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Thursday, March 3, 2011
Who will quarterback the Bengals in 2011?

By James Walker

Newton, Kolb & Mallett
Cam Newton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Mallett could be attractive candidates to succeed Carson Palmer.
Thanks to Carson Palmer, there is a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati's $100 million quarterback wants out in the worst way and has threatened to retire if he doesn't get his wish.

Palmer's stern demands have put the Bengals in a huge bind this offseason, as the franchise now scrambles to find contingency plans in the event Palmer stays true to his word. Not only that, Cincinnati is coming off a disappointing 4-12 season and has plenty of needs  throughout its roster.

Bengals ownership has held firm in saying it will not trade Palmer, leaving both parties at a stalemate. But there are many wrinkles to this saga that have yet to unfold.

With that in mind, here are five questions and answers on Cincinnati's quarterback issue:

Question No. 1: Who is currently on the roster?

Answer: For years, the Bengals have put off drafting an eventual successor at quarterback, and the team is now paying for it with Palmer's surprising threat to retire. Cincinnati's in-house options aren't very good. Carson Palmer's younger brother, Jordan Palmer, is the No. 2 quarterback on the roster. The four-year veteran has seen limited action in four career games and has a 34.4 passer rating. Jordan Palmer is trying to take a leadership role in Cincinnati and rally the receivers to work out together in the offseason. Second-year quarterback Dan LeFevour,  No. 3 on the depth chart, is unproven. The Bengals picked up LeFevour off waivers from the Chicago Bears as a rookie last September. Neither quarterback is starting material and it would be surprising if Cincinnati starts next season with either player under center.

Question No. 2: What is available via trade or through free agency?

Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick could be a possibility for the Bengals in the free-agent market.
Answer: Although the Bengals traditionally aren't major players in free agency or the trade market, Cincinnati must an exception if the team wants an experienced quarterback to replace Palmer. As far as trades, Kevin Kolb of the Philadelphia Eagles would be a solid fit for the Bengals. He's young, has some starting experience and is well-versed in the West Coast offense, which Cincinnati is implementing under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Kolb is a backup in Philadelphia to Michael Vick, who was an MVP candidate last season. So for the right price, the Eagles could listen. Other options include Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, who are both on the outs with their teams. The Titans, in fact, could be a good landing spot for Palmer if the Bengals are willing to move him. (We will get to that later.) The free-agent market is thinner. But an interesting option, at least in the short term, could be Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo has expressed interest in re-signing Fitzpatrick (3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns) after a career year. But the Bills are also could draft their long-term solution at quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick. Fitzpatrick was Palmer's backup in Cincinnati in 2008.

Question No. 3: Who is available in the draft?

Answer: This is the safest route for the Bengals to grab "Palmer insurance." With labor uncertainty, there will no be trades or player movement until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. But there is guaranteed to be an NFL draft at the end of April. Cincinnati would be wise to grab one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. The Bengals have the No. 4 overall pick and could have a shot at top quarterback prospects Cam Newton of Auburn and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. But investing such a high pick at quarterback when the team is still unsure about Palmer's future may not be the best route. A quality prospect at the position likely would be available at the top of the second round. Quarterbacks such as Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, Christian Ponder of Florida State and Andy Dalton of TCU could be possibilities there. Mallett showed great throwing ability at the combine but has some off-the-field concerns. But the Bengals have typically gone after those types of players in the past.

Question No. 4: What is Palmer's trade value?

Answer: Palmer is a 31-year-old quarterback whose best years are behind him, but he still has value. He put up a lot of yards (3,970) but not a lot of wins (four) last season. He also tied a career high with 20 interceptions, although some were the result of receivers freelancing and running their own routes. When looking at trade value, you have to examine recent examples. Last year the Eagles traded McNabb to Washington for a second-round pick and a future third- or fourth-round pick, which was conditional. This type of deal seems on par with what the Bengals could receive. Teams just don't give up first-round picks anymore because they're too valuable. So for a veteran such as Palmer, the Bengals could probably land a second-rounder and another pick or two in the middle rounds. Cincinnati also wouldn't have to worry about the $50 million owed to Palmer over the next years. If the Bengals try to call Palmer's bluff and he retires, they get nothing.

Question No. 5: Which teams are potential trade partners?

Answer: Palmer still has a few good years left and could be a solid quarterback in a winning situation. About a third of the league has questions at quarterback.  But that doesn't mean every team is a good fit for Palmer. He doesn't want to be part of another long rebuilding process, which is what's going on in Cincinnati. So the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders would be ideal landing spots for Palmer, who could be the missing piece to turning these teams into playoff contenders. Other teams with quarterback needs, such as Buffalo and the Arizona Cardinals, have a lot more work to do and are in the same spot as Cincinnati. So Palmer probably would be less interested. All of this is contingent, of course, on the Bengals' willingness to trade Palmer.

Considering all of these factors, Palmer vs. the Bengals is undoubtedly a must-watch situation this offseason.