'A unanimous pick'

4-24-03, 7:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With a brisk, "We don't need to waste any more time with rhetoric," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made Thursday's watershed introduction of USC quarterback Carson Palmer at a Paul Brown Stadium news conference.

After securing a six-year, $40 million deal earlier in the day with Palmer, the Bengals made him the NFL Draft's No. 1 pick, the first draft pick of Lewis' new era, and the third first-round quarterback to try and give the franchise its first dominant quarterback since the Boomer Esiason trade 10 years and 10 starters ago.

"To borrow Marvin's phrase, Carson is our pick," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "He's the pick of all our scouts, all our coaches, and everyone else in this building. There wasn't one of them who thought he shouldn't be our pick. He was a unanimous pick."

Palmer, 23, the first Heisman Trophy winner to go No. 1 since Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde in 1987, met the media with an American flag in his lapel and stars in his eyes. His trip to minicamp 11 days ago confirmed what his agent said two months ago at the NFL scouting combine. The Bengals' offense is a good place to be for a quarterback selected so high in the draft.

"It's been a whirlwind," said Palmer, who had just stepped off a plane from Los Angeles with his fiancée and parents. "I came out here a week ago and saw the team and got a look at Chad Johnson, Peter Warrick, Ron Dugans, and Levi Jones. I was getting fired up. I was hoping this thing would get taken care of. What fired me up is now I know I'm a Bengal. And I know I'm going to be at camp on time and be ready to roll."

He's going to be in on time because Bengals' negotiators Katie Blackburn and Troy Blackburn made sure the Bengals' third first-round pick in four years is in the fold before training camp starts at Georgetown College. Agent David Dunn also made

sure once he realized this past weekend that the Bengals had identified Palmer as their choice from a field that included Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman.

Dunn praised the work of the Blackburns, emphasizing they were upfront in their interest in Palmer and didn't leverage Leftwich or Newman before noting that the Bengals are clearly "wandering down a different road than they have wandered down before and it is nice to be at the beginning of the fork in that road and similarly for Carson he's headed down a road that he has never been down before, so it will be nice for them to grow together."

Dunn confirmed a six-year, $40 million deal that can max out at $49 million with incentives. The seventh year voids if Palmer takes at least 35 percent of the snaps in any season. He said the deal includes an option signing bonus adding up to $14.01 million, with $10 million of it being paid now and $4 million to be paid in February of 2005. He said Palmer is to receive $18.25 million over the first three years, more than a 12 percent hike over what last year's No. 1 David Carr received in Houston for the first three years. That was six percent over what Michael Vick got as the No. 1 in 2001.

"We're delighted with the sevenish (million) average," Dunn said.

The 6-5, 235-pound Palmer is a presence, but he knows Lewis has handed the job to eight -year veteran Jon Kitna and that he very well may not play this year after lighting up the Pac-10 with 33 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions.

"Jon Kitna is the starter. I'm just the young punk rookie just coming in," Palmer said. "I'll learn from him. Being a rookie, being in my situation, I have a great opportunity to learn from a guy that's been in the league, has been successful and knows this offense and knows how to play NFL football. The opportunity to learn behind him and have him as a mentor is going to be great for me."

It took so long to sign the complicated 50-page or so contact that Palmer didn't get to his 3:45 p.m. news conference until about 4. And he had to leave before 6 to catch a plane to New York for the NFL's draft festivities that culminate in his appearance with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on stage as the No. 1 pick Saturday at noon in the Madison Square Garden Theater.

Just in case, Palmer took his new No. 9 Bengals jersey along, as well as a No. 1, and would let Tagliabue decide which one he wanted to hold up.

"It's great having this contract over with," Palmer said. "And to know I'm a part of this now, and to know that's my focus now, and to learn this offense and hopefully contribute to this team."

Palmer returns a week from Thursday to wear No. 9 for the first time at Lewis's second voluntary minicamp May 2-5. After the camp, he and his fiancee, Shaelyn Fernandes, plan to stay and find a year-round home in Cincinnati. It's place that seems to suit the not so Southern Californian.

"I don't really do a whole lot," said Palmer, a fan of his family and sports. "I think I'll fit in well out here as opposed to LA. It's too uptempo for me. It's more laid back here, so I think I'll fit great into this community."

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