Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has studied Palmer closely. I caught up with him since the previous post and wanted to pass along highlights from our conversation.
Carson Palmer may be on the downside of his career, but he could be a significant upgrade for the 49ers or Cardinals.
Matt Williamson: Palmer is not an easy guy to talk about. I was very skeptical of him in 2009, and frankly, nobody else was. Everybody else thought he was still Carson Palmer, the Bengals are winning the division, things are great. What happened in 2009, though, was they were an extremely good running team with Cedric Benson and a physical offensive line, and the defense was really good, so they did not have to do much at quarterback. When they played the Jets in the postseason, that really got exposed. Darrelle Revis took away one receiver. Carson had to do a lot of things, and he could not. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because they did lack weapons.
Matt Williamson: He pretty much failed every test. He really struggled. His decision-making was poor. The ball doesn’t come out of his hand half as well as it did in his prime. There were very few who could throw as well as Palmer could throw, so he had some room for error. But all the things that went right for the Bengals two years ago -- the defense and running game -- those things all evaporated, too. He was asked to do a lot more, and he was exposed.
Mike Sando: And yet it was still easy to point to other factors. Owens and Chad Ochocinco weren't the most precise route runners. Shipley and Gresham were rookies.
Matt Williamson: There is some of that. That organization is dysfunctional. But in the end, he doesn’t throw the ball as well as he has in the past. I am pretty comfortable with the evaluation of the guy that he is more the problem than the answer. His decision making was bad. If there was a stat for near-interceptions or dropped interceptions, he would have been near the top of the league this year. He had a ton of them. But then, against San Diego in Week 16, he looked like the 2005 version of Palmer.
Mike Sando: I remember the game. The Chargers were playing for a postseason berth. We kept hearing about Philip Rivers' great record in December. Owens and Ochocinco sat out, and it was as though Palmer were liberated. He had a monster game with four touchdowns and no picks. The Bengals won.
Matt Williamson: The Bengals had nothing to play for and Palmer was throwing lasers all over the field. Now I’m like, 'Maybe the guy has just battled a lot of injuries over the last couple years and that was he first time he was healthy in the last two years.' Those are things we would never know. All of a sudden, that late in the year, slinging the ball like that, I'm back to the drawing board. But he doesn't generate power from his legs like he used to. His lower body has failed him and maybe he just happened to feel good one day.
Mike Sando: Seattle could find itself in a more exaggerated version of the same dilemma. Matt Hasselbeck was lights-out in the playoffs. What should we make of it? One game for Palmer, it's not much to go on.
Matt Williamson: If I had to put a grade on any player in the league, Palmer is the one that would be most difficult to grade. There are a lot of extenuating things there. If you put him in Arizona or San Francisco, it would not shock me if he came back strong. He might be a massive upgrade for those teams. He is not old. He is a high-character guy, he is smart, he is from the West Coast. If he is healthy, he can sling it and get it to Larry Fitzgerald or Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
Mike Sando: The Bengals have said they aren't trading him. That probably means they are not trading him. But Palmer's contract calls for him to earn $11.5 million in salary for 2011. That's a lot for a struggling team to pay a 31-year-old quarterback who wants out.
Matt Williamson: If you are the Bengals and you look so far behind the Ravens and Steelers in the AFC North, I would not condone giving Palmer that money for a repeat performance from last year. He was a much better fantasy quarterback than real quarterback. They fell behind and he threw against prevent defenses a lot of the time. If you are Arizona or San Francisco, maybe you could buy it. You are not going to give a first-round pick for the guy. He has shown a glimpse lately. I would probably take Palmer over Hasselbeck, too. But that should not eliminate the idea of drafting a quarterback.