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Bengals mailbag: Browns-and-out, indoor facilities and Palmer what-ifs

What would the Bengals have done if Carson Palmer stuck around after 2010? Were the losses to the Browns the final straw for Mike Brown with Marvin Lewis?

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As the days continue to pass in this new year, more and more questions are coming to the surface about the Cincinnati Bengals. Obviously, concerns about a potential regression to the pre-Lewis era is one of them, as the team is in the middle of a coaching staff search.

However, a lot of fans are looking back at historical and hypothetical occurrences in an effort to pinpoint where and why the Bengals are where they currently stand.

For instance, on this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, one our regular listeners called in and asked an interesting question about the fallout of the Bengals getting swept by the Browns this year. The two losses in “The Battle of Ohio” were the first in the same season since 2002—before Lewis arrived in Cincinnati.

Might those have been the breaking point for the Brown family when it came to discussing the return of Marvin Lewis?

We won’t delve into a major history lesson here, but to say that there is bad blood between the Bengal-owning Brown family and the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise would be an understatement. Current Cincinnati owner, Mike Brown, saw his father get his heart ripped out back in 1963 by a team he helped create and it has become one the NFL’s more storied rivalries.

Ironically, the Brown family subsequently saw the entire city of Cleveland get its collective hearts ripped out when the Browns dissolved in 1995 and re-formed in 1996 as the Baltimore Ravens. But, four short years later, the Cleveland Browns were re-installed to the National Football League.

Ever since, two things have taken place: the rivalry heated back up (but not to the place it was before), and the Bengals have largely had the upper hand in the head-to-head clashes. But, with an exciting draft class and midseason coaching change, the tables turned for the Browns this year.

Ironically, these games mean more to these respective teams than they often do in the AFC playoff picture. In the 16-year Lewis era, the Browns have only sniffed the playoff three times (2007, 2014 and 2018), whereas the Bengals missed the playoffs in nine of those Lewis-led campaigns.

No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, torched the Bengals in two games this season leading to two ugly losses. Cincinnati was out of both contests by halftime, so could these have especially stuck in Brown’s craw when it came to a decision with Lewis?


Look, both sides limited the P.R. damage by calling Lewis’ departure a “mutual decision”. That very well may be true, but in the cutthroat NFL, the sense is that that may not truly be the case.

Regardless, for those of us who have followed this team for any significant length of time, the old Bengals owner is one of the most enigmatic people in the public eye. Paul’s son isn’t one for flash like Jim Irsay or Jerry Jones, while also sitting relatively idly by in the frenzy that is free agency.

But, oh, does the Brown family have a memory.

Whether it’s publicly recalling decade-old reasons for not spending in outside free agency, remembering specific milestones about Paul, the NFL architect, or recalling specific statistics out of the blue, they seemingly remember more things than most other families. They most definitely remembered Art Modell and his treatment of the Brown patriarch.

It’s why “The Battle of Ohio” means more to the Brown family than Bengals fans. And, if there was a straw to break Lewis’ back in Cincinnati, it’s in two embarrassing losses to the Browns in a single season.

I’m just not sure that Brown was ready to break out the broom for Lewis, regardless of a 6-10 season and two losses to Cleveland. I think if Lewis was adamant about staying, while laying out a plan for having Hue Jackson as his offensive coordinator and Vance Joseph to be his defensive coordinator, he’d be back for one final hoorah.

But, was Brown cognizant of the fan unrest, while stewing about the two Browns losses?

I guess it’s splitting hairs at this point, but the discussion is pertinent, at least for rivalry reasons. It’s especially relevant, because if it is the case, the new coach will need to take note: losing to the Browns is simply unacceptable.


In a recent email, we were asked once again about an indoor practice facility. Here’s an excerpt:

And with the multitude of coaching candidates out there, the one constant for enticing a prospective successor would be (in my opinion); plans for constructing an indoor practice facility within the Bengals complex. It would only make sense and bring the Organization up to the standards with the other NFL ball clubs. The Bengals need to have their own indoor facility vs. tailoring/altering their practices, due to the elements. Not sure but there might be an indirect correlation between the injuries that plagued the team vs the limited/lack of practices due to adverse conditions. This can’t be that cost prohibitive for the Brown/Blackburn family, not to make the investment?

Preach, Jason!

Look, we know the deal here: Cincinnati is the northern-most city with an NFL that does not have an indoor practice facility of its own. For years, Brown has noted that it’s more of a luxury than a necessity, as the team hops on a bus and heads to a college campus to use their indoor bubble.

When Mike Brown digs his heels in on a subject, it takes a near-army to pull him out of that trench. If the indoor facility is not familiar territory, perhaps his stance on the topic of a ring of honor could ring a bell.

Back in 2011, Lewis returned once again and some rumors began to spread about his wrestling away of power from Brown. One of the facets he supposedly pushed for was the construction of an indoor bubble. The owner said that the facility topic was on the table for discussion, but eight years later, the team is still without one.

Normally, it wouldn’t be something causing much of a stir. But a lethal combination of three straight losing seasons and innumerable injuries this year, the “little things” come under high scrutiny.

There are some advantages in “practicing in the elements”. Quarterbacks can get used to throwing in poor weather, while others can get acclimated to running and cutting on treacherous surfaces.

However, the players who have injuries of the more minor varieties (sprains, bruises, etc.) and continue to be exposed to the cold have a handicap in their rehab process. And, as we all know, the late fall and early winter months are breeding grounds for colds, flus and pneumonia-like ailments.

