The Cincinnati Bengals have officially ushered in a new era.
With franchise quarterback Carson Palmer and former Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco aging and disgruntled, the team drafted their replacements in quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. Cincinnati's urgency to replace the soon-to-be former faces of the franchise is the strongest sign yet that the Bengals are blowing up the core and starting over.
Technically, Palmer and Ochocinco are still under contract with Cincinnati. But behind closed doors, the team knows it's likely both veterans played their final game in a Bengals uniform. Palmer demanded a trade, put his house on the market and says he's willing to retire, while Ochocinco has joined the offseason campaign to get out of Cincinnati.
With both players well over 30 and past their prime, the Bengals appear willing to oblige.
"It seems like a lot of guys might not be around," Dalton admitted Friday when he was drafted. "But the guys that will be there will get in and have one goal in mind -- and that is to win a lot of ballgames."
At times Cincinnati can be unpredictable with personnel, but it executed a well-thought out plan to land new building blocks. Green is the draft's best receiver and Dalton was a top-five quarterback, depending on which team you survey.
If you want further proof the Bengals are moving on, head coach Marvin Lewis was already talking about Dalton's prospects of being the Week 1 starter in September.
Lewis called Dalton an "important, important piece" to the team.
Could the Dalton-Green combo match the Palmer-Ochocinco combo? Obviously, there are very big shoes to fill.
Palmer and Ochocinco have been one of the NFL's most prolific passing duos for the past eight years. Palmer threw for 22,649 yards and 154 touchdowns in Cincinnati. Ochocinco is the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 10,783 career yards. And according to ESPN's Stats and Information, the 46 touchdown connections for Palmer and Ochocinco ties them for 26th all time for a quarterback-receiver pairing.
Dalton and Green may not pass those statistical milestones. But that doesn't mean this pair can't win, which is something Palmer and Ochocinco struggled with in Cincinnati. The veterans combined for just two playoff appearances and zero postseason wins. Cincinnati has not won a playoff game in 21 years.
If Dalton and Green can eventually win playoff games, Bengals fans will forget the days of Palmer and Ochocinco as fast as you can say "Pepto Bismol."
The key to making this all work will be Dalton.
Every quarterback prospect this year has holes. Dalton is considered undersized and doesn't have a cannon for an arm. He's far from the sure-fire No. 1 overall pick Palmer was eight years ago. But if Dalton can get Green the football consistently, good things will happen in the Bengals' new West Coast offense.
The Bengals believed in Dalton early in this pre-draft process. He set a Mountain West Conference record with 42 career victories at TCU. He was 13-0 in his senior year and led the Horned Frogs to a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
"I feel like I'm a leader," Dalton said. "I know how to push guys; I know what it takes to push guys. I’m excited to come in, learn the different personalities of everybody there, get on the same page with everybody, and just get to work."
In 2001, the Bengals drafted Ochocinco in the second round, and they got Palmer in the first round two years later. This year the Bengals flip-flopped, using a first-round pick on a Green and a second-round pick on Dalton.
The final step for the Bengals may be the hardest. It's time for Cincinnati to trade Ochocinco and Palmer, and get as much value for them as possible. Player transactions are on hold with labor uncertainty. But as soon as trading and free agency opens, the Bengals should put both players on the market.
The Bengals had a chance to trade Ochocinco three years ago and were scared to pull the trigger, but they seem more open to the idea now.
Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has said he will not trade Palmer. But with Dalton now in the fold and several teams probably willing to give up a sizable bounty for Palmer, it would be in Brown's best interest to let go of the quarterback.