Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Updated: April 25, 8:52 AM ET
Sides deliver deal days before draft
By Len Pasquarelli
The Cincinnati Bengals and Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer have reached an agreement in principle on a contract, ESPN.com has learned, ensuring Palmer will be the No. 1 pick in Saturday's draft.The two sides, who have a few minor details to complete, ironed out the major elements of the deal Wednesday, the third straight day in which they negotiated face to face, sources confirmed. Agent David Dunn, who did not return messages left at his Cincinnati hotel, arrived there Monday to begin the substantive talks. There is no indication if the Bengals, whose ownership is sensitive to league protocol, will announce the agreement before the draft. Officials were discussing the matter with the league and it is no secret owner Mike Brown wants input from the commissioner's office before proceeding. There is a chance that an announcement might come Thursday if the league endorses the deal, which marks the earliest signing of a first-round pick in franchise history. The Bengals, particularly rookie head coach Marvin Lewis, were adamant that an agreement be in place before the start of the noon ET draft. Because Palmer's contract is not quite complete, financial details were not available Wednesday night. The deal is expected to closely mirror the one signed by Houston Texans quarterback David Carr, who was last year's No. 1 pick. The deal is so close to being submitted for league approval that Detroit Lions officials, who own the second overall pick, have begun contacting agents of prospective choices to inform them that they might soon be able to initiate contract talks. According to league rules, the Lions can begin negotiating a contract with candidates once the Bengals' deal is consummated. Detroit is expected to speak with the agents of wide receiver Charles Rogers of Michigan State, Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman, and defensive end Terrell Suggs of Arizona State. The structure of Palmer's contract, however, may diverge in some areas from Carr's seven-year, $21.5 million deal. Bengals officials were working hard during negotiations to limit some so-called "backside" elements of the contract, those components which dramatically inflate its value. The total value of Carr's deal, for instance, can top out at $58 million provided he reaches all predetermined performance levels. Carr will earn at least $16.25 million in the first three seasons, and sources said that while there was some wiggle room for Palmer, the "flat" rookie pool for 2003 would likely preclude a quantum increase beyond that figure. The Bengals' attraction to Palmer, who won the 2002 Heisman Trophy, was 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. In recent weeks, the Bengals continued to create the perception that they did not agree on who would be picked and maintained a dialogue with the agents for Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich and Newman. But it became obvious during the week that the Bengals were focused on Palmer and no other player. Bengals officials began exclusively negotiating with Dunn 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. 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 Lewis has already said that veteran Jon Kitna will be the Bengals' starting quarterback, Palmer will not be under the pressure of believing he must play as a rookie. Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.