They took A.J. Green from Georgia with the fourth overall pick in the opening round, bringing in a receiver who can take over for Chad Ochocinco, the franchise's all-time leading pass-catcher. One round later, they brought in a new quarterback.
Carucci: Palmer pulling the strings
"That was good," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We spent a lot of time on this, no question. It's a big, important, important pick. Important piece."
Dalton will quickly get the chance to become the next face of one of the NFL's most dysfunctional franchises. The Bengals have posted only two winning records in the past 20 years, going through quarterbacks at a pell-mell pace while continuing to lose regularly.
"He's going to be a great quarterback in this league, in my opinion," new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "He's going to get a lot of opportunity to do that, come in here and compete for the job right away. What else do you want as a rookie quarterback?
"That's what I asked him at the (scouting) combine. I said, 'Are you wanting to come in here and be a backup quarterback somewhere and learn for three years, or are you ready to start in six months?' He said, 'I'm ready to start right now. Let's go.'"
Depending upon what happens with Palmer, Dalton could be running the offense in a few months -- a stunning change for a team that made the playoffs only two years ago.
The Bengals hit a franchise low point last season, matching the club record by losing 10 in a row and finishing 4-12 with an offense built around Palmer, receivers Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and running back Cedric Benson. It was so alarming that Lewis played out his contract, unsure he wanted to stay.
After two days of talks with owner Mike Brown, the coach agreed to an extension. Then Palmer said he wanted out, asking for a trade. He told Brown that he'd rather retire than return. Brown has so far refused, leaving them in a stalemate.
Ochocinco has a year left on his contract, but he thinks he'll be released. Owens won't be back. And Benson is a free agent.
Having Dalton around could make the Bengals more comfortable with the thought of trading Palmer, although Lewis sidestepped questions Friday about a trade.
Dalton, 23, completed 209 of 316 passes -- 66 percent -- for 2,857 yards with 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions to lead TCU to a 12-0 campaign climaxed with his selection as Rose Bowl MVP following a victory over Wisconsin. He threw for 10,314 yards with 70 touchdowns and 30 interceptions as a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs.
The pick totally rearranges the Bengals' depth chart at the position. Their No. 2 quarterback is Jordan Palmer, who is Carson's younger brother. Jordan Palmer has never started an NFL game. Third-string quarterback Dan LeFevour was a rookie last season who never got into a game.
Dalton could quickly move to the top of the list. Lewis thinks he can be ready to start next season.
"I feel real confident in that, if he had to," Lewis said. "I really do. And I think that's what really drew us to keeping our fingers crossed so much, what we felt was his maturity and his readiness to be able to stop in."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.