No matter what they say...we all saw it coming....
Bengals narrow talks to one: Palmer
By Len Pasquarelli
Provided they reach a contract agreement in principle, which should be achieved well in advance of the NFL draft his weekend, the Cincinnati Bengals have settled on Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer as the first overall selection, ESPN.com has learned.
The choice of Palmer, who won the Heisman Trophy after a strong senior season, is hardly surprising. He has been rumored for weeks to be the front-runner as the No. 1 pick, but wasn't necessarily the unanimous choice of Cincinnati's coaching staff.
Recently, the Bengals continued to create the perception the decision had not been resolved, and maintained a dialogue with the agents for Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman.
“ Their secret is out. Everyone knows who they want. They just have to get it done, that's all, and no one expects that it will fall apart. ”
— League source on Bengals targeting Carson Palmer
But it became clear over the weekend the Bengals were focusing on Palmer and, on Monday, the accompanying subterfuge all but ended.
Bengals officials began exclusively negotiating with agent David Dunn, who represents Palmer, and ratcheted up the talks with face-to-face discussions. There have been no discussions with Tom Condon, the representative for Leftwich, or with Newman's agent, David Ware, since last Friday.
Both men had been told Friday the Bengals wanted to have a deal in place by early in the week and that club officials planned to continue talks through the weekend. Ware received an e-mail Saturday informing him the Bengals were in meetings, and that they would resume talks Monday morning.
That did not occur.
League sources said on Monday evening that Dunn arrived in Cincinnati prepared to negotiate a deal that would make his client the top pick. Those sources said the Bengals would only turn back to Leftwich or Newman if negotiations for Palmer became untenable.
"Their secret is out," said one league source. "Everyone knows who they want. They just have to get it done, that's all, and no one expects that it will fall apart."
Palmer, 23, started 45 games for Southern California during a five-year career lengthened by an injury-related redshirt for the 1999 season. He completed 927 of 1,569 passes for 11,818 yards, with 72 touchdown passes and 49 interceptions. Since first-year head coach Marvin Lewis has already said that veteran Jon Kitna will be the Bengals' starter, Palmer will not have the pressure of starting as a rookie.
Like the agents for the other two prospects with whom the Bengals were negotiating, Dunn probably will have to work hard to hammer out the so-called "backside" elements of the contract. Those are the components that dramatically inflate the value of a deal if the player reaches predetermined performance benchmarks.
The Bengals want to be more restrictive on the backside issues, to perhaps delay until later in the contract escalator clauses and related enhancements.
The importance of backside elements: The deal signed by last spring's first overall selection, Houston Texans quarterback David Carr, is a base contract valued by the NFL Players' Association at about $21.5 million for seven years. But with the backside enhancements, the union appraises the deal at as much as $47.25 million for six years or seven years at $58 million.
Citing the flat rookie pool, which means teams will only be able to invest as much on their rookies classes in 2003 as they did a year ago, the Bengals have been adamant about using the basic Carr contract as a model. But it is believed they want to adjust some of the backside details.
Notable also is that Cincinnati never made any firm offers to Leftwich or Newman. There is a simple explanation for that: Both players were apt to quickly accept a proposal rather than be drafted a bit later in the first round, where the financial payout will be less.
If Leftwich isn't the Bengals' choice, for instance, he could slide all the way to the 10th pick in the first round. In the 2002 draft, the 10th spot paid, on average, 40 percent less than No. 1.
So the odds are good that Leftwich and Condon would have taken the Carr deal, if just tweaked a bit to demonstrate they received at least a modest increase. Even applying a 25- to 30-percent discount that the Bengals would have expected from Newman, because he does not play quarterback, he would probably have jumped at a reasonable offer and the opportunity to have the prestige of being the first player off the board.
Ware was asked last week to submit a proposal dealing with backside issues. Condon last Thursday sent the Bengals a complete proposal but the Bengals never responded to it.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.