The Cardinals quarterback picture got a little clearer on Wednesday when news broke that the Chiefs and 49ers have agreed to a trade that will send quarterback Alex Smith to Kansas City for two second-round picks when deals can become official on March 12.
Cross that one off the list, Cardinals fans. Citing an NFL source, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reported Tuesday that the Cardinals had inquired about Smith, but Somers could not ascertain how serious the discussions became.
It makes sense that the Cardinals would at least explore a trade for Smith (or even Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, who the Cards had the chance to draft but passed on) in an attempt to improve the most important position on the team. But it always seemed unlikely the 49ers would deal Smith to a division rival. It also seemed unlikely that the Cards would be willing to part with more draft picks after surrendering so much to acquire Kevin Kolb two offseasons ago.
So where does that leave us? Right where we thought it would. Aside from Smith, the free-agency and trade markets for quarterbacks are less than appealing. There is nobody on the list that would represent a clear upgrade over Kolb, and perhaps nobody even equal to Kolb.
Team president Michael Bidwill has already intimated that he’s not ready to give up on Kolb, who played well last season when he was healthy. The issue is Kolb’s salary. He’s due to make about $10 million next season. It’s unknown how much of a cut he’d be willing to take, and his agent did not return phone calls this week requesting an interview.
There are two valid sides to this negotiation. Kolb has only played about half of the team’s 32 games since arriving due to head, foot and rib injuries. You can understand why the Cards are leery of paying him so much, particularly because Kolb has had two known concussions, and a preponderance of neurological studies show that once you’ve had one, you are more susceptible to more.
On the flip side, Kolb has plenty of leverage. First, he played well when he was in the lineup, completing 109 of 183 passes (59.6 percent) behind suspect protection with eight touchdowns, three interceptions and an 86.1 passer rating. With no great options in free agency, trades or even the draft, the Cards don’t have a clear-cut Plan B.
There was plenty of chatter following the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that the Cardinals really like USC quarterback Matt Barkley and wouldn’t let him fall beyond their first-round pick at No. 7. But that notion is problematic on several fronts.
First, just about everything you hear this time of year is misinformation — in a league notorious for misinformation. Did the Cards float that notion to throw others off their real plans? Did someone else, and how would they know? It’s impossible to say. But this year’s draft class at QB is considered weak, with no sure-fire first-round picks. New coach Bruce Arians has repeatedly said that it is dangerous to draft for need, so why would the Cardinals reach for a guy at No. 7 with whom scouts find many flaws?
Moreover, as Darren Urban of azcardinals.com noted, The Cardinals haven’t even evaluated their own quarterbacks yet. They haven’t produced any draft grades or had any substantive draft meetings regarding their top picks. So how would the Cardinals know where they’re going with the No. 7 pick when they haven’t completed evaluations or draft plans?
The bet here is that the Cards will draft a QB on one of the first two days of the draft, but that No. 7 pick seems a reach. It makes much more sense to grab a quarterback in the second or third rounds — where Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson went, incidentally — than to use the No. 7 pick for a player who won’t grade out that high on most draft boards.
The Cards need to develop the position. That much is clear. As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted last season, “We’re looking for quarterbacks every year. We really believe that you have to continue to upgrade that position.”
But for now, the Cards’ uneasy marriage with Kolb may be what’s best for the whole family, provided Kolb is willing to be reasonable with the family’s finances. Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter