He woke up to a text message early Tuesday morning telling him to fly to Oakland to complete a trade with the Raiders, who are counting on Palmer to replace the injured Jason Campbell and lead the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"It's been a whirlwind," Palmer said. "I understand what's expected of me. I know what playing quarterback is about, and it's about winning. I want to come in a contribute and do whatever I can to help this team."
The Raiders are hoping he can do a lot, having traded a 2012 first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder in 2013 that can become another first if Oakland makes it to the AFC title game in either of the next two years.
Coach Hue Jackson believes Palmer is the ideal fit, having recruited and coached him at Southern California and been an assistant in Cincinnati with Palmer.
Jackson said Palmer has the strong arm and athleticism that late Raiders owner Al Davis always wanted in a quarterback.
"This guy can play and he knows how to play the game and he knows how to elevate the players around him," Jackson said.
"There's no question you go on offense as good as your quarterback is. I think he's one of the best and that's why he's on this football team now. I didn't bring him here because he was just a guy sitting out there. I brought him here because I think he can help this team win a championship."
The Bengals had been adamant about not trading Palmer, who wanted to be dealt from a team that has had only two winning records in the past 20 years.
Owner Mike Brown repeatedly insisted he wouldn't consider Palmer's request for a trade because he didn't want to reward him for holding out. He changed his mind after getting the big offer from the Raiders.
Brown said the play of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton made it easier to trade Palmer.
"We also find ourselves rather suddenly in position of being able to receive real value for Carson that can measurably improve our team, which is performing well and is showing real promise for this year and years to come," he said in a statement.
"When this opportunity arose, we felt we could not let it pass and needed to take a step forward with the football team if we could."
The Raiders (4-2) became desperate for a quarterback after Campbell broke his collarbone during a win over the Browns on Sunday.
Jackson's mantra all season has been "the time is now," and he backed that up by dealing for Palmer.
The Raiders also renegotiated Palmer's contract, giving him a $2.5 million guaranteed deal for the rest of this season, $12.5 million with $5 million guaranteed in 2012, $13 million in 2013 and $15 million in 2014.
Palmer had been working out in Southern California, trying to stay in shape and throwing to former teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh and high school players.
He hoped the work would pay off with another chance in the NFL, but he did not know.
"There was a number of times that there were teams approaching the Bengals and it didn't work out, so it was a very difficult time," Palmer said.
"I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know what was around the next turn, the next week, the next month. So there was a lot of confusion and I really didn't know what was next."
Palmer said it will take some time to learn the offense, build chemistry with his receivers and get back into football shape. Oakland hosts Kansas City on Sunday but Jackson would not say whether Palmer would start.
While Palmer has not played or practiced since last season, he has a history with Jackson, who was his offensive coordinator for two years at USC and the wide receivers coach for three seasons in Cincinnati.
Jackson was with the Bengals when Palmer had his best season in 2005 when he threw for 3,836 yards with 32 touchdown passes and a 101.1 rating while leading the team to an AFC North title. Palmer tore up his left knee during a playoff loss to Pittsburgh that season.
He came back and had two solid seasons before partially tearing a ligament and tendon in his passing elbow during the 2008 season.
He has not been an elite quarterback since, despite getting back to the playoffs in 2009. Palmer said he is completely healthy now.
Over the past two years, Palmer completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 7,064 yards, 47 touchdowns, 33 interceptions and a passer rating of 82.9 while posting a 14-18 record.
Those numbers are comparable to what Campbell has done since the start of the 2009 season.
But the Raiders were not willing to trust their playoff chances with Boller, who had not started a game since 2009 and had lost his previous 10 starts since October 2007, or Pryor, a project who will need time before he can be an NFL quarterback.
This is the second trade the Raiders have made since Davis' death. They dealt last week for former No. 4 overall pick in 2009, linebacker Aaron Curry from Seattle.
The trade leaves the Raiders with picks only in the fifth and sixth rounds in next year's draft. They traded their second-rounder during April's draft to New England for the picks to draft offensive lineman Joe Barksdale and running back Taiwan Jones.
They used their third-rounder to take Pryor in the supplemental draft in August. They traded their fourth-rounder in 2010 to get Campbell and the seventh-rounder for Curry.
"I know a lot of people think we've mortgaged the future of the organization," Jackson said. "I don't see it that way. I mean, I don't think you ever mortgage the future of an organization when you're putting a real big-time franchise quarterback on your team."