Additionally, as Terrell said in a subsequent tweet, it’s more difficult for coaches to install game plans and the like in these elements, then it is when rounding up the groups in a cozy indoor facility.

Does that sound too soft for a sport that is so violent? Maybe, but isn’t the in-week respite for players in a bubble point to the crux of the argument?

Really, the indoor facility, ring of honor and other “small” tenets are things that build up to be huge pieces in an organization’s framework. While winning on the field is always of paramount importance, there are other pieces of the puzzle on the outskirts of organizational practices that subtly lead to on-field results.

It’s in these facets that seem to be lost on Mr. Brown. It’s an equation Lewis spent 16 years trying to alter, but couldn’t muster enough oomph to move the old man.

If the injury exacerbation excuse is too weak (and there are flaws in it, to be sure), maybe one surrounding free agency holds more water. After all, outside free agents get wined-and-dined by clubs, and they undoubtedly like to see top-notch facilities.

Back in 2004, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp narrowed his high-profile free agency search down to a small handful of teams. And, for once, the Bengals seemed to be one of the front-runners in a major outside free agency acquisition.

Sapp ended up signing with Oakland, calling the Bengals an “afterthought” and used their interest as financial leverage, but feelings on his free agency visit to The Queen City resonated years later when he was in the analyst’s chair.

Cincinnati had the last laugh as they made the playoffs during Sapp’s Raiders tenure, while Oakland was among the league’s worst from 2004-2007. So, maybe it’s something that a passing comment from a loquacious and troubled guy.

Or, it’s a subtle reminder as to why the team is not a player in free agency, while continuing to wallow in mediocrity. You decide:

Build the facility, Mr. Brown.


“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts...”

Was thinking back to Marvin’s time with the Bengals and thought how good could we have been in 2012 if the Bengals worked it out with Carson Palmer? This could have been one of the greatest Bengal teams in a long time better than the 2015 team I believe. Drafting green in 2011 could have taken the pressure off a aging chad Johnson who could have still been great as the team still drafts Sanu and Jones letting chad play slot or fourth on the depth chart and giving up that 1st round pick from Oakland keeps us from getting Dre but we still take Zeitler.

This seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?

To be honest, the Carson Palmer divorce is a two-way street. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Bengals probably has a bit stronger of an argument if we’re taking sides eight years later, but he isn’t totally free from blame either.

Essentially, Palmer put himself in a very exclusive group of NFL players who did the “trade-me-or-else” echelon. Not coincidentally, most of the guys in this group are comprised of quarterbacks, but it’s not exclusive to that position.

If you remember, Palmer had had enough after the 2010 “all-in” experiment failed to work. Cincinnati brought in a pass-catching tight end in Jermaine Gresham through the draft, while adding the talented Terrell Owens, but those two additions weren’t enough to build upon a surprisingly-outstanding 2009 campaign.

The franchise signal-caller was apparently sick of the direction of the franchise (or lack thereof), had a meeting with the-powers-that-be in the offseason and alerted them of his intentions. Brown, being the stick-to-his-guns guy that he is, allowed Palmer to sit at home for the first six weeks of the season before Hue Jackson and the Raiders came calling with a hell of an offer.

What ensued was a result that appeased both parties...I suppose.

Cincinnati went on to make five consecutive playoff berths, as Andy Dalton began to erase some of Palmer’s franchise records. Chad Johnson, another cast-off in the 2011 rebuilding project, was replaced by A.J. Green, who may re-write most of eight-five’s franchise marks.

However, even with the talented hauls from the 2010-2013 draft classes, Cincinnati couldn’t win a playoff game with a Palmer-less roster in five consecutive tries. Dalton ended up becoming one of the major scapegoats in those high-profile contests, as he didn’t play well in the four games in which he played.

Palmer’s situation is filled with irony. After holding the Bengals hostage because of his beef with organizational practices, he landed with two clubs that rival Cincinnati’s dysfunctions. His stint with the Raiders didn’t go well, as Palmer had just an 8-16 record in Oakland.

After being shipped to the Cardinals, Palmer had a couple of great seasons in 2013 and 2015, but his five seasons there only netted one playoff berth, one postseason win and two more severe knee injuries.

Even if the team still didn’t keep Johnson, imagine Palmer slinging it to a combination of Gresham, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Imagine him being able to rely on Giovani Bernard and an all-star offensive line spearheaded by Andrew Whitworth (who he had in 2009-2010 already) and Kevin Zeitler.

Then again, would he have done better than Dalton, who bettered some of Palmer’s single-season franchise passing marks?

There’s another kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing that happens with Palmer’s bailing on the Bengals, though. You see, there were varying reports on the issues that supposedly led to the former Heisman Trophy winner wanting out of Cincinnati.

Some of it was due to some turd fans reportedly vandalizing his property. In the recent “A Football Life” documentary, Palmer noted that he was at odds with Bengals ownership.

Some of that could have been in Lewis’ return to the club in 2011. The other part of it may have been in their collecting and accepting of problem children on the roster.

Ironically, that vision largely changed in that 2011 season. So, was it Palmer’s stance that prompted the philosophical change in roster construction, or was it part of Lewis’ contract negotiations?

Regardless, the past is the past. Call it a stance I’m promoting with the new year, but the Bengals are now looking at a major change once again almost a decade later. Worrying about what could have been with Palmer is entertaining, but it doesn’t do much good other than driving yourself crazy.

It was nice when Palmer was mentioned in the same breath as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady for a very brief time though, wasn’t it?

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