This would’ve been a very different column had I written it yesterday. For the last five years, the Arizona Cardinals have been in the steady hands of head coach Bruce Arians and led by quarterback Carson Palmer. They’ve had a good record overall in that time, turning a perennial losing team into a winner. On Monday, Arians retired from football, and on Tuesday, Palmer did the same thing. Now the question of whether Larry Fitzgerald comes back or not before the team has to figure out what to do next.
Going into the season the NFC West was a toss up. The Seattle Seahawks had been the elite team, but had been coming back down over recent years. Both the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers had new head coaches and question marks at quarterback. The Cardinals had one of the most respected coaches and a quarterback who had rejuvenated his career in the Valley of the Sun. Hopes for the team were high. But they started the season going back and forth, losing week one, then winning week two, then losing three, and so forth — until breaking that pattern with a second loss in week 10. But the big blow was Palmer breaking his arm and basically being done for the season after week seven.
Drew Stanton came in and won a game, lost a game, and got injured. Blaine Gabbert took over, winning two of the five games he started before it went back to Stanton, who won his last two games. Stanton ended up going 3-1 over his four games, which is the best percentage of the three quarterbacks. But there was a definite drop in productivity after Palmer went down, and even having Adrian Peterson running for a while didn’t offset the loss of Palmer. Fitzgerald was his usual dependable self getting over 1,000 yards receiving again. There is hope on the defensive side of the ball as the team was 6th overall in both total defense and rushing defense, while 14th on passing defense. Their 8-8 overall record shows the team has a solid base to start with going into 2018.
That is going to come down to filling in the gaps. Find out what Fitzgerald is going to do, and then find your new head coach. Not having an answer at quarterback makes this one of the less desirable jobs out there. Most of the other openings have either a veteran or an up-and-coming rookie on the roster. At this point, the Cardinals have no quarterbacks at all on the roster. It probably wouldn’t take a lot to resign Gabbert and/or Stanton, but neither of them are a franchise arm. I think that might scare off a younger coordinator trying to make the jump to head coach. I’d expect this to be more of a job for an experience coach or a guy on his second try.
As for quarterback — they’re picking 15th in the draft, which will keep them from one of the elite players, but at quarterback there really aren’t any elites. There are good prospects, but no sure-fire bets. I’ve heard talk about the Sooners’ Baker Mayfield as an option in the first round. While I think he could end up a good NFL QB, I see him as a mid-second round prospect. Plus, the history of the Cardinals is to go out and find an experienced signal caller. Kurt Warner went there after his time in both St. Louis and New York. They went after Kevin Kolb and then Palmer. I think the Cardinals are more likely to go after someone like Alex Smith, Eli Manning, or Kirk Cousins if they become available. Or maybe try and pry Derek Anderson out of Carolina.
My money would be on them going with a veteran and drafting a quarterback to groom in the second or third round. That might change though depending on who is the head coach and that is still the first question that must be answered.
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