for someone that gets “For Sale” signs and garbage strewn about his front yard merely because he tossed a few wayward passes and lost a few football games. I care and invest in sports as much as anyone, but I know where to draw the line. Shouting mean words at him from my living room sofa after he takes a bad sack is a long ways from terrorizing his life and family and damaging his personal property.

I ultimately sided with Mike Brown anyways in this standoff, which tells you just how much Palmer’s actions must have irked me. I realize that the NFL is a business and that contracts aren’t guaranteed and that Palmer was looking out for himself and his family, but I wasn’t in favor of him giving up and going home. If the Bengals had eventually cut him or reneged on their promises, then I probably would have empathized with Carson and bashed the Bengals owner and general manager once more. But that wasn’t the case. Palmer cast his own fate.

Now, some 13 months following the trade of Palmer to the Oakland Raiders, with him set to return to face his former squad, I am conflicted yet again. The truth was, Palmer had regressed markedly as an NFL quarterback. Most fans (myself included) weren’t particularly psyched about the prospect of him entering 2011 as the starting QB following his 2010 performance. So in a sense, Carson solved one of the team’s notable problems all on his own. The Bengals drafted Andy Dalton, who continues to develop and improve and led the squad to the playoffs in his rookie season. Carson went to the Raiders, struggling and tossing a bevy of pick-six interceptions much to the delight of many Bengals fans. This has all naturally led to the question of how to treat his return to the Queen City. Do we boo? Cheer? Do nothing at all? How should I respond as a fan? Should I be angry? Should I hold a grudge? Should I wish him nothing but the worst?

One of my favorite scenes from the series Mad Men (no spoilers, I promise) is an interaction Don Draper had with one of his young employees. The up-and-comer steps into an elevator with his boss, angry with how Draper treated him on a recent assignment, not bestowing upon him the respect, credit and consideration he feels is deserved. Don, at least appearing unaffected by his slighted minion, tosses his complaints aside.

As the elevator comes to a rest and the doors open, the employee mutters that he feels bad for Draper, his words haughty and full of ire. Draper responds, “I don’t think about you at all,” exiting the lift with the hint of a smug smirk creeping across his face.

This scene held plenty of nuance and implication within the context of the show and its plot. But as a standalone moment—with the insecure cog held in complete and utter disregard, his voice merely heard but not listened to—it holds a rather self-satisfied outcome to my own dilemma. 

Carson Palmer can say and do and be whatever he wants. It’s no longer of any consequence to me. I don’t think about him at all. 

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