Sunday, February 29, 2004

Benching Kitna's a bad move for Bengals

Sometime soon, Marvin Lewis will announce that the NFL Comeback Player of the Year will come back and not play. Jon Kitna will warm the Bengals bench, with lots of time to wonder, again, why being good isn't good enough.

Kitna had the best season of his career last year. He threw 26 TD passes and only 15 picks. Not good enough. Twelve games into it, the Bengals were tied for first place. Every team in the AFC Central wished it had Kitna calling its signals. He was a dark horse candidate for MVP. Not good enough.

His teammates liked him, respected him, considered him a leader. Not good enough. He will be 32 in September, prime time for NFL QBs, most of whom need several years in the league before the game slows down. Kitna was good enough last year. That's not good enough.

Lewis will say it's Carson Palmer's time. He likes Palmer's long-ball potential and, at 6-foot-5, his ability to see the field. Kitna was Greg Maddux; Palmer is Roger Clemens.

Lewis likes how Palmer kept his lip buttoned, even when the Bengals were 1-4 and Kitna was one bad half from watching Palmer's coming-out party. Lewis thinks he has seen enough of Palmer in practice and in training camp to know he's special.

The coach could be right. You can't keep a No. 1 pick on the bench - not when he's a quarterback, not when he's making more money than all but eight players in the entire league.

Kitna is a team player. He has a strong faith that grounds him. He has been in this position before (Gus Frerotte, 2002). He will take this without complaint. Let me complain for him.

Kitna got jobbed.

The Bengals are telling him last year was a fluke. In a league where 75 percent of the teams are seeking a reliable quarterback and the other 25 percent pray theirs stays healthy, the Bengals will bench a quarterback who took every snap last season.

You say Kitna was awful three of the last four games, all losses. I say the defense was bad all four. Without Kitna, the Bengals don't beat San Francisco 41-38.

You say the long-term future is now. It's Carson's time. I'll say in the NFL, "long-term future" is an oxymoron. It's not a rent-to-own league. I'll say look at Joe Gibbs - he's back coaching the Washington Redskins, whom he led to three Super Bowls. The first thing he did was trade for Mark Brunell, soon to be 34. Gibbs says Brunell will compete with Patrick Ramsey. Given the Redskins paid Brunell $8.6 million to sign, it won't be much of a competition.

Gibbs is more comfortable with the veteran Brunell, who played in three games last year.

With Palmer's growing pains and a harder schedule, 8-8 again will be a good record for the Bengals.

Tell me Daunte Culpepper started his second season. Yeah, with a Pro Bowl offense: Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, Korey Stringer. Give me all the standard lines: Kitna fumbles, Kitna can't make big throws, Kitna can't win big games. Where were those lines when the Bengals were winning six of seven?

Where is it written that because a player is drafted high and makes a lot of money, he has to play? Where does it say that Carson Palmer will die of boredom if he sits another year? Did waiting hurt Kurt Warner or Jake Delhomme or Steve McNair? Rich Gannon's overnight success took a decade.

Lewis has suggested regardless of which quarterback plays, each will be expected to win. Is Palmer ready for a short leash?

Mostly, it comes down to this: Jon Kitna earned the right to lose his job on the field.

So much for loyalty. So much for production. So much for good enough. It's not good enough. Lewis is right in naming a starter before summer camp begins. He's just naming the wrong guy.



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