Carson Palmer may have toyed with the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, albeit after getting spotted a two-touchdown lead before producing his first scoring drive, but the Arizona Cardinals’ 35-year-old quarterback has certainly faced his share of daunting opponents during his long and largely underappreciated pro football career.
In Palmer’s mind, however, his most formidable foe never recorded a sack or an interception against him, and in fact was not a team but a single man: Bengals owner Mike Brown, with whom Palmer engaged in a Take This Job And Shove It staredown that provoked the quarterback’s premature retirement and, eventually, abrupt departure from Cincinnati four seasons ago.
While Palmer has since reestablished himself as a top-tier quarterback for a deceptively dangerous Cardinals team, he believes the residual effects of that clash with Brown — Palmer essentially told Brown he’d rather quit than play another down for the Bengals, and had his bluff called for nearly a year — have contributed to an overly negative perception of his abilities among fans, analysts and even talent evaluators within the NFL community.
“I took an owner head-on, you know?” Palmer told me as the two of us stood at his University of Phoenix Stadium locker following the Cards’ 47-7 thrashing of the Niners, which gave Arizona (3-0) a two-game lead in the NFC West three weeks into the season. “That’s shunned in this league, and people don’t like it — and the NFL definitely doesn’t like it. That’s hurt me a lot, and I’ve been bounced around pretty good since it happened.”
For years I’ve been torn on the Carson Palmer/Bengals split. On one hand, I’ve always been a huge Carson Palmer guy. Thought he was legit the best QB in the league in ’05 before shredding his knee on that dirty hit in the playoffs against the Steelers. Perhaps not so coincidentally I I believe that play was the single most important event in modern Bengals history (and not for the better might I add) since Marvin Lewis got the keys to the franchise. I defended Palmer ad nauseum during the twilight years of his Bengals career when overthrows and interceptions were just as prevalent as first downs and touchdowns. Carson took a ton of the blame when things fell apart even if most of that blame wasn’t his to shoulder in the first place (sound like another QB you know?). Years of post injury struggle coupled with the fallout from the TOcho experiment and clashes with Marvin Lewis and ownership literally drove Carson over the edge to the point of up and quitting. I’m not saying I agree with Carson’s decision to quit the team, but if anyone knows what it’s like to have a shitty job, it’s me and I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have an entire city up your ass about it telling you how shitty you are at your job and how they don’t want you anymore. So on one hand, Carson’s reasons for wanting out of Cincinnati were totally legitimate. On the other hand, quitting an NFL team like that is such a pussy move. As a franchise QB, dealing with angry fans and larger than life egos and shitty owner and/or coach relationships is just part of the job description. You have to be able to deal with that. Not saying that’s easy or that I could necessarily handle it, but then again I’m also not a franchise NFL quarterback (although sometimes in my brain I think I am). Not to mention at one point the Bengals franchise made Carson the highest paid QB in the league at the time so you also have to consider honoring that as well. In hindsight, it’s easy to look back all these years later and try to Monday morning quarterback how things woulda coulda shoulda played out. Ideally, if Carson was really that unhappy he should have just played out the remainder of his deal with the Bengals, declined an extension and allowed the franchise to draft a replacement. Force Mike Brown’s hand that way instead of just leaving the team high and dry. Luckily in comes Andy Dalton, AJ Green and the rest of the crew to usher in one of the more successful eras in Bengals history so at this point it’s all water under the bridge. I’m just glad to see Palmer reviving his career out there in Arizona. He’s far to talented of a player to just wilt away and die, even after one of the worst cases of Bengalization the world has ever seen.