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Bengals bungle again with Palmer

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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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Only a few days into the free-agent frenzy, Bengals owner/GM Mike Brown already seems to have done the impossible: surpassing rhetorical depths achieved during the lockout. So here you go, an early and prohibitive favorite for the 2011 season’s Most Dubiously Self-Righteous Statement, Brown on his ostensibly “retired” quarterback, Carson Palmer:

“Carson signed a contract. He made a commitment. He gave his word. We relied on his word. We relied on his commitment. We expected him to perform here. He’s going to walk away from his commitment. We aren’t going to reward him for doing it.”

Sounds great, no?

You hear something like that and you want to get up and cheer.

I mean, who the hell is Carson Palmer to complain about getting $11.5 million for 16 Sundays he gets to play a kid’s game?

It’s about time someone stood up to these guys. And in this economy! Let them get real jobs.

OK. You done yet?

The more you think about what Brown said, it seems less about morality than stupidity. After all, how do you think the Bengals got to be the Bengals?

I’m not offering Palmer an exemption. At 31, an NFL quarterback should be in his prime. The age comes around once. Palmer knows that. He didn’t want to retire. He wanted to be traded. And now that quarterbacks with such varying resumes as Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Hasselbeck have been dealt to new teams, Palmer must concede there was something lacking in his strategy.

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But back to our man, Brown. As a rule, it’s unwise for NFL owners to hold forth on the sanctity of player contracts, which, as everyone knows are written to be broken, and almost always by management. Still, Brown’s sanctity comes honestly enough, through inheritance. The Bengals are a family business bequeathed to him and a brother by a bona fide NFL legend, their father, Paul. Maybe that’s the problem. Unlike stadium acquisition — which has proven to be a taxpayer-subsidized windfall for the Bengals — Mike Brown takes this player personnel stuff, well, personally.

Players usually do well to take things personally. They need motivation, and thrive on proving people wrong. But owners and front-office types who need to make statements, tend toward trouble. Remember last year when the Redskins insisted that Albert Haynesworth pass the team physical and run his way into shape?

If there were ever a player who didn’t get it, who was deserving of a public humiliation, it was Haynesworth. Hell, yeah, make that fat, overpaid sumbitch sweat. Now that was a feel-good moment. But what did it really get the Redskins and their fans?

Now you know: a fifth-round pick from New England in 2013.

Dan Snyder and Mike Shanahan didn’t need to make a statement. They needed to trade him a year ago (or, preferably, before he stole his $21 million bonus).

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Now I’ll concede that Haynesworth and Palmer is a flawed comparison. But for a guy who was brought up in the game, Mike Brown keeps making the same mistake.

In 2008, Chad Ochocinco (then merely Chad Johnson), asked to be traded. He put in his request before the draft. Like Palmer, he said it wasn’t about money. He just wanted “a change of scenery.”

Mike Brown’s coach responded by reminding everyone that the receiver was under contract, and would be for the foreseeable future. “He is a Cincinnati Bengal for quite a while,” Marvin Lewis said.

Sure enough, the Bengals turned down a first-round pick in 2008 and a conditional pick (somewhere in the first and third rounds) in 2009. That first rounder could’ve been Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, DeSean Jackson or Mike Jenkins, just to name a few. But a deal’s a deal. And as you might expect from Brown, Ocho remained with the team for quite a while, even as he began to markedly decline.

Finally, on Thursday, with little to show for Ocho’s past three years, Cincinnati traded him to New England for a couple of late-round picks.

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You still wondering how they got to be the Bengals?

Or what they might get for Carson Palmer a year or so into his retirement?

Then again, what does Mike Brown care if guys like Kevin Kolb and Matt Hasselbeck have been spoken for? He’s got a second rounder from TCU, Bruce Gradkowski, and best of all, a contract with Carson Palmer.

Tagged: Bengals, Cowboys, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles, Seahawks, Redskins, Cardinals, Mike Brown, Matt Hasselbeck, Albert Haynesworth, Carson Palmer, Kevin Kolb, Mike Jenkins

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