NFL Notebook: The Carson Palmer dilemma

Carson Palmer could be on the trade market, or the Bengals could dig in their heels and refuse to bow to his threats. Peyton Manning has a big contract decision to make, and the QB theme continues with hired hands trying to work rookies free of the pistol offense.

Quarterback stripes: Although we opined in this space last week that Cincinnati is unlikely to trade quarterback Carson Palmer, despite his threat to retire if he is not relocated, a Bengals official was pretty adamant at the NFL Scouting Combine last week that the club will entertain offers for the eight-year veteran. He was pretty persuasive too, and just as convincing that the club will choose a quarterback to develop in the draft.

But for all the experts who have linked the Bengals to Cam Newton with the fourth overall selection, this insight: The club official still wasn't sure there is any quarterback prospect worthy of the No. 4 choice. A name to watch with the Bengals: Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, with whom the Bengals staff was impressed when it coached in the Senior Bowl and who figures to be available in the second round.

Peyton's place: Don't totally discount the possibility that Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning eventually signs his one-year tender as a franchise player, worth around $23.1 million, a move that would fully guarantee the money, assuming that either a new CBA or a court doesn't void the franchise tags.

Under such a scenario, Manning, who according to reports has agreed to be a plaintiff in any antitrust action taken against the league, and agent Tom Condon and owner Jim Irsay, would continue to work toward a longtime deal.

At the same time, Manning, a smart guy, apparently has done the math, despite the allegation that Carolina owner Jerry Richardson suggested the Colts' quarterback doesn't know his way around a spreadsheet.

Does that mean Manning will sign the tender? Not necessarily. But sources insisted last week to The Sports Xchange that he and Condon have crunched the numbers and that agreeing to the tender is an option. Of course, with Thursday having passed, and a moratorium on signings, any deal will have to wait for a new CBA.

Signing the franchise tender for 2011 would guarantee Manning the money. And, assuming he doesn't suffer a catastrophic injury - yeah, the injury odds figure to catch up sometime to Manning, who has never missed a game in 13 seasons, but we say that every year and he manages to somehow survive behind a suspect offensive line - the Colts would designate him again next spring, at roughly $27.2 million.

If he signed that deal, it would be over $50 million guaranteed. That's more in guaranteed money than New England quarterback Tom Brady reportedly received ($48.5 million) in the four-year, $72 million extension to which he recently agreed. And Manning would get it in half the time.

Despite pronouncements from Condon and Colts vice chairman Bill Polian that the two sides have made progress in talks, there's still a pretty significant disparity.

Cottage industry: In recent seasons, there has been a group of 3-5 former NFL quarterbacks who worked extensively with draft prospects, readying them for the Combine and some offseason workouts. But because of the prevalence of "spread" offenses in the college game - and guys like Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert operating largely from "pistol" sets in college - quarterback coaches have had to spend additional time with prospects on working taking the snap directly from center.

"It seems pretty simple, but you'd be amazed at how guys struggle to perfect something a lot of us take for granted," one of the quarterback coaches told The Sports Xchange earlier this week. "The footwork is totally foreign to some of them. It comes harder than you think."

Newton certainly looked uncomfortable in his drops, from a more conventional starting point, during his on-field session at the Combine. And after six years in the league, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith - the top overall pick in 2005 and the product of a spread offense while at Utah - has yet to fully master the center-quarterback exchange.

PUNTS

  • By unofficial count, 34 "vested" veterans (four seasons or more) had been released since the end of the season and Thursday night. Seven had signed contracts, but only one, Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawks, with the franchise that cut him.

  • Add the Bengals to the list of teams that likely won't be able to afford to keep a cornerback they want to re-sign, five-year veteran Johnathan Joseph, in part because of the three-year, $31.5 million extension the Raiders awarded Stanford Routt, a lesser player. Last week in this space, we noted the implications of the Routt deal on the Steelers' hopes of re-signing Ike Taylor. The Bengals placed the highest restricted tender on Joseph, first- and third-rounders, but such tags could be rendered moot by a new CBA. Cincy might have been willing to go to about $8.5 million per year for Joseph, a first-rounder in 2006 who pocketed $1.625 million in 2010, but $10 million annually is out of the question

  • Chicago saved about $8.4 million from its 2011 salary cap, whenever there is one, by converting a $10.5 million roster bonus due defensive end Julius Peppers this month into a signing bonus it can prorate.

  • While new Denver coach John Fox suggested at the combine that Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers figure to be his starters at end in a defense headed back to the 4-3 under his stewardship, look for him to make a big push to add Carolina end Charles Johnson, if/when there is a free agency period. A four-year veteran, Johnson had 11.5 sacks in 2010, after the former third-round pick (2007) notched 10 sacks combined his first three years, The strong endorsement from Fox notwithstanding, Dumervil, and particularly Ayers, might be more apt fits as 3-4 linebackers.

  • Kudos to Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the Thursday deal that got tailback Pierre Thomas under contract for four years. A year ago, the Thomas was seeking a contract approximating the six-year, $49.3 million pact that Steven Jackson signed with the Rams in 2008. Instead, he settled for the one-year, restricted tender. The new, long-term contract will pay Thomas about $3 million per year. Still a good contract for a guy who entered the league as an undrafted free agent, but a long, long way from Jackson money. A terrific deal for the Saints, since Thomas fits well with what the team does, a strong runner who is adept in the screen-pass game coach Sean Payton likes so much

  • Here's hoping new Carolina coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney each invested in a set of ear-plugs this week when they signed tight end Jeremy Shockey, recently released by New Orleans, to a one-year contract. Shockey wasn't thrilled about his career-low 41 receptions in 2010, and that was with Drew Brees throwing to him (in fairness, it should be noted that Shockey was injured much of the season). It's hard to believe Shockey will bite his tongue when Jimmy Clausen or some as-yet-identified rookie is throwing. Since Wesley Walls averaged 56.7 catches 1997-99, Carolina starting tight ends have averaged 28.7 catches per year. The Panthers have had only one season since Walls registered 43 receptions in 2001 in which a starting tight end had more than 34 catches.

  • The other shoe drops: Abilene Christian wide receiver Edmund Gates was one of the fastest players at the Combine, with a 40-yard time of 4.37 seconds. The oddity was that Gates ran the time in the shoes that former Abilene star Johnny Knox used when he ran in 2009. Knox clocked a 4.34 and was a fifth-round choice of the Bears. "I thought if they were fast for him, they could be fast for me, too," Gates said.

  • Atlanta owner Arthur Blank is a smart guy who knows how to try to maximize income. That's why it's so puzzling that, when the Falcons' non-game contract (preseason games and specials) expired with the Atlanta-area NBC affiliate, the team signed a deal with a rival station that doesn't even have its own sports department.

  • Georgia Tech running back Anthony Allen had a nice performance at the Combine, and definitely helped himself with scouts. But the talent evaluators also are aware that Allen played in the option offense of coach Paul Johnson, and that Steelers 2010 sixth-round pick Jonathan Dwyer, who played in the same offense and was viewed as a better prospect, struggled to adapt to a pro-style set as a rookie. Dwyer appeared in only one game and he logged just nine carries last season.

  • Although wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin was timed at a fairly pedestrian 4.50 last week, and was inconsistent in his routes, a number of clubs, including New Orleans, are still intrigued by the former Pitt star as a possible steal in the second round.

    The last word: "They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn. But I told that to Eric Dickerson once and he told me, 'No, the darkest hour is right before everything goes black." - Colts owner Jim Irsay at a Wednesday caucus of league owners, repeating a line he used at an NFL owners meeting in Atlanta several weeks ago.


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