Here’s the simple reason Carson Palmer is an Arizona Cardinal: When you have a chance to upgrade the quarterback position, you upgrade the quarterback position.
No player is more important to a team’s success, and it’s not even close. Palmer is an upgrade over Drew Stanton, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley and now-released John Skelton. Again, it’s not even close.
“I’m here to introduce our starting quarterback and put it to bed,” coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday at a news conference to introduce Palmer. “And I’m really happy about it.”
The fact that the Cards had to give up only a conditional 2014 pick and swap their sixth-round pick in 2013 (176th overall) for Oakland’s seventh-round pick (219th) is further cause for celebration. The Cards had two sixth-round picks this season, anyway, and when you scan the list of Arizona’s sixth-round picks since 2000, only one name gets you excited: David Carter.
The others? Jabari Issa, Bobby Newcombe, Josh Scobey, Tony Gilbert, Reggie Wells, Nick Leckey, Jonathan Lewis, Chris Harrington, Will Davis, Jorrick Calvin, Quan Sturdivant, Justin Bethel and Lindley.
A source familiar with the contract said Palmer’s deal is for two years and $16 million, with $10 million guaranteed, which was more attractive to Palmer than what he was being offered in Oakland.
“I was presented with a contract there and I was advised not to sign that contract with no security and no guarantees,” Palmer said Tuesday at his introductory press conference. “That opportunity led me here.”
Will the money the Cardinals have to pay Palmer preclude them from filling other areas? Maybe, but let us repeat: When you can upgrade the quarterback position, you upgrade the quarterback position.
“Watching Carson on tape, when you see some of the throws he makes, whether it’s the digs, the curls, the 9-routes, Carson has a tremendous skill-set of throwing the football downfield,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. “We felt like his skill set fit our offense.”
Some might wonder why, if the Cardinals were willing to spend for a veteran quarterback, they were unwilling to re-sign Kevin Kolb at whatever reduced price he deemed fair. (Kolb was due a $9 million salary this season.) Kolb is five years younger than Palmer and had a higher passer rating than Palmer last year.
There’s a fair argument to be made here, but there were a few things working against Kolb. Topping that list were his injury history and his lack of experience.
“Carson’s played more games. He’s earned his money,” Arians said. “Kevin has not been able to stay healthy. All the injuries were a concern. Don’t get me wrong. I think Kevin can spin the football, but him not being to stay on the field was a concern.
“When you look at everything, Carson just gets me more excited.”
Palmer has also shown an ability to make quick reads and get rid of the ball quickly. He was sacked only 26 times in 15 games last season despite playing behind an offensive line that was every bit as suspect as Arizona’s.
Kolb never mastered that ability. Maybe he will, but he took a beating last season, partly because of his inability to make quick decisions like Kurt Warner did behind a line that was every bit as suspect a few years earlier.
Some have questioned whether Palmer’s arm strength has diminished after a 2008 elbow injury and his years of wear. Keim does not.
“From three years ago in Cincinnati to this past year in Oakland I saw the same guy,” said Keim, who watched plenty of tape on Palmer. “A guy that could drive the ball downfield.”
This is not to say that Palmer is the second coming of Warner. Warner is headed to the Hall of Fame. Palmer is not. When Warner arrived in Arizona, the NFC West was also the league’s poorest division. With Seattle and San Francisco both Super Bowl contenders and the Rams expected to take another step forward, the NFC West could be the league’s best division this season.
But, clearly, Palmer gives the Cardinals a better chance to be competitive within the division, and he is driven.
“I’ve only got a couple shots left,” he said. “I’ve been in this league a long time.”
We don’t buy the notion that Palmer would hinder the development of a younger quarterback. If the Cards do select a quarterback this season — Arians was non-committal on this Tuesday –there’s nothing wrong with him playing behind a veteran for a couple seasons. It used to happen all the time in the NFL, and it worked just fine.
Palmer completed 345 of 565 passes (61.1 percent) last season for 4,018 yards in 15 games last season, becoming just the second quarterback in Raiders history (Rich Gannon) to top 4,000 yards in a season. He threw 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a 85.3 passer rating.
He is not a long-term solution — that is clear from his two-year deal. But if he can bridge the gap while the Cards find that solution, all the better. We’ve witnessed more brutal quarterback play the past three seasons than any city should have to endure.
So if you were hoping the Cardinals would tank this season so they could build through high draft picks, know that virtually no team ever thinks that way. The idea is to improve whenever you get the chance. That’s why this move was made, and there’s nothing wrong with that.