Quarterback Carson Palmer playing against the Bengals for the Cardinals in the preseason of 2014 (left), and Palmer playing against the Cardinals for the Bengals in 2007 (right).
Carson Palmer still loves to play football, and it's not just about the games for the quarterback. He relishes the practicing, the studying.
He's playing on an MVP-level. He's 35 – and right now, there's no end in sight to his NFL career.
"I take it one week at a time," Palmer said. "I would love to play 10 more (years). I can't imagine that would be possible. It's a one Wednesday at a time, one Thursday, one Friday. I'd love to play as long as I can. I hope I get to."
Maybe Palmer is, after all this, the Cardinals' quarterback of the future as well as the present. It makes it that much harder to believe that four years ago, he said he was going to retire rather than play for the Bengals anymore.
The Bengals visit the Cardinals Sunday night. It's not like Palmer has never faced his old team. He did that when playing
for the Raiders in 2012. It's not like Palmer has never faced the Bengals at University of Phoenix Stadium, although that was just a preseason game in 2014.
"It's not about that anymore," coach Bruce Arians said. "It's about the game this week. I think there are some storylines that people are trying to write, but I don't think he has any."
While Palmer acknowledges this is "not just another game" for him, he certainly doesn't take much pleasure in revisiting his end in Cincinnati. He said he has positive feelings for his eight years playing there after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2003, filled with "great relationships, a lot of fun times."
But in 2011, he and owner Mike Brown didn't see eye-to-eye on the team. Palmer said he'd retire rather than play there again. Brown held his ground until midseason, when Palmer was finally traded to the Raiders.
"It was a point and time in his career and his life where he made a decision to do what he had to do, which was stand for (himself)," said Cardinals defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, then a Bengals teammate who had played with Palmer in college.
"That's a decision you make for your family, yourself, and there are a lot of things that factor into it. I was there when that happened and the guys on the team didn't feel any ill will towards him. It was a decision he had to make for his life. It had to be a tough one. It wasn't easy."
Brown told foxsports.com that he and Palmer argued back then "on a couple of occasions" what the future of the Bengals and the future of Palmer should be. Brown said Palmer was concerned he was getting beat up and worried he only would
play a couple of more years.
"I like Carson Palmer personally," Brown said. "I did when he was here. I regret it broke apart the way it did."
Wednesday, Palmer had no interest in getting into the details.
"We obviously disagreed and it ended in a very colorful, heated argument," Palmer said. "Now is not the time or place to get into the he-said, she-said type of deal."
Palmer has said there will come a time when he will tell his side of the story. When might that be?
"Not in Week 11," Palmer said as Week 11 practices began.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was coaching when the Palmer-Bengals marriage dissolved. Lewis said he too had positive memories of Palmer's tenure, but quickly shut down further discussion of his former QB.
"You know, Carson plays for the Cardinals now, so we shouldn't dwell on Carson," Lewis said. "He's a fine player. We drafted him number one overall. He was an outstanding player here, and person. He's left a lot to build on here."
Palmer's replacement in Cincinnati, Andy Dalton, never was really Palmer's teammate. Dalton was drafted in 2011 and the lockout wiped out all offseason work and Palmer stayed away once the lockout ended. Dalton said he had too many other things to worry about than to think about Palmer's relationship with the team.
"I wouldn't say it was awkward," Dalton said. "It was just one of those things that you thought, in the back of your mind, 'What if he eventually just shows up one day?' and things would be different. But it all worked out."
That cannot be argued, especially for Palmer. There were some bumps in Oakland playing with a struggling team. It took a little time for Palmer to get settled in Arians' offense once he was traded to the Cardinals in 2013, and his ACL injury prematurely ended 2014.
But his rehab brought him back better than maybe any of his Cincinnati days. His passer rating of 108.0 is trending to a career-best. He has 23 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. He orchestrates the NFL's top offense and a team that has scored the second-most points.
Imagining him retiring in 2011 seems folly. It seems a crazy notion even now. Palmer said he doesn't feel like he's deteriorated physically – his comeback from ACL got him in better shape, remarkably – since his Bengals' days and he's gained both experience and knowledge.
The future of both Palmer and the Cardinals is attractive. No reason to look back at how he got here.
"Myself and this team are focused on Week 11," Palmer said. "Not 2011."
Images of the 13 different Cardinals who have scored this season