Fitz wants ‘stability’ at QB; can Cards find it?

TEMPE, Ariz. – When Larry Fitzgerald tells you he’s in the dark about the Cardinals’ quarterback plans — “just like everybody else” — you want to believe him. But then you remember that private and later confirmed workout with Kevin Kolb inside Arizona State’s Verde Dickey Dome.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Fitzgerald said Saturday at the Kurt Warner Ultimate Football Experience at the Cardinals’ practice facility. “Since Kurt left in 2009, there have been a lot of different guys playing the position. I think everybody is just hoping for a little bit of stability moving forward, somebody we can ride with for years to come and put the franchise on their back.”

Who that will be is a source of much debate, and since it is the offseason, the rumors are flying. Pro Football Talk reported Friday that the Cardinals are waiting to see if Oakland cuts Carson Palmer, who is due a base salary of $13 million in 2013 that the Raiders would like to reduce.

Draftinsider.net publisher Tony Pauline reported the Cardinals could have interest in free agent Drew Stanton, who was Andrew Luck’s backup last season in Indianapolis while new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was the Colts’ interim coach. The reasoning? Stanton knows Arians’ system.

There has also been considerable chatter about a trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, who the Cardinals already passed on once in the 2011 draft because they didn’t have high grades on him – something that may or may not matter now with a new coaching staff and the Cardinals’ general lack of success in identifying viable QB candidates during the Ken Whisenhunt years.

There is also the general consensus that the Cardinals will select a quarterback at some point during next month’s draft, although the scouting reports suggest there are no locks for the first round this year. Arizona has the seventh overall pick.

“We all know that it’s a tough position to fill. There’s just not too many of those guys out there,” Warner said. “In free agency, I don’t think there’s a big pool right now of guys where you go, ‘This guy can take us to the next level.’ With the rookies, there may be. I just don’t know.

“There’s a couple guys that are very impressive, had very impressive college careers and could step in and be that next guy, but I just don’t know if there’s a sure-fire guy where you go, ‘This guy’s got everything, 100 percent, where we’re willing to take him in the top 10 and he can lead us for the next 15 years.’”

Given the dearth of obvious free-agent and draft options, the final possibility is that the Cardinals turn back to the same guys who left the field last season: Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Brian Hoyer, to whom the Cardinals recently tendered a second-round offer that is likely to scare off potential suitors.

If the Cardinals are to stick with Kolb, they will likely have to re-work his $9 million salary for 2013. Kolb’s agent, Jeff Nalley, has been silent on the topic and it does not appear that talks have begun yet on a pay cut or contract restructuring.

Kolb played in just six games last season, completing 109 of 183 passes (59.6 percent) for 1,169 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 86.1. He has missed roughly half of Arizona’s games in his two seasons here with head, foot and rib injuries.

Can Kolb still be that guy Fitzgerald was talking about?

“The verdict is still out,” Warner said. “He hasn’t been able to stay healthy and be in there long enough to see exactly what he is. We saw great signs in Philly, we saw some great signs last year, but it’s hard to say in (six) games. You’ve got to see him through the highs and the lows and the ups and the downs and how he battles through it.”

Seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback Steve Young would like to see Kolb get that chance.

“I wish Kevin would be able to do it. It would solve everyone’s problems,” Young said Saturday. “I admire the Cardinals for sticking their neck out when they traded for him. I thought he played well enough to show people he was worth it. I thought he would be a solution, and I don’t want people to give up on him. There’s late bloomers in this game, so you never know.”

Whoever the Cardinals choose, Young and Warner both agreed that there is another, equally vital move the club must make.

“I don’t understand why a professional team, knowing that they have to have a quarterback or they have no chance, doesn’t find five guys to protect him,” Young said. “Teams that don’t focus on that, that’s another big flaw in organizational thinking.

“That was a mistake we made (with San Francisco) in the ’90s, not drafting for linemen. They’ve got to take care of that.”

Warner believes that move should come before the Cardinals select a quarterback in the draft.

“I think a lot of (QBs) are going to drop,” he said. “I don’t know if any of them will go in the top 10, and then when you get to the back end, not many teams need quarterbacks, so you’re going to see a number of those guys that are still questions marks drop to the second round.

“The strength of this draft, in my opinion, is offensive line, offensive tackle, something you need here. That’s kind of where I would look first and then maybe try to get a (QB) in the second round.”

With free agency set to kick off at 2 p.m. Arizona time on Tuesday, many of the non-draft questions could be answered this week. Whether those answers are truly answers or just more failed experiments in replacing Warner has yet to be determined.

“You never want to see an organization have some struggles, but the greatest way to really measure the impact you had on an organization is what happens when you leave,” Warner said. “I always say I’m more valuable in retirement than I was on the football field. Good players are hard to replace. I think we gain value because sometimes you don’t appreciate all the things that that position can bring to the table until it’s gone.”

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter