Updated: 5 p.m.
Bengals president Mike Brown ushered out the Carson Palmer Era Tuesday by referring to him in the past tense and enthusiastically rung in the Andy Dalton Era. He also indicated the future may very well be now with Dalton as the starter if he can handle it even as the team mulls veteran quarterbacks in free agency.
"We'll look for a veteran, but we have a good, young draft pick in Andy Dalton; we like him," Brown said of the second-rounder from TCU before a media gathering at the club's annual training camp luncheon. We think he is promising for our future. It won't be altogether easy for him all the time, but we're going to put him in there and if he can do it we're going to go with him. I hope he can manage it. He's a feisty guy. He's a poised young guy and I think you'll find him attractive as a person and as a player. You'll like him. Wait and see."
That's the question and why the Bengals may need some veteran experience. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said they're looking for a guy that can both start and back up, and new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has said the training camp starter may not be the Opening Day starter.
Plus, Dalton has yet to sign a deal since the Bengals were allowed to start talking to draft pick just 90 minutes before the luncheon.
The Bengals have just 15 NFL passes among Dalton, Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour when they line up for the first practice Saturday at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. They may have some interest in a five-year backup who knows new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's scheme from his days in Tampa Bay, Bruce Gradkowski, a veteran of 20 NFL starts with the Bucs and most lately with the Raiders.
Meanwhile, Brown sounded the death knell of Palmer's hopes to play at least this season and maybe beyond Tuesday when he spoke of him in the past tense. He refuses to trade Palmer and considers him retired with four years left on a deal thought to be roughly worth $40 million.
"I'm not expecting him to be back," Brown said. "Carson signed a contract. He made a commitment. We have relied on his commitment. We expect him to perform it here. If he doesn't and walks away from his commitment, we aren't going to reward him for doing it."
Brown, still seemingly stunned by Palmer's trade-or-retire demand of six months ago, couldn't hide his admiration for the man that ran his club for the past seven years, went to two Pro Bowls and quarterbacked two AFC North titles.
"I honestly like Carson Palmer. He was a splendid player for us," Brown said. "He's a good person. I wish him well and he's retired. That was his choice."
In what has turned out to be one of his only media appearances of the year, Brown also took questions about the searing heat the club has taken in the offseason, centering around two nationally published stories in the past month.
After ESPN ranked the Bengals the 122nd and worst sports franchise, The Wall Street Journal ripped the club for giving Hamilton County the worst stadium deal in the country.
He called the rankings "a slam," and chalked it up to the club's record.
"If we're winning, it's beautiful stuff. When we're not winning, it all sounds pretty bad," Brown said of the music selections for which the club has been criticized. "We've had our hands slapped. We were bad. I plead guilty. Now it's incumbent on us to do better."
Brown was far more animated about the WSJ report because it's one of his favorite periodicals and he thinks it got the narrative wrong about the how team's 1997 lease with the county spurred its financial woes.
"I don't agree with their rendition of the facts," he said, saying the $350 million price tag was similar to the stadiums that were built in the same style at the about the same time in Nashville, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
"Between the state and Bengals, we put up $100 (million). That left $250 million. That's a lot of money. But the sales tax was generating between $50 and $60 million a year. That's easily enough to handle this kind of debt obligation.
"It's very simple," he said. "They took the funds the voters had approved, the new sales tax. They being some of our local politicians, including some of those who are most critical of us. They took that revenue stream and siphoned it for Fort Washington Way, for The Banks, for twice as much payment to the schools that had been committed prior to the vote. I'm for schools, I'm for The Banks, I'm for Fort Washington Way. We all are. But you can't pay for two things with the same dollar and that's what they did. After they paid for that, they didn't have enough money left over to pay for what they had to pay for here. That's where the problem came."
Brown insisted that the Bengals didn't have "one penny of cost overruns," and that when there were cost overruns the club reduced the scope of the stadium "or paid for it in cash."
He says he's amazed how the stadium story continues to get told 15 years after the vote and lease signing, and that's why the club chose to rebut The Journal's story a few days after it was published.
"It's a story that doesn't get told fully or accurately and it should be," Brown said. "It's not right this story goes on year after year ... it keeps getting stranger and stranger. Somebody ought to try and figure out what really did happen. We thought we would help."
The days (2006) when Brown and Bills owner Ralph Wilson were the only two owners to vote against a CBA that the owners eventually agreed had to change two years later seem a long way away.
"Not one labor agreement satisfies everyone. There is give and take," Brown said, probably not enamored with a rookie system that is still a pool and not a scale. "There are things I wish weren't in it. There are things in it that are good. On balance for the National Football League, for our fan base, I think it's very good to have 10 years of uninterrupted focus on football. That's what we need. We want that. I think our fans want that, and we get this in the deal, and so I'm for the deal."
Brown also took the media on a mini historical tour revisiting the 1987 strike, the last work stoppage before the lockout ended Monday. In an effort to show how much less bitterness and anger there has been this time around, he recounted how quarterback Boomer Esiason sat in front of a bus full of replacement players ("Was this the 1930s?") and how center Dave Rimington was caught scraping the paint off cars of replacement players with a key.
"In the past we had emotion, even bitterness, and then the work stoppage concluded," Brown said. "Just like today. It's over. It's behind us and we have to take the opportunity to focus on the game and that's what we have to do now to win back our fans. ... They don't want to listen to two rich guys argue over two percent less or more from an incredible revenue stream."