Carson Palmer and the San Francisco 49ers: To Pursue or Not to Pursue?

Ted JohnsonAnalyst IMarch 22, 2011

Carson Palmer has said he will retire rather than return to the Cincinnati Bengals, another inssue in the 49ers draft strategy.
Carson Palmer has said he will retire rather than return to the Cincinnati Bengals, another inssue in the 49ers draft strategy.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

He’s out there, waiting. He’s said no way he’s going to return to his job, foregoing millions in the process, even though his employer has said there’s no way he gets out. “I’ll retire,” was the retort.

That’s the latest on Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals. While the NFL is in a period of lockout/decertification, no trades can be made, no free agents can sign. But new coach, Jim Harbaugh, and general manager, Trent Baalke, have to take a look at the possibility of trading for the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback as the 49ers approach the draft on April 24.

As the physicists would say, the 49er quarterback situation is “fluid.” Alex Smith is a free agent, but Harbaugh has been talking like he’d love for Smith to return. Yet one of the top three college prospects, Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, probably will be available when the Niners pick seventh.

Meanwhile, backup Philadelphia QB Kevin Kolb has been placed on the “Available” list by Coach Andy Reid, and it seems a first-round draft pick is the asking price. At the same time, the Niners have big issues in pass defense, and one of the premier defensive players like Patrick Peterson or Von Miller should be around at No. 7 as well.

Alluring options all. And history hasn’t been all that kind in this department. The last quarterback trade that worked out for 49ers occurred in 1987. Steven Young came over from Tampa Bay for second- and fourth-round draft picks. For that matter, the last Niner QB to make the Pro Bowl was Jeff Garcia in 2002, a free agent and Canadian Football League veteran.

Since ‘87 the 49ers have drafted, traded or signed as free agents John Paye, Darian Hagan, Elvis Grbac. Jim Drunkenmiller, Garcia, Tim Rattay, Giovanni Carmazzi, Brandon Doman, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, Smith, Nate Davis, David Carr, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan (no guarantees about that list being complete).


Here are some of the issues the Niners have to consider in the Palmer Scenario:  

Yea: Palmer is 31, in his prime, a veteran with good arm, vision and game leadership. He wants to return to the West Coast (he lives in Laguna Beach and has two young children).

Nay: Palmer’s 2008 season ended at 0-4 due to a tendon injury in his throwing elbow.

Chatter: An elbow injury to a quarterback is like a questionable piston inside the engine of an Indy 500 car. The better quarterbacks in the game don’t necessarily have the strongest arms; however, they do have the combination of touch, accuracy and the capability to throw a hard fastball when needed.

Decision: Tough call, because the Niners won’t be able to measure Palmer and his arm strength up close.


Yea: He’s won, and with the best Bengal team in years looked ready to advance deep in the 2005 AFC playoffs.

Nay: He’s 25-27 as a starter since then, including 0-4 in 2008, the season that was cut short by the elbow issue.

Chatter: The 2005 season ended on the first play of the playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which resulted in a long touchdown pass to Chris Henry. Palmer injured his knee on the play, and the Bengals’ chances went with him. Incidentally, Pittsburgh went on to win the Super Bowl.

Decision: His career stats present an attractive package—42-39 overall winning record as a starter. His career QB rating is 86.9, among the top third of the league but considering the Bengals’ 4-12 record last season that number stands out. Alex Smith’s rating is 72.1 in his 16-24 record as a starter. (Note: Palmer had a much better supporting cast.)


Yea: The knee injury was called “devastating,” and it occurred in January ‘05, yet Palmer rehabilitated so well after surgery that he started all 16 games in 2006.

Nay: Palmer had Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and ended up winning just four games in 2010.

Chatter: It became clear by this time that Palmer had checked out of his beliefs in  Coach Marvin Lewis. His statements since then have done nothing but support that decision.

Decision: It’s up to someone to risk if Bengal President Mike Brown is trying to drive up the trade price for Palmer by saying the player is going to be a Bengal.


With Andy Reid in Philadelphia saying that a first-round draft choice has been offered for Kolb, it seems that Brown will ask for something similar if not higher for Palmer. Though five years older, Palmer is better than Kolb.

But NFL GMs, like poker players, will let the Bengals simmer on the idea of having a disgruntled quarterback in 2011. That should drive the price down.

If Mike Brown gets really stubborn and waits until Draft Day, the price could really drop, prompting the dream-like scenario for Baalke and Harbaugh:

A two-time Pro Bowl quarterback in his prime for a second-round pick?