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Bengals drafts: 1992-2001
GameDay: Signed before draft day, Carson Palmer looks forward to a future quarterbacking the Bengals.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Updated: April 25, 8:52 AM ET
Bengals have first pick, Palmer under contract
CINCINNATI -- Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer signed a contract Thursday with the Cincinnati Bengals, who have the
draft's top pick and a history of ruining young quarterbacks.
The Bengals narrowed their candidates for the No. 1 pick to
Palmer, quarterback Byron Leftwich and cornerback Terence Newman,
then targeted the passer from Southern California this week.
Palmer's agent, David Dunn, agreed on contract parameters late
Wednesday, and filled in the rest of the details on a seven-year
deal that includes $14 million in bonuses.
Palmer got a $10.01 million signing bonus, and will get another
$4.01 million roster bonus in 22 months. The contract will turn
into a six-year deal if he's in for 35 percent of the plays in any
Palmer can make roughly $40 million in bonuses and base salary
over six years, with escalators that could take it to $49 million.
He'll get $18.25 million in the first three years through bonuses
Getting a pre-draft deal with Palmer was a priority for
first-year coach Marvin Lewis, who is trying to change the Bengals'
reputation for bungling away chances to improve through the draft.
The Bengals have been the NFL's worst team over the past 12
years, in part because they've mishandled their quarterbacks. They
moved up to take David Klingler in the first round in 1992, and
chose Akili Smith with the third overall pick in 1999.
Neither one had much of a chance on a team that hasn't had a
winning record since 1990. Both missed training camp in contract
disputes, then got thrown into the lineup as unprepared rookies.
Klingler, who came from a run-and-shoot offense at Houston, and
Smith, a mobile passer from Oregon, were confined by the Bengals'
passing philosophy. They tried to turn both of them into Ken
Anderson clones -- stand in the pocket until the last second, then
dump it off if necessary.
Klingler lasted only four years with a weak offensive line and
an unimpressive receiving corps -- Jeff Query was his top target at
The Bengals did even worse with Smith, who got less than one
full season as a starter before he was discarded. The Bengals
teamed him with rookie receivers Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans in
2000, when head coach Bruce Coslet quit three games into the
Coslet was in charge of developing Smith, who got little
guidance and wound up relegated to third string for the past two
seasons. He's still on the roster.
Palmer has one thing in his favor: Lewis understands the
importance of bringing a young quarterback along slowly. Plus,
Lewis needs to win right away, so he'll let veteran Jon Kitna run
the offense this season, with Smith currently in line as the
The Bengals were willing to trade down with the first pick, but
found no suitable partner. They brought in Palmer, Leftwich and
Newman for interviews with the staff and front office this month
before finally deciding to go with the more acclaimed quarterback.
Palmer is 6-foot-4 and more of a pocket passer than either
Klingler or Smith. After going 16-16 in his first three seasons, he
got the Trojans into the top 10 and led them to the Orange Bowl
Palmer was the first of Southern Cal's five Heisman winners to
play quarterback, and the first Heisman winner chosen No. 1 in the
draft since Tampa Bay took Vinny Testaverde in 1987.
Like Klingler and Smith, he comes to Cincinnati brimming with
confidence that he will be different.
"I've not met a whole lot of people like me," he said at the
scouting combine in February. "I think I can go in and turn it
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.
From the top, anatomy of 2 deals
Working within the constraints of a "flat" rookie pool, one that offers teams virtually no increase over what they paid draft choices in 2002, agent David Dunn was able to strike a deal with the Bengals that provides eventual top pick Carson Palmer a healthy bump over Houston Texans quarterback David Carr.
Carr, last year's first overall selection, got his money delivered a bit quicker than Palmer's. Palmer will have to wait 22 months before pocketing a second-tier bonus of $4.01 million. But over the first three seasons of his contract, a yardstick characteristically used by NFL agents, Palmer will earn $18.25 million.
That represents a solid 12.3 percent increase over the $16.25 million that Carr will pocket in the first three seasons of his career.
Some skeptics believe that realizing a double-digit percentage increase over the Carr contract, at least in the early stages of Palmer's deal, would be almost impossible. Bengals officials were adamant that, while working with similar contract structures, they wanted to control the so-called "backside" elements of the contract. Those are the components that inflate the value of the deal if the player reaches certain predetermined performance benchmarks.
To some extent, the Bengals succeeded in doing that, sources said. But the Palmer contract can still be worth nearly $49 million for six years, although $41 million seems a more realistic top end. Carr's contract is valued by the NFL Players Association as a six-year deal worth $47.25 million, or seven years for about $58 million.
Carr received an initial signing bonus of $10.92 million and his second-tier option bonus of $3.08 million is due this spring. The initial up-front money for Palmer is $10.01 million; the option bonus of $4.01 million is not due until after his second season in the league.
-- Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com