4-24-03, 11:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
If anyone knows how far the Bengals have come since the NFL Draft of 1992, it is Carson Palmer agent David Dunn.
Dunn, a member of David Klingler's wedding party, had no qualms about marrying his client Thursday to a Bengals' organization that couldn't prevent Klingler and another Dunn client, Akili Smith, from becoming notorious top 10 quarterback experiments in failure.
After watching Bengals President Mike Brown hire head coach Marvin Lewis back in January, and after spending this week hammering out a delicate pre-draft deal with club executives Katie and Troy Blackburn, Dunn observed that the Bengals had arrived at a new juncture in their history.
"It's a different place. It's just not the same," Dunn said. "There is the energy that Marvin brings that is special. Katie and Troy are tough, but bright, bright people. They certainly have a vision of what lies down the road."
So Palmer didn't pull an Elway on the 20th anniversary of the No. 1 pick's jilting of the Colts. Instead, he wanted to come all the way.
"It's an honor to be part of the new Bengal era," Palmer said.
The Bengals still can't get off the ESPN punch line even though in the last four months they have quietly given their organization a complete overhaul:
The addition of 10 new coaches, the biggest staff turnover in club history.
But ESPN needs the Bengals like Jay Leno needs Clinton even if the jokes are three years old, so a guy like Palmer finally sat down with his own information to figure out if this was hell in stripes. He took a whiff of the change last week when he visited minicamp and guys like T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Danny Farmer were telling him things like, 'Everything has changed." The energy after such a bad season told Palmer that the heart of his potential new teammates were in the right place.
"I heard some negative things and I tried to stay out of the press and out of the media and just kind of realistically looked at it on paper," Palmer said. "I
looked at the personnel. Guys like Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick and Corey Dillon and Levi Jones and a bunch of O line guys, and now having Coach Lewis. . .a defensive-minded guy and everybody knows he's going to get this defense up and rolling.
"It looked good to me," Palmer said. "I heard a lot of negative things, but when I really sat down and looked at it and didn't have any prejudices from the media and didn't really take any of those things into perspective, just kind of got my own take on it, I realized it was a great situation for a quarterback to be in."
Another reason Dunn is confident his client isn't stepping into the quarterback quagmire is unlike Klingler and Smith, Palmer won't miss a snap of training camp. Holdouts took both out of about a month of practices.
"It's certainly an issue, especially for a quarterback," Dunn said. "If the quarterback is behind in the learning of the offense, getting used to the timing and the personality of his teammates, then you're at disadvantage right away. That's something you have to overcome."
Dunn was part of the group that represented Klingler and Smith, so he and the Bengals made sure lightning didn't strike three times. The Bengals have been accused of not being sensitive to public perception, but Lewis made it quite clear at last month's NFL owners' meetings that they needed to sign this pick before the draft to send a message to the town and the fans that things are different.
"It doesn't make any sense often times to lose three weeks or a month of one's early career for a miniscule economic benefit, if that," Dunn said. "Carson's direction to me was if it's a fair deal, then see if you can get it done because I would love to see this happen."
As Lewis' term has evolved, Palmer has checked the papers and the internet, and he felt "the vibes." During that stretch, going No. 1 did't become very important.
"It's a huge honor," Palmer said. "(But) It was more important for me, throughout this process, not to be the No. 1 pick (but) to be in the right system with the right coaches and the right offense."
Palmer was more diplomatic than enthusiastic back when he appeared with former Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Boomer Esiason on CBS-TV's "The NFL Today," near the end of Cincinnati's 2-14 season last December and talked of coming to Cincinnati. But Esiason worked on him over dinner and Palmer's fiancée, Shaelyn Fernandes, sat down with Esiason's wife, Cheryl, a few months ago. The Brown family and Lewis did the rest after his Jan. 14 hiring.
"I'm so happy he's going there," Esiason said Thursday from New York. "You know how I feel about Marvin Lewis. He's really turned around things with the attitude and hopefully in the next couple of years Carson can be the guy that helps take them where they want to go."
It was his talks with Esiason and his father's talks with former Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Ken Anderson that made Palmer realize playing quarterback for the Bengals could be an honor rather than a curse. He saw Esiason choke up and nearly start crying when he talked about the fans and the town and the organization and how good it was to be in the middle of it all in the '80s.
Bill Palmer, Carson's father, spoke with Anderson at the Senior Bowl this past January, two days, Carson thinks, after Anderson had been let go as the Bengals' quarterbacks coach.
"He started crying to my Dad about how much he loved playing here and how much he loved coaching here," Carson Palmer said. "That spoke a lot. That kind of hit me close to the heart just realizing a guy in his situation has that much love for a city and fans and the people around the organization, it definitely meant there's something special here."
On this Draft Day anyway, it looked like Palmer and the Bengals beat the pundits to the punch.