'The show must go on'

Reggie Kelly, the best teammate Carson Palmer says he has ever had, wasn't all that surprised to see Tuesday's headline that bolted through the NFL. Just like mostly everyone. But Bengals president Mike Brown actually announcing Palmer's retirement because of his refusal to trade him was still jarring and final.

"If I come back, I'll miss him sorely," said Kelly, a free agent waiting to hear if he'll return for his 13th NFL season. "He's like my little brother. But I have other little brothers on that team I really enjoy being with. I hate to see him go. Man, he can make every throw. But this is the NFL. And that means the show must go on."

That was pretty much the reaction from assorted players starting to flock to Cincinnati for Thursday's physicals at Paul Brown Stadium before Friday's report date to Georgetown College and the season's first practice Saturday at 3 p.m.

In the next breath Brown pretty much crowned second-round pick Andy Dalton the once and future franchise quarterback and if there was ever a doubt the show still goes on, it came about Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. when Palmer's brother and former backup, Jordan, dropped his stuff off at his locker and then went to meet Dalton for dinner.

Also on the conveyor belt away from Carson City was head coach Marvin Lewis' declaration that the Bengals seek a veteran quarterback that can back up or start in a field of candidates that includes all of 15 NFL passes. All belonging to Jordan Palmer with Dalton and Dan LeFevour looking for their first ones. It's believed the Bengals are interested in five-year veteran free agent Bruce Gradkowski, not an overwhelming threat to Dalton with a 6-14 record but a smart guy that ran offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's system in Tampa Bay and potential lifeguard if Dalton struggles.

And then there is Jordan Palmer. He boarded the jet on The Coast to Cincinnati about the same time Brown was telling Tuesday's training camp media luncheon that Carson Palmer had backed out of his commitment to the Bengals and that he wouldn't "reward" him with a trade. Jordan got the texts and messages before he took off, but when he landed he, too, had moved on in the mind.

"No comment, but not because I want to dodge the question," Jordan Palmer said once he landed in Cincy. "I just want to make sure that I'm focused on what I have to do to win this job. I want to do whatever I can to help this team win and if that means helping Andy, I'll do whatever I can. I want to help this team win as many games as it can."

After a high-profile offseason in which he played a major role in organizing workouts, a lot of Jordan's teammates weren't looking at him as the little brother anymore. Especially after he installed nearly 100 plays out of Gruden's playbook during the voluntary two-week session at the University of Cincinnati last month on the overhead projector in the Bearcats team room.

"I like this offense. I feel like I'm invested in it," he said. "I think it gives you a shot to pound the run with a big back like Cedric (Benson) and get the ball to our tight end (Jermaine Gresham), who's an animal, and get the ball downfield to some of our playmakers. I know A.J. Green is athletic; he has to be as the fourth pick in the draft. But if he's more athletic than Jerome (Simpson), I'll be shocked."

Palmer has already scouted Dalton and they go way back to a summer camp in Texas several years ago.

"Before the draft I said he was the best quarterback coming out," Jordan said. "He's a good dude, a hard worker, and we'll see what happens."

Since the locker room has had six months to absorb the shock of Carson's bomb, left tackle Andrew Whitworth doesn't think there is going to be an emotional toll.

"I kind of expected (Tuesday's news) when you hear what the guy has been saying to other guys," said Whitworth, last year's offensive co-captain with Carson. "I enjoyed playing with him. He's a guy you fought hard with. At the same time, it's tough to see a great player just quit and end it like that walking away. Now we're in a situation where the next guy gets the same opportunity. I don't think it's an emotional thing. It's more disappointed. He kind of left us holding the bag."

But Carson holds so many of the records that franchise icons Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason once held. He's the career leader in completion percentage (62.9), passer rating (86.9) and TD/INT ratio with 1.5/1. He has the top three passing yards seasons in club history and in what must now be viewed as his last PBS performance, he uncorked a career-high 157.2 passer rating in the 34-20 win over San Diego back on Dec. 26.

That was three days shy of the fifth anniversary of the signing of his contract extension that some industry sources called the biggest deal in the history of the NFL at the time, $118 million through 2014 that came with $30 million in the first 13 months.

Safety Chris Crocker, who played against Palmer for Cleveland in 2004 when he rung the Browns for 58 points with a 101 passer rating on his way to becoming the fifth fastest passer to reach 100 TDs, knows exactly how lethal the guy is after playing with him for the last two seasons.

"I know what other guys will tell you, that if he doesn't want to be here so let him go. Not me," Crocker said. "If he ever wants to come back, I'll take him. He can stay at my house. He gives us the best option to win."

But Crocker also offered a defender's perspective that arrived late in the 2008 season when asked if the team crumbles with a major foundation gone.

"I don't want to offend anyone, but it's not like we've been scoring 40 points a game." Crocker said. "Since I've been here, the defense has been the strength. That's just facts. And now the way we're looking at is we're going back to work. But I don't want to leave you with the impression we don't have a chance. I think we do. It reminds me of '09 coming off that bad season and no one giving us a chance.

"Really, the way things are in the NFL now, I don't think it's going to affect guys. It's just business."

A tough business. Just ask Kelly.

"When I talk to him, I don't say much about football, I try to stay away from it," Kelly said. "You just wish a great player could go out on better terms. The NFL is Not For Long. Especially being with one team. That's one of the reasons I want to retire a Bengal."

At 31, two years younger than Kelly, Palmer did on Tuesday. 

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