Carson Hilton Palmer (born December 27, 1979) is an American professional football quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League. He was drafted by the Bengals first overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. He played collegiately at the University of Southern California and won the Heisman Trophy in 2002. He has been selected to two Pro Bowls.
Carson Palmer was born in Fresno, California and attended Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. As well as football, Palmer was an avid basketball player, and was named to the Student Sports Grid-Hoops All-America second team.
Carson Palmer arrived at the University of Southern California in 1998 and immediately competed for the starting quarterback job with Mike Van Raaphorst. Van Raaphorst won, but due to his ineffectiveness, Palmer was named the starter in the ninth game of the season, becoming only the second true freshman ever to start as quarterback for the Trojans. Palmer roomed with fellow USC football player, Troy Polamalu, who now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a division rival of the Cincinnati Bengals and Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs.
After three underwhelming years at USC, Palmer had a breakout senior year under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who was brought in the year before by head coach Pete Carroll after spending 27 seasons at Brigham Young University and one season at North Carolina State University. The revamped Trojans offense led to Carson Palmer becoming the fifth Trojan to win the Heisman Trophy, after running backs Mike Garrett (1965), O.J. Simpson (1968), Charles White (1979), and Marcus Allen (1981). Palmer was the first Trojan quarterback to be so honored; his successor, Matt Leinart, won it as a junior in 2004.
Carson Palmer completed 309 of 489 passes for 3942 yards and 33 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions during the 2002 season, and later led the Trojans to an impressive 38–17 victory over the University of Iowa in the Orange Bowl. His completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns were all USC single season records. In a November 30 game against Notre Dame, Palmer threw for 425 yards and led his team to 610 yards of total offense, the most ever gained against Notre Dame in each category. Palmer left college as the Pac-10 Conference’s all-time leader in passing yards (11,818), completions (927) and total offense (11,621), along with 72 career touchdown passes, a USC record at that time — Matt Leinart has since surpassed the record, which currently stands at 99.
Stats at USC
- 1999: 39/53 (73.6%) for 490 yards, 3 Passing TDs and 1 Rushing TD; with 3 Interceptions
- 2000: 228/415 (54.9%) for 2914 yards, 16 Passing TDs and 2 Rushing TDs; with 18 Interceptions
- 2001: 221/377 (58.6%) for 2717 yards, 13 Passing TDs and 1 Rushing TD; with 12 Interceptions
- 2002: 309/489 (63.2%) for 3942 yards, 33 Passing TDs and 4 Rushing TDs; with 10 Interceptions
Carson Palmer did not play at all during his rookie season; veteran quarterback Jon Kitna, who signed with the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent in 2001, took every snap during the 2003 season. For his efforts, Jon Kitna was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Palmer, with Kitna mentoring him, watched and learned during games and in practices under head coach Marvin Lewis and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.
Carson Palmer started 13 games and led the Bengals to an 8-8 record.
Statistically, Carson Palmer had a stellar individual season, throwing a league-high 32 touchdown passes and leading the league in completion percentage. He became the first Cincinnati Bengals quarterback to finish with a quarterback rating over 100 and set the team record in that category, and he also tied Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning for most consecutive games, 9, with a triple-digit quarterback rating.
On the Bengals’ first pass play, Carson Palmer threw a 66-yard pass to rookie receiver Chris Henry. It was the longest completion in Bengals playoff history. After Palmer released the pass, Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen, a former Bengal, made contact with Palmer’s lower left leg. The tackle, later ruled unintentional, violently wrenched Palmer’s knee and he was forced to leave the game. A magnetic resonance imaging test revealed a severe knee injury; Palmer had tears of both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments as well as cartilage and meniscus damage.
Coincidentally, Chris Henry himself suffered a knee injury on the same play, though far less severe.
The Bengals lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers 31-17.
During the off-season, the league’s rules committee modified the rule regarding low hits on quarterbacks. The new rule prohibited defenders from hitting a passer at or below the knee unless they are blocked into him. Injuries to Palmer, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, and Tampa Bay’s Brian Griese were cited as reasons for the new rule. The rule now requires that defenders take every opportunity to avoid hitting a quarterback at or below the knees when the quarterback is in a defenseless position looking to throw with both feet on the ground.
