No. 1 done
Bengals end suspense, agree to contract with PalmerPosted: Thursday April 24, 2003 3:26 PM
Updated: Thursday April 24, 2003 6:04 PM
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Carson Palmer has signed on for the Cincinnati Bengals' reconstruction.
The Heisman Trophy winner agreed to a contract Thursday with the NFL's worst team, which has the draft's top pick and a history of ruining young quarterbacks.
Intrigued by the way first-year head coach Marvin Lewis has changed the aura around the NFL's worst team, Palmer decided to sign on.
"I'm proud to be part of a new era of Bengals football," he said at a news conference, shortly after he signed a seven-year deal. "I've been following them for the past couple of months and seen the changes he's made. I'm excited to be part of this thing."
The Bengals narrowed their candidates for the No. 1 pick to Palmer, quarterback Byron Leftwich and cornerback Terence Newman, then targeted the passer from Southern California this week.
Palmer's agent, David Dunn, agreed on contract parameters late Wednesday, and filled in the rest of the details Thursday on a contract that includes $14 million in bonuses.
Palmer got a $10.01 million signing bonus, and will get another $4.01 million roster bonus in 22 months. The contract will turn into a six-year deal if he's in for 35 percent of the plays in any season.
Palmer can make roughly $40 million in bonuses and base salary over six years, with escalators that could take it to $49 million. He'll get $18.25 million in the first three years through bonuses and salary.
Getting a pre-draft deal with Palmer was a priority for Lewis, who is trying to change the Bengals' reputation for bungling away chances to improve through the draft.
The Bengals have been the NFL's worst team over the past 12 years, in part because they've mishandled their quarterbacks. They moved up to take David Klingler with the sixth overall pick in 1992, and chose Akili Smith with the third overall pick in 1999.
Neither one had much of a chance on a team that hasn't had a winning record since 1990. Both missed training camp in contract disputes, then got thrown into the lineup as unprepared rookies.
If Lewis gets his way, the same thing won't happen with Palmer. The plan is for him to sit for at least one year and learn behind starter Jon Kitna. Palmer is convinced he'll be handled properly under Lewis.
"There are times in every organization's life when you hit a crossroads, you hit a key juncture," Dunn said. "This organization is clearly wandering down a different road than they've wandered down before. And it's nice to be at the beginning of the fork in that road."
Klingler, who came from a run-and-shoot offense at Houston, and Smith, a mobile passer from Oregon, both were confined by the Bengals' passing philosophy. They tried to turn both of them into Ken Anderson clones -- stand in the pocket until the last second, then dump it off if necessary.
Klingler lasted only four years with a weak offensive line and an unimpressive receiving corps.
The Bengals did even worse with Smith, who got less than one full season as a starter before he was discarded. The Bengals teamed him with rookie receivers Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans in 2000, when head coach Bruce Coslet quit three games into the season.
Coslet was in charge of developing Smith, who got little guidance and wound up relegated to third string for the past two seasons. He's still on the roster.
Palmer has one thing in his favor: Lewis understands the importance of bringing a young quarterback along slowly. Plus, Lewis needs to win right away, so he'll let Kitna run the offense this season, with Smith currently in line as the backup.
The Bengals were willing to trade down with the first pick, but found no suitable partner. They brought in Palmer, Leftwich and Newman for interviews with the staff and front office this month before finally deciding to go with the more acclaimed quarterback.
Palmer is 6-foot-4 and more of a pocket passer than either Klingler or Smith. After going 16-16 in his first three seasons, he got the Trojans into the top 10 and led them to the Orange Bowl last season.
Palmer was the first of Southern Cal's five Heisman winners to play quarterback, and the first Heisman winner chosen No. 1 in the draft since Tampa Bay took Vinny Testaverde in 1987.
Cincinnati's hopes of a turnaround will rest on Palmer, a California native who is going to have to learn to adjust to the Midwest and its climate.
"I'm a pretty low-key guy," Palmer said. "I think I'll fit in well here as opposed to LA. I'm definitely ready for the change. I'm ready to get out of LA. it's too up-tempo for me."