- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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In this episode of "Horrible Bosses," we feature the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, Mike Brown, and his mission to make everybody who works for him wish they had become podiatrists instead.
Brown's football career peaked upon birth. He was born the son of legendary football genius Paul Brown and has done zilch to remind anybody of him since.
Here's how bad it is working for Brown: His best and most honorable player, Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer, is vowing to walk away from $46 million rather than work another day in Brown's prison stripes.
"Carson just finally got fed up," says a close friend of Palmer. "He's just sick of the same 5,000 mistakes the franchise repeats every year. He's tired of wallowing in mediocrity. He won't ever talk about it, but that's how he feels. He's a very tolerant guy, but when he gets pushed over the line, he gets mad and doesn't go back. He'd love to play, he's dying to play, but he's never going to play there."
Yes, Palmer has four years left on his nine-year, $118 million deal. You signed the contract, you say. Live up to it. In fact, that's what Brown has said. "He gave his word. He's going to walk away from his commitment. We aren't going to reward him for doing it."
But Brown is a hypocrite. He has cut hundreds of players before their contract was up and given them nothing. Why should Palmer live up to a deal that works only one way? If Palmer should suddenly go blind, would Brown still give him the money? Are you kidding? Brown is cheaper than your local Goodwill.
Brown makes four people do the work of eight. Most teams have four or five scouts; Brown keeps one or two. One time in the 1980s -- before the Internet -- I flew in and asked to see the newspaper clip files on a few players. "We aren't quite caught up on our clip files," the weary PR guy said, "but you could go through those." He was pointing to three 12-foot stacks of unopened Cincinnati Enquirers. Nice.
What's hair-pulling for Palmer is that there are so many teams out there that are starving for a good, veteran quarterback. Seattle, for instance, is going to start Tarvaris Jackson, a man who will not take you to the promised land. Tarvaris Jackson will not even get you out of Egypt.
Seattle would be a perfect solution. Even at this late date, Brown could probably get two 2s for Palmer and Palmer could play for his old college coach, Pete Carroll. But Brown would rather get bubkes for Palmer than embrace sanity. He's going to let Palmer rot like an overripe banana, out of pure spite. Brown is the kind of guy who sledgehammers his own lawnmower just so you can't borrow it.
This leaves Cincinnati starting a rookie QB, TCU's Andy Dalton, a baby who has been a pro for six whole weeks. Good luck, kid.
Why won't Brown "reward" Palmer the way he did RB Corey Dillon? Or Chad Ochocinco, the wide receiver who whined, bitched and threatened to "whup" Bengals coach Marvin Lewis' butt? Brown finally gave in and traded Ochocinco to New England this offseason. That's like going from Motel 6 to the Four Seasons.
Palmer, meanwhile, has left large portions of his body on the field for Brown. His nasty ACL and MCL tear in a 2006 playoff game, his ripped elbow in '08. He's worked alongside fools and pretenders, and all under an owner who could make the '72 Dolphins mediocre. And he's done it all without a single discouraging word about an owner who invented discouragement.
Of course, Brown has made such a vomitorium out of this team that, if he gave into Palmer now, he might open Pandora's box. He'd have a line down the hall and all the way to Starbucks of guys who want out.
What I don't get is why the taxpayers of Cincinnati aren't boycotting. Mike Brown promised if they built him a stadium, he'd win. They built it. Brown has gone 72-103-1 since. The mayor should sue. Where's Jerry Springer when you need him?
At the very least, I'd be trying to force Brown to move to L.A. and start over someday with a new franchise. L.A. wouldn't mind. Those fans tolerate the Clippers!
Even worse for Palmer, he owes the Bengals four more years. Even if he unretired at age 65, he'd still be Bengals property. He's only 31. Steve Young had six killer seasons after his 31st birthday. Unfortunately, Palmer is stuck with the only boss in the league who can make you yearn for Al Davis.
If I'm Palmer, I watch the signing wires like a hawk. As soon as the Bengals climb to within $11.5 million of the hard salary cap, I beeline it to Cincinnati and sign. That would force Brown to either cut five or six players to be able to pay me -- or sign my freedom papers.
Until then, Cincinnati, enjoy what Brown can do for you. It won't be much. If you win two games this year, throw him a parade.
On the front of a departing Amtrak.
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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.
Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's latest book, "Sports from Hell."