Carson Palmer underwent reconstructive surgery on his injured knee in Houston, Texas on January 10, 2006. Dr. Lonnie Paulos, a surgeon who is independent of the Cincinnati Bengals, performed the operation. Initially, the Bengals organization stated that Palmer had torn the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments with no other damage. However, Dr. Paulos later told the Associated Press that the damage was more extensive and also included a dislocation of the patella. Paulos called the injury “devastating and potentially career-ending”, which drew a derisive comment from Carson Palmer which implied Paulos simply liked to see his name in print. The Bengals, however, later accepted Dr. Paulos’ assessment 
Nonetheless, Carson Palmer vowed he’d be the starting quarterback in the Bengals’ regular season opener at Kansas City on September 10, 2006.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis stated: “This is a serious injury, but we are told the procedure went very well. We know Carson, and we know he will apply himself fully to his rehabilitation. This result encourages our feeling that Carson will be ready to open the 2006 season as our starting quarterback” .
During his rehabilitation, Carson Palmer has made several other pointed comments, particularly in an issue of Sports Illustrated, in which he was on the cover shown using a relatively new form of therapy called the HydroWorx. In the article, Palmer stated that: “I hate the Steelers more than I hate UCLA.” He later clarified his statement that the animosity is not directed at individual players; it was borne from the historic Bengals–Steelers rivalry. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is, in fact, a close friend and former USC roommate.
Carson Palmer returned in time for the 2006 preseason. After the Bengals’ 48–17 pre-season victory over the visiting Green Bay Packers on August 28, 2006, which saw Carson Palmer complete 9 of 14 passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns in just less than two quarters of play in his much-expected debut (which included an 11-yard run for a first down that culminated in a slide on his surgically-repaired left knee,) Carson Palmer reiterated his position that he would be starting in the Bengals’ season opener at Kansas City.
His performance drew rave reviews from many experts, many of whom expected far less of him less than a year after such a serious injury. ESPN analyst Joe Theismann, himself a former quarterback with the Washington Redskins (whose own career was ended by a gruesome broken leg against the New York Giants on November 18, 1985), praised Carson Palmer for his mental toughness in taking hits and not being gun-shy about staying in the pocket where chances of injury are often high.
Palmer ended up starting in all 16 of the Bengals regular season games, only missing one snap due to injury, which was determined as Palmer only getting the wind knocked out of him. He actually didn’t become totally comfortable with his repaired knee until week 9 against the Chargers when he threw for a career high of 440 yards. Despite his previous injury, he passed the 4,000 yard mark for the first time in his career, finishing the season with a franchise record 4,035 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, only 13 interceptions and 93.9 rating. He also made the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row, becoming the first Bengals quarterback to do this since Boomer Esiason in 1988 and 1989. Palmer was named Most Outstanding Player at the Pro Bowl, leading the AFC down the field in the final two minutes for the win. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns, one to his Bengals teammate Chad Johnson. Palmer placed 3rd in voting for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, behind Drew Brees and Chad Pennington. Unfortunately, his team suffered quite a few misfortunes, such as missed point afters and field goals, while slipping from an 11-5 record in 2005 to 8-8 in 2006 and failing to make the playoffs due to a game 16 loss against their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After winning the Pro Bowl MVP, Palmer declared “This is a huge honor and extremely exciting and I feel very blessed just to be here, let alone for the outcome to be this. But my goal’s to be in a Super Bowl. And to win a Super Bowl. That’s where my mind’s at, and after this week I’m going to start focusing on that again.” During the 2007 off-season, Palmer had scheduled workouts with not only Chad Johnson (which he usually did), but receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Tab Perry. He also said he is fully comfortable with his knee.
In the season opener on Monday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens, Palmer went 20 for 32 with 194 yards and two touchdowns. Palmer and the Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens 27–20. He followed up this performance with 33 completions for 401 passing yards and a franchise record 6 touchdown passes the next week in a game against the Cleveland Browns. But even so, his team lost the game 51–45. Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson also threw for five touchdown passes in the game. It was only the third time in NFL history that two quarterbacks had thrown at least five touchdown passes in the same game. In the loss to the Seattle Seahawks, 21-24, Palmer went 27 for 43 for 342 yards for a touchdown, but also threw two interceptions.
