This week, shortly after Bengals owner Mike Brown scoured the NFL's collective bargaining agreement to see if he could pay his entire $120 million payroll in nickels, he issued a proclamation: He will not trade Carson Palmer. No way. Uh-uh. Forget it.
Palmer has said he will retire rather than play for the Bengals. This is a common sentiment -- I suspect that roughly 200 million Americans would rather retire than play for the Bengals. But Palmer has the misfortune of actually being under contract to the Bengals.
Palmer doesn't want to retire. He wants a trade. And Brown, bless his completely misguided heart, won't grant one.
"Carson signed a contract," Brown said. "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."
Brown is absolutely right and also completely wrong. He is absolutely right that Palmer should play for the Bengals. He is under contract. Sure, NFL contracts are strange -- the Bengals could cut Palmer without paying his full salary, so he is more obligated to them than they are to him. But hey, this is the system. It doesn't excuse what Palmer is doing. He is trying to slither out of his commitment.
And yet, Brown is completely wrong, too. His job is not to uphold truth, justice and the American way. He is supposed to win football games.
This one decision tells you so much about why the Bengals have led the AFC in sucking for most of Brown's tenure. Brown is drawing a line in the sand, right next to where his head is buried. He is letting emotion and pride get in the way of what is best for his team.
I can't speak for all Bengals fans. But I bet I can speak for, oh, 96.72 percent of them: NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR PRINCIPLES, MIKE. Hamilton County taxpayers did not spend $555 million on a stadium so they could cheer for Brown's principles. The Bengals have abused their fans so much over the years, they might as well hold an annual Punch Your Customers In the Face Day.
Palmer is wrong, but that doesn't make Brown right.
Once Palmer announced that he would rather play golf than for the Bengals, there were three possible outcomes:
1. The Bengals could trade Palmer for draft picks. I don't know what he would fetch; it's hard to figure out NFL trades. But he is 31 years old and is coming off a decent year: 82.4 passer rating, 26 touchdown passes, 61.8 completion percentage. He threw too many interceptions and nobody thinks of him as a star anymore.
But in a quarterback league, he has value. The Redskins gave up second-round and fourth-round picks for Donovan McNabb. Palmer could bring assets.
2. The Bengals could refuse to trade Palmer and he could sit out the rest of his contract. This would not help them at all.
3. The Bengals could refuse to trade Palmer, and he could swallow his pride and come back to play for them. But how well would that work out? Would he be welcome in the locker room? Would he have any relationship with the coaches and management? This isn't your left guard. He is the starting quarterback. He needs to be a leader. Do you really want a leader who doesn't want to be there?
And since the Bengals already chose Palmer's replacement, Andy Dalton, in the second round of this year's draft, do they really want Dalton playing in the middle of a circus with a guy who has trashed the organization?
Palmer is tired of playing for a losing and seemingly hopeless organization. That is the real problem here. And yes, once again: Palmer is wrong for trying to force a trade. But the solution is not just standing up and saying "No." The solution is staying quiet and making the best possible deal for Palmer.
Don't tell Carson Palmer he is wrong. Prove he is wrong. Build a winning team without him. Then Andy Dalton will want to stick around.