A few weeks ago, the news came out that Carson Palmer had demanded a trade. Many see this as a negotiating ploy. It may be, but I wouldn’t rule out an actual retirement. Palmer has to know that Mike Brown is a fairly stubborn individual and is not likely to facilitate such a demand.
One issue is his contract, but I actually don’t think it is that big of an issue. Palmer signed an extension back in December of 2005, but the additional bonus money wasn’t huge (15 million) and it was spread over 10 seasons, through 2014. He shouldn’t have to pay back too much if the Bengals take a hard line if he retires. I’ve seen reports of him walking away from 50 million. That’s funny money. He isn’t seeing most of that unless he is very productive through age 35 (the base salary is 14 million, for example, in 2014 when Palmer would be 35).
So the question is, how long is Palmer likely to play, knowing what we know about him with the injuries, the good seasons early, and the mediocre and inconsistent play recently. If he’s not likely to play much longer, then it’s not really as if he is walking away from 50 million. He’s made more than 60 million to this point, and it is possible that he doesn’t want to put up with playing in Cincinnati to make more.
I think there are nine guys, who to varying degrees, have had a career path most similar to Carson Palmer through age 31. What we are looking for is guys who had some very good seasons early (age 27 or younger) and then went into somewhat of a lull as they were entering their early 30’s. Here are the guys I think best fit the Palmer mold, in descending order of how successful they were after age 31 (Palmer will be 32 next year):
- John Elway: He played in 3 Super Bowls by age 29, but put up pedestrian numbers in his early 30’s as the surrounding cast got worse. He rebounded when Mike Shanahan became coach and the team added Sharpe, Davis, Zimmerman and company. He was also much healthier than Palmer through age 31. Last starting season: age 38.
- Ken Anderson: Very good in the mid-70’s, but as he entered his thirties, the Bengals tried to replace him by drafting Jack Thompson. He struggled, but rebounded when the team added the best left tackle in football, Anthony Munoz, and led the team to a Super Bowl at age 32, then set the single season completion percentage record the next year. Last starting season: age 35.
- Mark Brunell: The left-handed Brunell quarterbacked the Jaguars to four straight playoffs at age 26 to 29. He then had three mediocre years, before being replaced by Byron Leftwich. Resurfaced with Washington to start parts of three seasons. Last starting season: age 36.
- Boomer Esiason: Boomer was incredible in 1988, leading Cincinnati to the Super Bowl at age 27. From age 29 to 31, though, he had more interceptions than touchdowns, and his final year in Cincinnati was the same age Palmer is now. He bounced back for one season with the Jets, then played three more mediocre years with New York and Phoenix. Last starting season: age 35
- Drew Bledsoe: Drew was already in Buffalo by age 31, and played one more season in Buffalo before joining Dallas. He was replaced by Tony Romo six games into his second season there. Last starting season: age 33.
- Jim Everett: It’s easy to associate Everett now with the Jim Rome-Chrissy Everett incident, but Jim was very good early on, and very similar to Palmer. He led the league in touchdowns at age 25 and 26, and was over 7.0 yards per pass through age 29. He regressed badly at age 30, was traded to the Saints at 31, and played three in New Orleans. Last starting season: age 33.
- Marc Bulger: Bulger took over for Kurt Warner and put some pretty good seasons together under Mike Martz. Things fell apart as the talent eroded around him, and Bulger really struggled at age 30 and 31. He started 8 more games at age 32. Last starting season: age 32 (still active as reserve)
- Ken O’Brien: O’Brien had his two best seasons at age 25 and 26 as the Jets reached the playoffs. He leveled off after that, and after starting at age 31, he was replaced by Boomer Esiason. He never started again. Last starting season: age 31.
- Bert Jones: Quick aside-I remember Jones from the “less filling/tastes great” commercial as a kid. By then, though, he must have been pretty much done. He put together one of the best single seasons at age 25 leading the Colts to the playoffs. He then was racked with injuries at age 27 and 28. He had a dispute with the Colts ownership before he turned 31; he only managed 4 more starts with the Rams before injuring his neck and calling it quits. Last starting season: age 30.
I don’t think Palmer has a John Elway-like resurgence coming. I tend to think some of those guys in the middle-particularly Everett and Bledsoe–are reasonable comps to Palmer stylistically and how they were playing at the same age. Both of them had already moved on to other teams by this point in their careers, and were done by age 33. I would set that-two more seasons as a full-time starter–as a reasonable guess on how much Palmer has left.
[photo via Getty]