By week 8, Palmer and the Bengals were struggling. His team had only a 2–5 record and he had thrown 9 interceptions, the most by any quarterback in the AFC. However, he remained statistically productive, ranking fourth in the NFL in passing yards and fifth in touchdowns with a passer rating of over 90.
The Bengals’ misfortunes continued throughout the season and a week 15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers ensured that the team would finish the season with a losing record for the first time since he had been their starting quarterback. In the same game, Palmer threw his 100th career touchdown pass, becoming the 5th fastest player ever to reach this milestone (59 games). Palmer finished the season with 376 completions for 4,131 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 20 interceptions. His 20 interceptions were a career high, but his 376 completions and 4,131 passing yards set new Bengals franchise records.
In the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, Carson Palmer was held to 99 yards and no touchdowns, completing only 10 out of 25 passes with an interception. For the first time in his career Palmer wore a clear protective visor because of a broken nose. In the following 24-7 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Palmer was 16 of 27 for 134 yards and two interceptions. As the Bengals fell to 0–3 against the New York Giants in a 26–23 overtime loss, Palmer went 27 for 39 for 286 yards and a touchdown.
Palmer missed the next game, an eventual loss against the Cleveland Browns, due to a sore elbow, which ended his consecutive start streak of 51 games. Palmer returned the following week against the Dallas Cowboys and completed 23 of 39 of his passes for 217 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception on the first passing play of the game.
The cause of Carson Palmer’s sore elbow was later diagnosed as a partially torn ligament and tendon and he was shelved for the remainder of the season. Palmer elected not to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the damage; instead, he chose to rest the elbow to allow it to heal. By March 2009, Palmer said that he was “100 percent” again.
In the season opener, Carson Palmer threw the ball 33 times for 247 yards, 2 interceptions, and no touchdowns in a 12-7 loss against the Denver Broncos. The critics sought another mediocre season for the Bengals, with a lack of offensive production. The offense bounced back in week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, Palmer threw for 185 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in a 34-31 win. In week 7 against the Chicago Bears, Palmer was 20 of 24 passing, with 5 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 146.7, in a 45-10 win. This win improved the Bengals record to 5-2. After a 16-7 win against the Cleveland Browns in week 12, the Bengals swept their division for the first time in franchise history. Going into a week 15 game at San Diego, Bengals’ receiver Chris Henry died. Playing with a heavy heart, Carson Palmer threw for 314 yards, with 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, but only to lose on a last second field goal by the Chargers. Palmer had a 91.7 passer rating with 2 touchdowns and only 1 interception in a 17-10 week 16 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. This win assured the Bengals’ first winning season and division title since 2005. In Palmer’s first full playoff game, he struggled. Palmer threw the ball with a 50 percent completion percentage, with 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and a 53.8 passer rating, in a 24-14 loss to the New York Jets. Carson Palmer finished the 2009 season with a 60.5 completion percentage, 3,094 yards passing, 21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a passer rating of 83.6. He seemed to have taken a step back from where he was in 2005 and 2006.
In the 2010 NFL draft, the Bengals drafted 3 more pass catchers for Carson Palmer. In the first round, tight end Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma, third round receiver, Jordan Shipley of Texas, and Dezmon Briscoe of Kansas in the sixth. During OTA’s (Organized Team Activities), Palmer asserted himself as the leader of the team by calling out Chad Ochocinco, saying that the number one receiver should be there with the team.
Carson Palmer wed Shaelyn Fernandes, a former USC soccer player whom he met during freshman orientation, on July 5, 2003. In the off-season, they reside in Laguna Beach, California. His brother, Jordan Palmer (formerly of the Washington Redskins but now a backup quarterback with the Bengals), was his best man at his wedding. Shaelyn gave birth to a set of twins in January 2009, one boy and one girl.
In 2008, Nike released 3 Air Max 90s, one of which was designed in the Nike ID studios by Palmer. The shoe’s colorway bears a strong resemblance to the famous Air Max 90 Infrareds.
Carson Palmer is a contributor to Delta Air Lines‘ “Under the Wing” blog. Delta maintains a hub at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Carson was the best man at Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel’s wedding.