Hobson's Choice: As the QBs turn

Q: With the trade of Ragone to the Rams the Bengals have now seemed to finally committed to their QBs for the Palmer Era. To me this seems to imply that Palmer has gotten past the speculation phase of whether he'll be ready for the season.

Also, the final four QBs are interesting. Does it now appear to you that Wright and Johnson are competing for the backup spot, and Meyer is a sure thing for the Bengals development project QB? Before Ragone was out of the picture it seemed it was a competition for each slot.

I'm guessing now it's Palmer, with Wright and Johnson yet to be determined (but definitely on the roster), and Meyer is either P.S. or NFL Europe a la Bramlet. Is this likely, or will there be another cut?
**--Jason, Hartford, CT

JASON:** The Ragone trade doesn't determine much of anything, except that you have to tape Meyer's name on the dorm room door at Georgetown. If anything, as evidenced by free agency, there is going to be a backup carousel at least early in the Palmer era because anyone who thinks they have a shot to play some place else isn't going to stick around. Until they draft a Ragone type in the third or fourth round.

That's why I thought the Ragone pickup was such a good one. Here you've got a player good enough to be a first-day guy (third round) who already has three years of experience on a team. Sure, he's a free agent after this season, but it's easy enough to do a new deal, especially since he's got Carson Palmer's agent. That was another thing going for Ragone. He already knew Palmer from agent David Dunn and it looked like the makings of a good partnership.

But it's all about timing. You wonder if Ragone had been available in January instead of May. You can't blame the Bengals coaches for barely nodding at Ragone when he arrived. They don't know if Palmer will be ready, and they have to take Wright and Johnson to the next notch on the offense instead of trying to teach it to Ragone.

The Ragone trade doesn't mean Wright and Johnson are the guys. The Ragone trade happened because Wright and Johnson are the guys. There is a strong sense that Wright has the upper hand for the No. 2 (No. 1?) job, but head coach Marvin Lewis has indicated he's not going to say who that guy is.

It's doubtful they've changed their thinking on Palmer since Ragone was picked up on waivers May 24. Yes, there is relief about how often and well Palmer worked in last weekend's minicamp, but they're still back where they started because they simply don't know when he'll be ready.

They still have to see how he responds in practice at training camp, and then taking it to the next step in the preseason games. Lewis isn't even sure if Palmer starts camp as the No. 1 or when he plays in the preseason.

Yes, it's looking more and more like he'll be back before the Oct. 8 bye and maybe even be back for the Sept. 10 opener. But until we get through the first couple of weeks of August, people are still throwing darts against the wall on it.

And what happens next year? What if Wright, working on a one-year deal, has a couple of strong games? That would make him pretty marketable at age 31. So, it's a thing in flux, probably, until they draft a guy fairly high.

The challenge for Meyer is to show enough in the preseason to warrant a longer look on the practice squad and maybe get an invite to NFL Europe.

Of course, all that didn't help Bramlet. He won the No. 3 spot with an 81.3 passer rating as a rookie in the 2004 preseason and finished among the NFL Europe passing leaders in 2005, but didn't beat out Craig Krenzel in the 2005 preseason and now neither of them are here.

The Bengals haven't hit it yet with NFL Europe. Running back Skip Hicks had an all-league year and got cut early in training camp, and Ragone is a former NFL Europe Player of the Year.

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