Carson Palmer was supposed to lead the Cincinnati Bengals out of futility and back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988, but it simply never happened. He was selected by the Bengals with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, and was supposed to be the face of the franchise. Injuries and struggling teams derailed the former Heisman Trophy winner's career. Now, Palmer finds himself in Arizona, in an attempt to revive his career one last time.
From Heisman winner to franchise QB
After an underwhelming beginning to his collegiate career, Palmer excelled in his senior season at USC, throwing for 3,942 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Palmer was rewarded for his excellent senior campaign with the Heisman Trophy, and then led the Trojans to an Orange Bowl victory.
Months later, Palmer was selected with the No. 1 overall pick, but the California native didn't play at all during his rookie season. Instead of throwing his rookie quarterback into the fire, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis opted to have Palmer study under Jon Kitna; the decision eventually paid off.
Palmer started 13 games during his sophomore season in 2004, and led Cincinnati to a 6-7 record during that run. Palmer finished the season with 2,897 yards, 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while completing 60.9 percent of his passes.
Though unspectacular in 2004, Palmer flourished in 2005, guiding the Bengals to an 11-5 record and an AFC North title, while leading the league in completion percentage (67.8) and touchdowns (32). Palmer threw for 3,836 yards to only 12 interceptions.
Prior to the playoffs, Palmer signed a contract extension, ensuring he'd remain in tiger stripes through the 2014 season. Unfortunately for Palmer and the Bengals, the 2005 regular season and contract extension marked the high point of the quarterback's career.
Palmer tore both his ACL and MCL against the Steelers in the Wild Card round, and also sustained meniscus damage after Kimo von Oelhoffen dove into Palmer's leg. Cincinnati went on to lose to the Steelers, and Palmer's once-promising career was threatened because of the injury.
Amazingly, Palmer started Cincinnati's Week 1 contest in 2006, but regressed -- and so too did the Bengals. Cincinnati finished the season with an 8-8 record, while Palmer finished 2006 completing 62.3 percent of his passes for 4,035 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Cincinnati and Palmer struggled again in 2007, finishing 7-9, while he threw a league-high 20 interceptions.
Palmer only played four games in 2008, after being diagnosed with a partially torn ligament in his elbow. Instead of opting for Tommy John surgery, Palmer elected to rest his elbow -- and while he was healthy for the start of the 2009 season, the results were underwhelming.
Cincinnati went 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2009, but Palmer posted a career-low in completion percentage (60.5), while throwing just 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Cincinnati lost in the playoffs, and Palmer's star had faded significantly.
The Lost Years
Palmer's relationship with the Bengals came to an ugly end in 2010. After the team finished 4-12 in 2010, he requested a trade, but Bengals owner Mike Brown refused. Instead, Palmer threatened to retire, and vowed never to step foot in Paul Brown Stadium again.
The Bengals drafted Andy Dalton in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft -- and then in October, after an injury to then-Raiders starting quarterback Jason Campbell, Cincinnati dealt Palmer to Oakland. In return, the Bengals received Oakland's first-round pick in 2012 and second-round pick in 2013.
Palmer never lived up to first and second-round expectations in his return to California. In 24 starts for the Raiders, he led Oakland to an 8-16 record, and completed 60.9 percent of his passes while throwing 35 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
Arizona: Another Fresh Start
Due over $15 million from the Raiders in 2013, Palmer refused to take a pay cut, essentially forcing Oakland to either cut or trade him. Needing a quarterback perhaps more than any other team in the league, the Arizona Cardinals traded for Palmer, after starting Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer and John Skelton in 2012.
New Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians predicates his offense on spreading the field vertically, and though his arm isn't as strong as it's been in the past, Palmer can still sling it down the field. In 10 games in 2011, Palmer averaged a career-high 8.4 yards-per-attempt -- over half-a-yard higher than his previous career-high in 2006.
In Arizona, Palmer will have an opportunity to play with Larry Fitzgerald, who arguably becomes the best wide receiver Palmer has ever had to throw to. Andre Roberts will enter his fourth NFL season in 2013, and the former third-round pick has progressed each season in the NFL. Michael Floyd, Arizona's 2012 first-round pick, should also progress in his second NFL season.
Palmer will turn 34 at the end of the 2013 season, and it's unrealistic to believe he's the long-term answer at quarterback for the Cardinals. Palmer can, however, provide Arizona with a few quality seasons behind center, and can help tutor Arizona's next franchise quarterback.
As for Palmer himself, it's not unrealistic to believe he can turn Arizona's offense into a competent one. He will need help, however, particularly from his offensive line. The Cardinals allowed a total of 58 sacks last season, the most of any team in the league.
With a head coach who should enable Palmer to play to his strengths and one of the top wide receivers in the league, it's not unreasonable to project Palmer to again throw for 4,000 yards and 28-plus touchdowns. His accuracy hasn't been the same since suffering his elbow injury, so it's unlikely he'll complete higher than 62 percent of his passes -- a number he has failed to eclipse since 2007.
Palmer will face stiffer competition in the NFC West than he did in the AFC West. Instead of the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos twice a year, Palmer will face off against the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams -- with San Francisco and Seattle boasting elite defenses.
Though Palmer is nearing the end of his career, he instantly becomes the best quarterback Arizona has had since Kurt Warner retired -- and it's possible he can have a Warner-esque resurgence in the desert if everything goes right.
Cardinals fans should be optimistic -- and why not? Fitzgerald has a strong, veteran quarterback to throw him the ball, and Arizona has a new head coach who has proven he can succeed through some of the most tumultuous circumstances.
Now that he received his wish and is out of Oakland, it's time for Palmer to write the final chapter of his career -- and if he wants to be remembered as a strong, quality quarterback, he'll need to lead Arizona to the playoffs in the coming years, and win a playoff game. After all, Palmer has only been to the playoffs twice, and is 0-2.
NFL teams have invested two first-round picks, including a No. 1 overall pick, second-round, sixth-round pick and conditional seventh-round pick in Palmer, and that type of investment from the league begs for at least one deep playoff run.
If Palmer doesn't succeed, he'll be remembered best for his gruesome injuries, and subsequent divorces from the Bengals and Raiders.