It's not often that you can draw a sympathetic character out of an NFL quarterback that refuses to play for his team despite an existing contract with tens of millions of dollars remaining. You'd have to be talking about a team with an unusual amount of dysfunction for that to be the case.
Fortunately for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who is in just such a situation, he's been playing football for team owner Mike Brown for years, and that allows everyone to understand why Palmer would rather retire than play anymore for that particular organization. If you want to know what the Bengals are dealing with in Brown, look no further than his Tuesday press conference, in which Brown put his foot down in typically autocratic and ham-fisted fashion, saying that Palmer has retired:
"Carson signed a contract, he made a commitment," Brown said. "He gave us his word. We relied on his word and his commitment. We expected him to perform here. If he is going to walk away from his commitment we aren't going to reward him for doing it."
Put simply, that's a load of garbage. Never mind that NFL contracts are terminated all the time — on the same afternoon in which Brown was making that ridiculous statement, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants were releasing huge chunks of their starting offensive lines to stay under the new $120 million salary cap. And while Palmer does have a contract that has him making over $10 million in each of the next four years (in base salary alone, $11.5 million in 2001 and 2012, $13 million in 2013, and $14 million in 2014), that very same contract puts him in the kill zone for either a restructure or release soon down the road. Brown's talk of "commitments" is as typically ridiculous as you'd expect.
Of course, to look at the other side, Palmer could be making a mistake in refusing to play for the Bengals. Even if you take Chad Ochocinco out of the equation, the Bengals have somehow put together a nice, young receiver corps with A.J. Green, Jordan Shipley, Jerome Simpson and tight end Jermaine Gresham. Even if he were able to engineer the release or trade he wants, Palmer may be hard-pressed to find a better young group elsewhere. And let's be honest about it — Palmer's skills have atrophied in the last few seasons; he'd most likely have to restructure if he did go to another team.
In the end, Mike Brown gets the booby prize in this equation. He could trade Carson Palmer and help his team, but just as he did three years ago when he refused an offer from the Washington Redskins for two first-round picks in exchange for Ochocinco, Brown once again proved that his focus is never on the team he inherited from his father, Paul Brown (ironically one of the greatest football minds ever), and always on his own misbegotten faith in his ability to run a franchise.
At least Brown understands one thing — a trade from his organization would indeed be a reward.