Sources: Bengals' Palmer likely won't return in 2008, but is delaying surgery

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is unlikely to play another game in the 2008 season but he will delay a decision on whether to have surgery to repair a "frayed" ligament in his right throwing elbow, sources told ESPN.

Palmer's injury is to one portion of the ulnar collateral ligament and he has been told that Tommy John surgery would repair the problem with positive results, the sources said. However, doctors have agreed that Palmer's conservative approach to such an operation is acceptable because the damage is more limited than what Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme suffered a year ago when he had the surgery.

Despite the Bengals' 0-7 record going into a game at Houston, the team has no plans to place Palmer on injured reserve, which would officially end his season. Palmer has asked the Bengals to wait "around two months" before taking any action because, a source said, the quarterback "does not want to abandon the team until he's certain he can't play ...the win-loss record has nothing to do with it, believe it or not."

Neither the Bengals nor Palmer have a comment about the specifics of the injury and the plan.

Palmer has visited five specialists who have concluded the quarterback has a worrisome injury. The ulnar collateral ligament is a thick triangular band and sources say only one of the three portions of the ligament is frayed.

Palmer believes the pain in his arm is actually manageable but he has lost strength in his right hand, which has become a greater obstacle to throwing the football, the sources said.

Palmer also has consulted with at least two quarterbacks who have undergone Tommy John surgery -- Delhomme and former NFL quarterback Rob Johnson. However, Palmer discovered that both passers had considerably more damage than he has experienced.

Delhomme's surgery was almost a year ago, on Oct. 18, 2007, and he was participating in organized team activities in late spring and early summer. He has had no setbacks.

Sources say Palmer is using a timetable that would still allow him to have the surgery at the latest possible date, if necessary, and get back on the field by next summer, based on the opinions from doctors and Delhomme's comeback.

Palmer injured the arm in a Sept. 21 game against the New York Giants. He has played only once since -- against the Cowboys on Oct. 5 -- before he began seeking numerous medical opinions.

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.