In 2011, the Bengals made NFL headlines when they traded Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders for two draft picks.
The NFL trade deadline usually comes and goes with little action. But six years ago, that changed for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Two days after defeating the winless Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals made a trade that would prove to be a vital stepping stone in the team’s five-year run to the postseason.
One day prior, on October 17, 2011, the Broncos dealt wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to St. Louis for a sixth-round pick in 2012. The 0-5 Rams’ deal to get a veteran receiver seemed like it would be the biggest news at the deadline.
Insert Carson Palmer. The first-overall pick in the 2003 draft was semi-retired, vowing to never play in the NFL again rather than taking another snap for the Bengals, a team he had led to two AFC North titles.
Beginning of the end
Palmer’s contract lasted through the 2014 season. During a run to the playoffs in 2005, the Bengals gave Palmer a six-year extension to a contract that would’ve expired in 2008. The plan was set for Palmer to be the franchise quarterback the Bengals had dreamed of since Boomer Esiason. But it all came crashing down.
After back to back losing seasons in 2007 and 2008 following a .500 campaign in ’06, the Bengals reached the postseason again, winning the division with a 10-6 mark in 2009. But Cincinnati dropped a home playoff game to the Jets, causing potential banner years to turn into turmoil and frustration.
The Bengals signed Terrell Owens to pair up with Chad Johnson in 2010. Despite the outspoken duo combining for over 1,800 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, a 10-game losing streak following a 2-1 start spelled doomsday in the Queen City.
The Bengals knew it was time for a complete overhaul. Johnson was traded to the Patriots (a deal that landed the Bengals Marvin Jones in the 2012 draft) and Owens was not re-signed. Changes were being made, but Mike Brown thought the quarterback position was stable.
He thought wrong.
After demanding a trade from the team in late-January, Palmer stated in March that he would rather retire than return to the Bengals. According to one of Palmer’s friends in a report, the USC product had “80 million in the bank” and was prepared for life after football.
Rebuild starts in Fort Worth, Texas
With no starting quarterback, the Bengals explored the position’s 2011 draft class. In the second round, they selected Andy Dalton, fresh off a 27-touchdown season at TCU where he led the Horned Frogs to a perfect 13-0 mark and a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
Six weeks into the 2011 season, the Bengals were 4-2, trailing the first-place Ravens by a half-game in the AFC North.
They had found a quarterback. Now, they had to find a suitor for Palmer.
Just win, baby
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Jackson, the receivers coach for the Bengals just five years earlier, believed his Raiders were capable of breaking the club’s nine-year postseason drought.
Oakland also owned a 4-2 record, but the same day the Bengals beat the Colts, the Raiders beat Cleveland, but starting quarterback Jason Campbell suffered broken collarbone that would end his season.
Jackson opted to make a big move instead of sticking with Kyle Boller, who had been taken 18 picks after Palmer in the ’03 draft. He would go after a quarterback he was familiar with, and pay the price to get him.
Mike Brown didn’t want to award Palmer for holding out. However, the high-level play by Dalton and an attractive offer from the Raiders were enough to change his mind.
Cincinnati shipped Palmer to Oakland for a first-round pick in 2012 and a second-round pick in 2013 (which could turn into a first-rounder if the Raiders reached the AFC title game in the next two seasons).
The Carson Palmer era, which brought the “Bungles” out of the dark ages and was filled with Super Bowl hopes, was officially over.
Cincinnati won the trade outright, with Brooks being in the prime of his career and Johnson on the back-nine of his. Brooks would spend eight seasons with the Bengals, helping lead the club to Super Bowl XXIII. Johnson, meanwhile, lasted just three games in San Diego before being traded to the Dolphins. 1984 was his last year in the NFL.
The 2011 deal with Oakland is perhaps the biggest winning trade in the Bengals’ 50-year history.
With its second pick from the Palmer deal, Cincinnati drafted running back Giovani Bernard, a dual-threat talent similar to the one they received from the Chargers 29 years earlier.
That trio has been a focal point of the Bengals in recent years, helping the team be one of the most consistent in the NFL. Although Zeitler departed for Cleveland, Kirkpatrick signed a five-year extension earlier this year and Bernard is still a change-of-pace threat whenever he touches the ball.
Bad for Oakland, Good for Palmer, Jackson
The trade did not pan out for Oakland and Hue Jackson. The Raiders lost four of their last five and missed the playoffs in 2011 (allowing the Bengals to sneak in as the sixth seed). Jackson was canned after one year and Palmer went 8-16 in his two-year stint in the Black Hole, throwing 35 touchdowns against 30 interceptions.
Jackson’s firing allowed him to return to Cincinnati, where he served as an assistant from 2012-2016, helping Dalton become an MVP candidate in 2015 as the Bengals tied a franchise-best 12-4 record.
As for moving on at the position, Dalton has now played more games as the Bengals quarterback than Palmer. Here’s how they stack up.
Outside of the Raiders, though, the deal eventually worked out for Palmer and Jackson.
Oakland traded Palmer to Arizona in April 2013. He’s led the Cardinals to the playoffs twice, including the NFC Championship game in 2015.