The Bengals have a decision on their hands that could shape the future of the franchise: What do they do with QB Carson Palmer?
The answer is simple: trade him as soon as possible.
Given the current lack of a CBA, it could be months before a trade is even possible. But that's not the point. Assuming trades and free agency are allowed prior to the start of the 2011 season, Cincinnati's best move in the long run would be to deal the signalcaller now.
Let's face it: The Bengals are a team going nowhere fast. They are coming off a 4-12 campaign in which they dropped 10 straight contests, and they play in a division with two clubs that are playoff staples, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. While it is obvious that what Cincy is doing is not working, the organization refused to make a change at head coach, and it continues to lag far behind not only in facilities but also in establishing a solid front office and scouting department. It is light-years away from being a consistent contender.
And yet, instead of deciding it's time to start fresh, Bengals owner Mike Brown would rather hold on to Palmer and continue spinning his wheels with a below-average roster. Despite the fact that the QB has clearly stated his intention to play elsewhere in '11, Brown doesn't want to give him up. It's a plan that's only going to prolong the misery of the organization, which is why now is the time to ship off the face of the franchise.
There hasn't been an offseason in recent memory when so many teams were in dire need of quarterback help. The Dolphins, Titans, Vikings, Panthers, Cardinals and 49ers are just some of the squads that have a massive hole at the most important position on the field. The Bengals might not be in the best bargaining situation given Palmer's threat to retire if not dealt, but they still have an opportunity to fleece a QB-needy team with one of the top passers available on the market.
At age 31, coming off four consecutive seasons with a passer rating below 87.0, Palmer almost certainly isn't worth a first-round pick, but one of the aforementioned clubs could be willing to part with one out of desperation. After all, Palmer is an accomplished veteran who still should be able to be a decent starter for a few more seasons. In today's NFL, those are hard to find.
If someone offers the Bengals a first-rounder or even something remotely close to that (most likely in the 2012 draft), they would be crazy not to accept it. With WRs Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens unlikely to be back next season and free-agent RB Cedric Benson also a possibility to leave, trading Palmer would give the offense an opportunity to start fresh under new coordinator Jay Gruden. Not having to pay the QB's steep salary would also save them some serious money in the immediate future.
Sure, given the Bengals' pathetic QB depth chart, losing Palmer would doom them in the short term. But is there really a huge difference between winning two games and winning six games? Neither will get Cincy in the playoffs. At least this way, the organization will be setting itself up for the future by getting rid of expensive, declining players and restocking with younger, cheaper talents.
Such a move would force the Bengals to use a first- or second-round draft pick on a QB either this year or next, but that was something they would have had to do anyway. And if they don't want to toss a rookie in there on Day One, they have the option of signing a reasonably priced veteran to use as a stopgap. Names like Marc Bulger, Bruce Gradkowski, Rex Grossman and Billy Volek are all set to hit the open market and could be serviceable starters for a year or two. Would there really be a vast difference if one of them were throwing to Jerome Simpson and Jordan Shipley as opposed to Palmer doing the same?
While the Bengals do have some nice building blocks, especially on defense, their chances of competing for a Super Bowl any time soon are slim. By trading Palmer now, they could at least begin the process of reshaping their roster for a future run at glory.
Knowing Mike Brown, though, more standing pat is likely on the horizon.