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Carson Palmer is going to be a Great Acquisition for Some NFL Team

CINCINNATI - DECEMBER 26: Carson Palmer  of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass during the NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 26, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals 34-20. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Carson Palmer’s career with the Bengals may have already run its course.  LiveBall Sports covered his contract situation in the offseason, pointing out that while the Bengals were unlikely to avoid double digit losses this year, the Bengals’ toughest decision may come after the season with a high draft choice and a large contract to a quarterback who hasn’t produced very much since the 2007 season.

Palmer’s mediocre play has lost him a lot of supporters with the Bengals.  Palmer, however, is really not responsible for the Bengals’ underachieving this offseason.  If Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens (and lets not forget Antonio Bryant here) had been the dynamic duo on the football field that they were on MTV, Palmer, or anyone else could have engineered one of the great passing offenses of the season.  The truth is that Ochocinco and Owens were not particularly good players, and a lot of Palmer’s apparent poor decisions were the result of having far too much faith in either veteran wide receiver to be able to beat the coverage despite being the focus of the defense.  You have to only look at the last three halves of Bengals games to see the uptick in quarterback play without the influence of two receivers who were too involved in their own offense.

I think, individually, Ochocinco and Owens are still pretty effective NFL receivers.  Putting them both on an NFL offense was a disaster.  While neither played particularly poorly, there was no complementary benefit in coverages from having them both on the field at the same time, at least on each other.  Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell both got lots of quality looks during the season, proving that Palmer can still get the ball up and down the field.  Had the Bengals been wise enough to invest the money they spent on Owens to improve their running game, and had given the ball to their backs more often, the Bengals inexcusably threw Terrell Owens 139 passes this year, without even getting an 1,000 yard season.  That’s a hair under 7.1 yards per target for Owens.  Ochocinco struggled equally, with just 6.6 yards per target in a more underneath role.

Still, the Bengals passing game managed to finish right in the middle of the pack in yards per play, with an acceptable 6.0, a better number than either the Falcons or the Jets.  The Bengals also finished dead last in rushing the ball, in part because Palmer makes no positive contribution to a team in that manner, averaging about four yards per game and no first downs.  But also because Cedric Benson came to play about 1/3 time, and with Benson blocking him, the Bengals couldn’t commit to Bernard Scott on the ground being that he sat about seventh in the offensive pecking order, just in front of Palmer running the ball himself.

Palmer’s bad decisions this year were almost entirely a function of the offense, specifically the receivers.  Sure, Palmer looks horrible when those throws are made and you can’t excuse those throws as one of the many reasons the Bengals have lost 11 games this season, but for a team looking for a quarterback, Palmer is the player out of the Bengals offense who should be plucked.  He will be best served moving from an organization that is starting over to a team looking to win.  And among the destinations I would expect for Palmer include: Washington, Oakland, Miami, San Francisco, and Seattle.

For the historically cheap Bengals, drafting a quarterback and moving Palmer is a very rational decision.  Merely getting rid of Ochocinco and Owens isn’t going to make Palmer a great player again, the Bengals would have to progress with their internal rebuild as Palmer becomes more an more expensive to keep, and ages.  It makes sense for the Bengals to start over right now.

And it makes more sense for an aggressive GM to buy low on a player who is still playing at a high level, but who has been unable to avoid critical mistakes that have resulted in his team losing a bunch of games.  Mind you, without him, his team isn’t even in those games to lose at the end.  The Bengals could not find success on the ground, nor could they prevent other teams from going on the ground, which is a really bad combination if you trail in games often.  But the Bengals managed to come back and erase large deficits this year, only to lose at the end.  Palmer’s time in Cinci might be coming to a close, but as a quality NFL passer, he’s roughly at the midway point in his career.  Whoever wants the second half of a career that began as a first overall pick and has lived up to billing: buy now.

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