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Fond farewell for core Bengals?

12/24/2010

Sunday's contest against the San Diego Chargers could be the final home game at Paul Brown Stadium for many key Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals (3-11) are expected to rebuild after an abysmal season. Receiver Chad Ochocinco, quarterback Carson Palmer, tailback Cedric Benson and head coach Marvin Lewis could be participating in their final home game with the organization.

Everyone's situation will be up for review after the reigning AFC North champions completely fell apart and had an NFL-high 10-game losing steak, despite making several additions in the offseason. The contracts of Lewis and Benson expire at the end of the season, and Ochocinco, 32, has a team option for in 2011 for $6 million. He is having his second poor season in the past three years.

Palmer's status is more complex. The struggling quarterback is under contract through 2014 but is due $11.5 million next season. The AFC North blog reported last week that Palmer will not accept a pay cut to remain in Cincinnati. That means the Bengals must trade or release Palmer in the offseason or make him one of the NFL's highest-paid players in 2011. This is probably the biggest offseason decision for the Bengals.

The Bengals were the "Bungles" before Lewis, Palmer and Ochocinco arrived. This trio brought excitement and two playoff appearances to Cincinnati in their eight seasons together. Before that, Cincinnati had no playoff appearances from 1991-2002.

Benson turned his career around with the Bengals by posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and spearheading a rare AFC North sweep in 2009. Starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph, middle linebacker Dhani Jones and veteran tight end Reggie Kelly also could be playing in their final home game in Cincinnati.

Knocking off the Chargers (8-6) and ending San Diego's playoff hopes would be a quality ending for this group. But regardless of the outcome, fans at Paul Brown Stadium should give these core members a warm farewell Sunday for getting the Bengals out of the dark ages.