Bengals must draft a top QB

For years the Cincinnati Bengals have overlooked drafting an eventual replacement for franchise quarterback Carson Palmer.

But in previous seasons that was more of a luxury. This year drafting Palmer's replacement is an absolute necessity.

Palmer, who is signed through 2014, recently turned the Bengals' draft plans upside down by demanding a trade and threatening retirement. This is a situation that needs to be taken very serious by the organization. The Bengals would be unwise not to consider drafting a quarterback in the first or second round.

Perhaps the Bengals can try to find "Palmer insurance" in free agency. But there won't be many options for a team like Cincinnati, which is not an attractive landing spot for free agents and typically searches for bargain-basement players.

You can try that route at cornerback (Adam Jones) and running back (Cedric Benson). But trying to find a cheap alternative as your starting quarterback is a recipe for disaster.

We've said for months that it's time to blow up the Bengals. This roster won just four games last season and it’s hard to envision the team doing much better in 2011 without significant changes -- especially in this brutal division led by the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Palmer obviously sees that from the inside and he wants out.

Cincinnati has other needs. So using the No. 4 overall pick on Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Washington's Jake Locker or Auburn's Cam Newton may not be the first option. But if the Bengals pass on a quarterback in the first round, they better consider someone like Arkansas' Ryan Mallet in the second round in case they have to start the season with a rookie quarterback.

How will the Palmer saga end? Who knows?

But the Bengals likely will have plenty of uncertainty at quarterback entering April's NFL draft, which is the best time to find Palmer's immediate or eventual replacement.