The strained relationship between the Cincinnati Bengals and their former first-overall pick, Carson Palmer, is nothing new; provided you haven’t been living under a rock.
We all know the story well enough. Palmer divorced himself the team after he decided that they weren’t doing enough to help build around him. While this essentially made him a martyr, it wasn’t like his complaints were particularly incorrect.
Palmer recently went on the 3 and Out podcast with John Middlekauff, who is a former NFL scout and a writer for The Athletic. Not only did Palmer expand upon his feelings towards the Bengals, he didn’t seem to hold anything back.
We won our division. We got good one year. We were close to getting good and we needed some key pieces. And I had gone to the organization and was like...we need a couple players here, a couple players there...and then of course the offseason comes, and nothing happens. Nothing changes. And it was year after year. In order to win in the NFL...you’ve got to be desperate to win a championship. You’ve got to be all in. The financials and the money side of it are very important obviously to owners, and to everybody that’s invested in the organization. But if the most important thing is the financials and the second-most important thing is winning, then you don’t have a chance. And it’s so important that ownership is willing to do what it takes to win.
The bolded is, undeniably, the most damning piece of valid criticism towards the Bengals from an organizational standpoint. It’s not that the Bengals flat out don’t care about winning, it’s that they’ve continually showed the inability to alter that perception, so accepting it as truth becomes easier and easier as time goes on.
Palmer certainly felt this was the case during the prime of his days with the Bengals. While they were good enough to win two division titles from 2005 to 2009, they just weren’t capable of doing anything beyond that. Their record of 19-28-1 from 2006 to 2008 surely validates that.
When he was transitioning from Heisman-winning quarterback to potential first-overall draft pick, Palmer explained that he had people telling him he shouldn’t want to go to Cincinnati, due to how dysfunctional the organization was. He said he didn’t think those concerns were valid, saying:
‘The organization doesn’t matter. The players on the field are what matters.’ And I was 100 percent wrong. All that matters is the organization. Because great organizations get the right players. So I was wrong on that. And it was just an accumulation of so many things.
You can agree with Palmer here just as much as you can disagree while looking at his words in a different perspective. In his last year and the three years after he was traded, the Bengals built a team that was as talented as any other in the league. Having four consecutive great draft classes was the reason Cincinnati thrived after the Palmer era.
But, to Palmer’s point, the severe lack of supplementation and retention of talent via free agency is what derailed their five-year run after he left. It happened with him a decade earlier, and then it happened with his replacement, Andy Dalton.
There’s so much pressure on quarterbacks as it is. When you have to worry about some idiot making the decision on a roster move, or hiring coaches, or some of the stuff you have to worry about...when you have that added pressure and stress of not trusting the organization and knowing that they don’t know what they’re doing, that’s just an added amount of stress you don’t need as a young player.
Palmer’s experiences shouldn’t hold less weight because they reflect things fans may not want to admit. At the same time, his experiences shouldn’t automatically apply to future players in similar situations.
It’s all about the individual’s viewpoint. Palmer certainly lost trust in the front office and that’s why what happened ended up happening. That doesn’t mean that the Bengals of now and next year can’t establish trust with a new quarterback, who will have to carry the same burdens that Palmer did all those years ago,
The thing is though, none of this is groundbreaking information. Everyone knows these things are true, and Bengals fans especially don’t need to be constantly reminded of them.
In conclusion, the guy who started things around here, Josh Kirkendall, said it better than most can: