Updated: 7:05 p.m.
Off to the fastest start by any quarterback in Bengals history while leading the club to a 4-2 record heading into this week's bye, Andy Dalton became the unquestioned franchise player Tuesday when the Bengals beat the NFL trading deadline by minutes and dealt Carson Palmer to the Raiders.
Bengals president Mike Brown came off his vow not to trade Palmer when Oakland delivered the value he sought for a quarterback he took with the draft's overall No. 1 pick in 2003 that led the Bengals to division titles in 2005 and 2009 and went to two Pro Bowls.
With quarterback Jason Campbell shelved for at least a month with a broken collarbone and the Raiders at 4-2, the price was high: A first-round pick in 2012 and a second-round pick in 2013 that published reports said becomes a first-rounder if the Raiders win a divisional playoff game.
It may be a bye week, but Tuesday turned out to be the busiest day of the Bengals' busiest season with the end of the Palmer era and the NFL reducing running back Cedric Benson's three-game suspension to one.
And amid all that, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga emerged on crutches and said the best-case scenario for his return from a sprained ankle is Nov. 6 in Tennessee.
"But I'm not a doctor. I'm not sure," Maualuga said before Tuesday's practice. "I'm in a cast, but I don't know why (because it's not broken)."
Apparently one of the drawbacks for Brown before he made the deal was his high regard for both Palmer and Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and the concern they are going to be a formidable duo in the AFC playoff chase.
But the fact that Dalton has the Bengals in the race is the primary reason the deal came off because he has proven to be a worthy successor to Palmer. The Paul Brown creed, don't move a player until you can replace him, is still in play 20 years after his death.
With three 100-plus passer rating games, two fourth-quarter comebacks, and stats not only better than Palmer's first six NFL starts but better than the first six starts of the last three overall No. 1 picks, Dalton is solidly in command.
"When you sign a contract, you're bound to that contract. We're going to hold true to that until it's time for us to best-benefit the football team," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "Like Paul Brown said, 'We'll tolerate you as long as we need you.' I think that's very evident and true. This was a good deal for both clubs. We're excited about it, and I know they are as well."
Much has been made of Jackson's relationship with Mike Brown, but he was also talking some to head coach Marvin Lewis since Campbell went down Sunday night. And it could have been a man off the street that made the offer, Brown wasn't going to turn down a first-rounder and second-rounder. Along with Dalton's play, that's what made it happen and sets up the Bengals impressively for the next few years.
Lewis is delighted with how that impacts the long-term Bengals future and fits into the reshuffling that has already taken place. He has a paper on his desk that shows the plans he sketched out in February and March.
Add to the secondary and linebackers. Draft a receiver and quarterback. Now with an extra first- and second-rounder rising from a broken collarbone and resolve not to unload Palmer for less, Lewis said he can't understand the criticism of Brown.
"My boss is a very patient man. You don't want to play poker with him, do you?" Lewis asked. "I can't understand why (Brown is continually ripped). He's done everything the people have asked him to do. Everything. The only thing he did wrong I guess, was bring me back here."
But Lewis is 4-2 with one of the youngest teams in the league and Jackson is sending him some more. Lewis envisions a young nucleus led by Dalton and rookie A.J. Green teaming with freshly-arrived free agent veterans like cornerback Nate Clements and outside linebacker Thomas Howard to dovetail into a roster with the future high picks. Plus, the Bengals have just extended three key veterans in left tackle Andrew Whitworth, cornerback Leon Hall and center Kyle Cook, all under 30.
"When we put it to paper in February, this is all the things that have to come to life and I feel very good about that," Lewis said. "We have the guys we needed to add. The secondary, the linebackers we wanted to add. The draft fell our way. We got our quarterback. We got our receiver. Our tight end continues to play very well. We signed back our players we want to sign back. Things have been set up very, very well for us."
Former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Palmer's favorite target in Cincinnati and his workout partner this offseason, says the Bengals have set themselves up perfectly.
"They can be a powerhouse in 2013, 2014, 2015," Houshmandzadeh said. "The big thing is they've already got their quarterback, so they don't have to invest those picks in one. The quarterback looks good. The receiver (Green) looks like the real deal. The defense is great. They can fortify the offensive line and maybe look for another receiver if they don't re-sign Jerome (Simpson)."
Lewis said the jettisoning of Palmer's $11.5 million salary allows the Bengals to sign potential free agents such as Simpson.
Whitworth was one of the first vocal supporters of Dalton, even putting him up at his home during workouts in the lockout.
"He plays with an attitude and he cares about what he does; he's definitely very intelligent," Whitworth said. "Andy's going to have his ups and downs as every kid does. He's proven himself that he can play at this level and hopefully he gets better and better."
Right guard Bobbie Williams, who lined up in all but three of Palmer's 99 games in Cincinnati, also embraced Dalton early.
"That's our guy. Just like when Carson was here. He's our guy. Enough with the Carson stuff. That's our guy and we're going to go to war with him," Williams said. "I respect him. I like him. He's a great guy, a great player, and a good leader. He shows it on the field. He lets us know. He's a good spark."
As usual, Dalton handled the news with the aplomb that has marked his rise from second-round draft pick to franchise quarterback in 85 days, from the end of the lockout to Tuesday's trade.
"I feel like we just kind of moved on and moved from there," Dalton said before practice. "I had a good idea coming into (he would be the guy) camp … I haven't worried about anything from the beginning. I knew coming in (Palmer) wasn't going to be here and the job was open. It's nothing I worried about."
Meanwhile, the locker-room reaction to the Palmer trade first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox was ho-hum as players basically asked, "What's for lunch?" The year-long absence of Palmer and the start authored by Dalton, along with backup Bruce Gradkowski's fourth-quarter comeback on Opening Day in Cleveland, has put the issue on the backburner for a team that has several new players.
The Bengals are now in the playoff hunt with Palmer's Raiders and Ryan Fitzpatrick's Bills. And the Cleveland Browns, the team that shattered Campbell's collarbone to re-start the trade talks, has again played a major role in Bengals history.
"Carson Palmer doesn't live in Cincinnati, he lives in Oakland," is what Sam Wyche might say into the loudspeaker.
"Andy has been our quarterback and Bruce has been here, too," former Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard said. "It's more news around the NFL."
Even those like Whitworth that played with Palmer for five seasons barely blinked.
"I don't think one guy has thought about it day by day; ever," Whitworth said. "Other than if it does happen, hopefully we get some really good picks. That's it."
Williams didn't feel the emotion since Palmer's trade-me-or-trade-me bombshell is nine months old.
"I think everyone was at peace at training camp and then Andy got rolling and were into the season now," Williams said. "Carson has been pretty much detached from this team. So be it. We can't keep going back and forth. We're 4-2 going into the bye, an awesome feat for the city of Cincinnati, and we've got Seattle next."
Williams said the trade doesn't rid the locker room of any kind of cloud since Palmer was never here.
"The guys in this locker room, we've been playing," Williams said.
Asked what he felt when Palmer revealed he wanted to be traded or he would retire three weeks after last season, Williams felt it was time to move on.
"It's life. You can't get caught up in these things. Maybe he felt like he needed to do that for whatever reasons and we made the moves we did for necessary reasons. I'm happy where we're at and I hope he's happy where he's at. Good luck. Who knows?"
Benson had his three-game suspension for violation of the league's conduct policy reduced to one after his appeal three weeks ago. He also gets docked two game checks and begins the suspension immediately and returns the day after the Oct. 30 game. Benson looks to be the answer on whom cornerback Adam Jones replaces on the roster when he comes off PUP next week. All signs point to Bernard Scott getting his third NFL start in Seattle against a defense ranked seventh against the run.
ProFootballTalk.com is reporting that Benson's dispute with the NFL Players Association is still on because one of the incidents came during the lockout. But the suspension stands. PFT reported the five-page decision from hearing officer Harold R. Henderson, an NFL exec, that his most recent two arrests were resolved by a plea agreement of Aug. 29 and it was "sufficient basis to impose discipline" under the personal conduct policy.
Oh, and there was a practice Tuesday. Howard, who hurt his hamstring in the third quarter Sunday, didn't go but is hopeful to play in Seattle. Safety Chris Crocker, it can be assumed, rested his knee.