Palmer has knee surgery; faces lengthy rehabilitation

Updated: January 11, 2006, 2:38 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Just two days after being carted off the field in the first quarter of the Cincinnati Bengals' wild-card defeat that ended their season, quarterback Carson Palmer underwent surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee.

Quarterback
Cincinnati Bengals

Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Comp Yds TD Int Rat
509 345 3731 32 12 101.1

The surgery was performed Tuesday night by Dr. Lonnie Paulos of Houston, who repaired the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, and sources close to Palmer confirmed there was no damage to the other two knee ligaments and no cartilage tears. Palmer now faces a lengthy rehabilitation.

By policy, the Bengals typically do not comment on injuries requiring surgery until after the procedure is completed. The club is expected to issue a statement Wednesday on the surgery and Palmer's status.

The three-year veteran was injured on the second offensive snap for Cincinnati when Pittsburgh defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen was blocked into him. Palmer exited on a cart and an initial MRI exam at Paul Brown Stadium indicated the two ligament tears. The tears were confirmed in a subsequent examination. The fact Palmer was wearing a brace on the knee, which he donned after a 2004 injury, might have saved him from more severe damage.

While some surgeons prefer to wait a week or two to perform such procedures -- to allow swelling in the knee to subside -- Palmer and the Bengals agreed to arrange the surgery for this week so he could quickly move into his rehabilitation. The situation became somewhat complex because renowned orthopedics specialist Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala., who was the first choice to perform the surgery, suffered a heart attack late Sunday.

Paulos is on the faculty at the Methodist Sports Medicine Institute in Houston and also is highly regarded.

Time was of the essence for Palmer and the Bengals, because the rehabilitation for such surgery take eight to nine months, which would mean the Cincinnati star might miss the start of training camp, and perhaps even the season. It is believed that Palmer will do the initial phase of rehabilitation in Los Angeles, then return to Cincinnati to continue working on his recovery under the supervision of team trainers.

The top overall choice in the 2003 draft, Palmer vowed Monday that he will be ready for the beginning of camp.

"I'll be back," Palmer said. "I'm not sure of the timeline, but I'm not going to miss anything at training camp and I'll be ready roll."

Given that the Bengals have a huge investment in Palmer, however, the franchise clearly will err on the side of caution. Cincinnati recently signed Palmer to a six-year extension, and the add-on created a nine-year contract worth $118 million. Even Palmer acknowledged that he can't afford to rush back too soon from the injury.

"I realize I've made a commitment to this organization for the future, and I need to think about that, too," the former Southern California star and 2002 Heisman Trophy winner conceded. "I need to keep that in the back of my mind."

Complicating the situation for the Bengals is that backup quarterback Jon Kitna, a nine-year veteran and former starter, is eligible for unrestricted free agency this spring. Several teams will pursue Kitna, who relieved Palmer on Sunday, with the intent of allowing him to compete for the starting job.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.