INDIANAPOLIS -- During his rookie season, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, the first player chosen in the 2003 draft, was the NFL's ninth highest-paid player in terms of total compensation.
And the former Southern California star never made it off the sideline in a regular-season game, logging zero snaps.
That seems about to change, however, as Bengals coach Marvin Lewis strongly hinted here Friday that Palmer will replace Jon Kitna as the starter when the club convenes for its first offseason minicamp on May 7. Lewis had announced several weeks ago that he intended to name a starter before the minicamp but suggested he had not yet made up his mind about which quarterback would work with the first unit.
While he stopped shy Friday of confirming that Palmer will be elevated to the top spot on the depth chart, it didn't exactly require a fortune teller to read through the tea leaves and discern that a change is imminent.
"Whoever our quarterback is going to be, he's going to be our quarterback until he's causing us not to win football games," Lewis said. "Just as it was last year. I'll make that clear to everyone involved. I don't want to have our football team go down that road [where it appears] we're losing games because of one person. It's not fair to all of those other guys. Obviously, as coaches, you have to do things that guys can do successfully to keep you from losing. More importantly, you don't want to have one guy lead you down that path."
The quarterback situation, because of reasons financial and otherwise, is a conundrum of sorts for Lewis and the Bengals. Kitna started every game in 2003 and led the Bengals to an 8-8 record, the team's first non-losing season since 1996.
The seven-year veteran completed 324 of 520 passes for 3,591 yards, with 26 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions and an efficiency rating of 87.4. Entering the final month of the season, with Cincinnati poised for a playoff run, Kitna was actually being mentioned as a potential MVP candidate.
But the Bengals lost three of their last four games, including the final two contests, and Kitna did not play particularly well down the stretch.
Compounding the situation is Palmer's contract. Between his signing bonus and his base salary, he earned slightly more than $11 million in 2003 and, at that compensation level, Cincinnati can't afford to keep him on the bench.
Since the 1970 merger, just one first-round quarterback, Chad Pennington of the New York Jets, went through his initial two seasons without starting a game. Lewis said that he feels his team is now mature enough to handle a quarterback turnover. He noted, as well, that the club cannot afford to stunt the growth of Palmer.
"Our guys are going to have to deal with that at some point," he said. "And Jon is well aware of that."
Kitna is entering the final season of a four-year contract and is scheduled to have a base salary of $3.375 million and a cap charge of $4.375 million. He has said at various times in the offseason that he would consider reworking his deal if he isn't the starter.
...And another article from the Cincinatti Enquirer...
INDIANAPOLIS - Bengals coach Marvin Lewis hinted strongly Friday that Carson Palmer would open the season as starting quarterback ahead of incumbent Jon Kitna.
Lewis said that Palmer was drafted No. 1 overall to be the future face of the organization, that Palmer was no longer an unknown to his teammates, that the team's psyche could now handle the inevitable mistakes young quarterbacks make. He said he wished he had done more to prepare Palmer in 2003, that Palmer was the type of quarterback who could quickly make up for lost time, that the organization showed great patience in not rushing Palmer in 2003 and that Kitna would not cause problems if demoted.
"No question Jon did tremendous for our football team," Lewis said. "... He is a huge leader, as big a leader as we had on our team.
"If he's the starting quarterback and you yank him out of the game, how that's perceived has an effect on our players. If he's not the starting quarterback, (it) has an effect on our players. No question, our guys are going to have to deal with that at some point, and Jon is well aware of that."
Lewis addressed the Bengals' quarterback question in a news conference with NFL media from across the country and again in a private sit-down session with Cincinnati-area media during the league's annual scouting combine at the RCA Dome.
Lewis first opened the door for Palmer on Dec. 29, the day after the season finale, when the coach would not commit to Kitna as the starter for 2004. The only NFL quarterback to take every snap for his team, Kitna led the Bengals to an 8-8 record - just the franchise's second non-losing record in 13 seasons.
Pressed to announce his decision Friday, Lewis said, "I think it's something that will be addressed, but this isn't the time to do it here. That's not why we're here."
Kitna, who threw a career-high 26 touchdown passes and had an 87.4 passer rating, fifth-best in the AFC, was reached Friday by phone in San Diego at a professional Christian athletes conference.
Kitna said he and Lewis met recently and that Lewis was "open and honest with me."
Asked if Lewis had informed him of his decision, Kitna said, "Marvin will answer that (in the media) when he's ready."
Kitna continued by saying that if he were not the starter, he no longer would be a team or offensive unit spokesman in the media because "that would not be my job. That would be Carson's job."
Lewis said the decision is more difficult now than it was last year.
"Now we put ourselves two years behind, maybe, where we could be as a football team," he said. " If you're standing here a year from now and have won a world's championship, you feel pretty good about it. I don't know if we can sit here right now and see through the tea leaves like that."
Lewis said if he chooses Palmer, the job would be Palmer's to lose; the same conditions applied to Kitna in 2003. Lewis has said the starter would take the field with the offense at this year's first minicamp, May 7-9.
"I'm still trying to figure out how it's not going to be a big deal," Lewis said of the decision.
Lewis described how he used the Falcons' model of handling of then-rookie Michael Vick in 2001 to get ideas of how to keep Palmer ready.
"We devoted our bye week to that," Lewis said. "We devoted extra practice time to that. We moved him to second quarterback in the mid part of our season. We tried to take the steps, and I wish I had done more, actually, to prepare him.
"I'm confident we have a guy in Carson who is kind of a gym rat who loves football, who loves to spend the time, (and) I think in that way he can make up the time quickly."
Cincy's offense is loaded with young talent at the skill positions and they also have perhaps the best young O-line in the league. I always thought Palmer was the next big bust at QB, but if Kitna can put up those numbers in that offense, Palmer might be the next Jake Plummer -- a crappy real-life QB, but a solid fantasy producer.
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this is a tough spot for coach lewis i think. Kitna did real well last year and helped bring the team to respectablilty but Pamer is the 11 million dollar man with all the potential. Palmer deserves his chance its just too bad its going to come at the expence of Jon Kitna.
"When the truth walks away who is gonna stay? Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay?"
Man ,after last season ,I thought the Bungles were gone .I was wrong
This move is a big time bungle .Their schedule is really tough ,and if Palmer is the QB ,they'll be out of the playoffs by mid-October .As usual .
It's a shame. I bet Marvin Lewis is being pressured to naming Palmer the starter by Mike Brown. I can understand not wanting to pay a backup QB $11m, but it sounds like it was a mistake to draft Palmer in the first place.