Carson Palmer’s lost legacy

The Cardinals QB has announced his retirement, giving us a chance to look back at what was, and what could have been

(Photo credit: FF Swami)

Carson Palmer has decided to announce his retirement from the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals quarterback and three-time Pro Bowler has played 15 years in the NFL for three teams and was last seen in London against the Rams, where he broke his arm. Having just turned 38 and seen his head coach retire, Palmer decided it was time to go as well.

The lost potential of Carson Palmer

Palmer entered the NFL with big expectations. He was a Heisman winner and the #1 pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003 out of USC. He sat through his rookie season, but was soon on the field and soon playing well. He looked like he could join the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning level of brilliance, but unfortunately it wasn't to be.

An incredible 2005 season saw him lead the NFL in completion percentage (67.8%) and touchdowns (32). The Bengals were the #3 seed and AFC North champs. The reward for that season was a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but just one pass in disaster struck. He completed the pass deep down the right sideline to Chris Henry for 66 yards, but was left in a heap as Kimo von Oelhoffen lunged at his left leg and hit him.

The ACL injury ended Palmer's day, the Bengals hopes, and in the end perhaps his potential as a top quarterback. Palmer was back for the start of the 2006 season, but he wasn't quite the same. There was a tentativeness that wasn't there before.

He would suffer with injuries again in 2008, playing just four games as a knee and elbow injuries forced him onto the sidelines. When he returned it was clear that the old potential was gone. In its place was an average passer, and the Bengals decided to cash-in after 2010 and trade him to the Raiders.

Arizona revival

As with Randy Moss, Palmer was a forgotten force in Oakland, but he only stayed their for two years before heading to Arizona. Again, injuries played their part in Palmer's life as he first suffered a shoulder problem in Week 1 and then an ACL tear in Week 10 during the 2014 season. Around those injuries he had played well, rediscovering some of his previous brilliance, but in 2015 he really found his highest gear.

Teamed with Bruce Arians, a handful of electric receivers, and some good pass protection. He led the NFL in QBR and yards per attempt, as well as throwing career-highs in yards (4,671) and touchdowns (35).

The Cardinals were the most exciting offense in the NFL as they aired it out all over the field and stretched defenses vertically like nothing in recent memory. It was a refreshing and wonderful sight in a world populated by horizontal, quick-passing offenses. It got the Cardinals to the NFC championship game before the Panthers shut them down, but the promise of 2015 made them a Super Bowl favorite in many eyes coming into 2016, but it just wasn't to be.

All the glory of 2015 came crashing back down to earth. Defenses adjusted, the offensive line regressed, and Palmer lost his magic once again.

Carson Palmer's legacy

Palmer is one of the biggest "what if"s of the 21st century NFL. What if van Oelhoffen hadn't come crashing down onto his leg late? What if he had been healthy? Could he have delivered playoff glory for the Bengals? Would he have been there going toe-to-toe with Ben Roethlisberger for the last decade? I'm sure it drives Bengals fans crazy, and I'm sure it has driven him crazy at times as well. We'll never know if Palmer could have been pushing Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning at the top for all those years, and that in the end is the legacy he will leave behind. He is 12th in career touchdown passes and passing yards. He is first in What If's.

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Toby Durant

Deputy Editor at RealSport. A life-long gamer, I have been with RealSport since 2016 and spent time covering the world of Formula 1, NFL, and football for the site before expanding into esports.


I lead the site's coverage of motorsport titles with a particular focus on Formula 1. I also lead RealSport's Madden content while occasionally dipping my toe into Football Manager and esports coverage of Gfinity Series events.