All the way back in 2003, the Cincinnati Bengals made Marvin Lewis their head coach and drafted Heisman winner Carson Palmer first overall in the NFL Draft. Today, within minutes of each other, Palmer announced his retirement–just a few days after his 38th birthday–while the Bengals announced an extension for Marvin Lewis that means he will return for a 16th season.
Palmer isn’t going to get in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (three pro bowls), but had a career that was better than most, and had many different facets to his career. In 2005, he led the NFL in touchdown passes as he and Lewis reached the playoffs for the first time. That came crashing down with a hit by Kimo Von Oelhoffen low on Palmer’s knee on the first play of the playoff game against Pittsburgh. The injury was initially labeled as potentially career-threatening, but Palmer was back playing at the start of the next season.
An elbow injury again threatened Palmer’s career in 2008, and he did not look sharp in 2009 even though the Bengals made their second playoff appearance. After the 2010 season, both he and Lewis faced a crossroads following a 4-12 season. Palmer demanded a trade, and threatened retirement. Lewis might have found himself out in most organizations, but the Bengals and Mike Brown aren’t most. Two playoff appearances and no playoff wins in eight years would normally be enough to cause change after a 4-12 year. But Lewis returned, the Bengals drafted well, including adding Andy Dalton in the 2nd round, and began a run of success.
Palmer was traded to Oakland at mid-season when Hue Jackson needed a quarterback. Palmer’s tenure in Oakland was better than people remember, but the team did not have success, and he was traded for a late round pick to Arizona. Working with Bruce Arians revitalized his career, and he turned in several great seasons. He was off to a fantastic start in 2014 as the Cardinals started 6-0, before another knee injury squandered that season and left us with Ryan Lindley starting a playoff game by year’s end. When Palmer returned in 2015, he threw 35 touchdown passes and was the runner-up for MVP to Cam Newton. He retires 12th in career passing yards and 12 in career passing touchdowns.
Marvin Lewis, meanwhile, also turned things around after their separation before the 2011 season. The Bengals made the playoffs five straight years, only to come up short each time. Some years, they were outmatched, but others they squandered opportunities (notably at home against the Chargers, and in the loss to Pittsburgh following the 2015 season).
And while not many coaches would have survived no playoff wins and a 4-12 season after eight years, it’s virtually unprecedented for a coach to survive again after fifteen years and two straight losing years. Lewis is better than some options out there, and also a known commodity. But the message can get stale. Mike Brown has decided that it hasn’t gotten stale enough yet, and Lewis will continue on as Palmer rides off to retirement. May Marvin Lewis stay on forever.