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Bengals' Brown puts stubbornness on hold

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals' Mike Brown may still be the most obstinate owner in the NFL, which made Tuesday's decision to trade the rights to quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) to the Oakland Raiders so stunning.

The Bengals received a 2012 first-round pick and a second-round pick in 2013.

[ Related: Source says Carson Palmer to receive extension ]

It is a king's ransom to pay for Palmer, a slowing, 31-year-old quarterback the Bengals had already replaced and whose relationship with Brown was so strained he decided he'd rather never play again than return to Cincinnati.

To Brown, Palmer's defiance was a challenge to his business chops.

Rather than dump the disgruntled for something of value, he vowed to never trade Palmer, deciding he'd rather prove to be the most stubborn man in football than turn his attention toward the future.

Forget winning football games, there has never been anything Brown liked more than making some point about honor and duty and contract. When Palmer demanded a trade following the 2010 season despite having four years left on his contract, Brown dug in.

"Carson signed a contract; he made a commitment," the owner said last summer. "If he is going to walk away from his commitment, we aren't going to reward him for doing it."

It all sounds so noble until you read the lopsided stadium deals he's struck with the Hamilton (Ohio) County government. Citizens doled out $34.6 million to Brown's Bengals in 2010, according to tax records, a whopping 16.4 percent of the county budget. In a league known for owners pillaging local governments, this one stood out.

"One of the worst [deals] ever struck," the Wall Street Journal dubbed it.

That had always been Mike Brown: taking on one end and rarely giving on the other. His frugality has long been criticized and his lack of urgency mocked. His many losing teams (interspersed with winners) are a point of local frustration.

You can't take more than 16 percent of the local taxpayer budget one minute and then claim you don't owe the same people a commitment to do anything it takes to produce an on-field winner the next.

The 74-year-old Brown is set in his ways, though. He's always been forgiving of his players who misbehave off the field. He has proven reluctant to fire failed coaches. He is, at times, confusing.

Trading Palmer was always a no-brainer, however. Such a no-brainer Brown finally realized it.

[ Related: Trainer says Carson Palmer 'looks great' ]

The Bengals are one of the feel-good stories of the season. They are 4-2 and riding a three-game win streak heading into their bye week.

Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton(notes), who the team deftly identified and selected in the second round of this year's NFL draft, has already proven to be a capable, and potentially excellent, NFL player. Rookie wide receiver A.J. Green(notes) is a star in the making. The two provide not just a young offensive nucleus going forward, but serve to curb fan complaints about the missing Palmer.

Cincinnati plays in the AFC North, home to both Baltimore and Pittsburgh, so few believe the Bengals will remain at the top of the division come December. There is something brewing here though, just one reason a decent home crowd finally turned out for Sunday's victory over Indianapolis.

Brown owed it to the city, his young team and good-guy coach Marvin Lewis to build for the future. It was time to forget the personal battle with Palmer and trying to win a debate over the sanctity of a contract.

This was about setting a team up to win playoff games in the years to come.

[ Related: Mike Brown handles Carson Palmer situation perfectly ]

A couple of high draft picks for a player you don't need or want are a step in that direction. The Raiders were desperate, 4-2 themselves but suddenly without quarterback Jason Campbell(notes) because of a collarbone injury.

The deal was stunning in its value, a reach by an Oakland organization that had already given away its second-, third-, and fourth-round picks next spring. The Raiders also assume the prorated amount of Palmer's $6.9 million contract, opening additional cap room for Cincinnati going forward.

The move was a huge win for the Bengals. It's a bounty in exchange for essentially nothing.

It was a move any NFL franchise would've jumped to have made. And that's the most promising thing for Bengals fans. For a day at least, their owner acted like he was running a real franchise.

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