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 injured quarterback 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 2013 conditional second-rounder that can become another first-rounder 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 USC and been an assistant in Cincinnati.
Jackson said Palmer has the strong arm and athleticism that late Raiders owner Al Davis always wanted in a quarterback. Nevermind Palmer's decline in production in the last two years, Jackson called the deal for Palmer "The greatest trade in football."
"This isn't about the numbers. This is about the person," Jackson said. "I know his heart, I know his passion, I know his dedication to the game. ... I'm not concerned about Carson's past. I never would be. That doesn't even enter my mind, because I know, with me and him and the rest of this staff and football team, where we're going to go. And that's the most important thing."
The Raiders (4-2) became desperate for a quarterback after Campbell broke his collarbone during Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Campbell had surgery Monday and is expected to miss at least six weeks, leaving Oakland with just Kyle Boller and Terrelle Pryor as quarterbacks on the roster.
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. Palmer hoped the work would pay off with another chance in the NFL, but he didn't 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. The Raiders host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, but Jackson wouldn't say if Palmer would start.
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 the New England Patriots 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 land 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.