GLENDALE, Ariz. – Kurt Warner’s name is a heavy burden that drags every Cardinals quarterback down.
Talent was a major issue in each of the subsequent failures, but so was the impossibly high standard Warner set in his final two seasons here – capped by a five-touchdown, four-incompletion performance in his last game at University of Phoenix Stadium — a 51-45 overtime playoff win over the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 10, 2010.
Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton, Rich Bartel, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer all flopped in their attempt to shed Warner’s weight. Carson Palmer is the latest to inherit the cross.
Unlike his predecessors, Palmer has a respectable resume to draw upon. Unfortunately for Palmer, he also shares some storylines with Warner, making the comparisons inevitable.
“There’s a lot of similarities if you look strictly at the time I came here and where Carson is now,” Warner said Tuesday.
As Warner noted, both players had success with their first team. Warner won a Super Bowl in St. Louis; Palmer led the Bengals to their first playoff berth in 15 years in 2005 and finished the year with a 101.1 quarterback rating.
Both players eventually left their first teams. Warner was released because the Rams believed he was done; Palmer was traded because he said he would never play with the Bengals again. Both players had short-lived stints with their second teams (the Giants and Raiders), and both ended up in Arizona, where Warner resurrected his career and Palmer hopes to.
“I can’t help but think about it, and I understand why people think about it and talk about it,” Palmer said of trying to match Warner’s revival. “When I’m asked about it, I can’t help but think, ‘man, I hope that happens.’
“At the same time, we’re two different people on two different teams at a different time. It’s a totally different situation. Back when he was here, the NFC West was kind of the doormat. Now the NFC West is probably the best division in all of football.
“On the flip side, he was coming off Super Bowl MVPs, and I haven’t done anything like that in my career.”
The Cardinals would probably settle for something less than Super Bowl MVPs after enduring three years of agonizingly bad quarterback play. If training camp can serve as any sort of indicator, the early returns suggest Palmer will indeed be a significant upgrade over the previous eight QBs.
“All I’ve seen is an NFL quarterback,” Cardinals QB coach Freddie Kitchens said. “He can make all the throws, he’s a smart guy who makes good decisions, and he approaches his career the way we should all live our lives. He’s in the present while preparing for the future.”
Warner, now an analyst for NFL Network, believes Palmer’s skill set is a good fit for coach Bruce Arians’ scheme, not only because Palmer can throw the deep ball, but because he can throw what Warner calls “chunk throws — 25 to 35 yards down the field. He’s really made his living doing that. That fits him well and it fits what Larry Fitzgerald does very well, so I think it’s a good mix.”
It is still early in training camp, but Arians said Palmer’s lengthy NFL experience has allowed him to assume an authority role in the locker room almost immediately.
“He does it in a very professional way, but he has enough of a command now if a guy is in the wrong spot to ask ‘what were you thinking? What did you see, because I thought you were going to do this?’ ” Arians said. “You yell at the right guy, you coach other guys, and I think he has a really good feel for that.”
Palmer said age factors into his willingness to assume command, but so does the fact that he’s seen virtually everything under the NFL sun.
“I’m in my fourth offense in four years, so I have been forced to learn so much,” he said. “That’s the best thing that can happen to you. Some people look at it as a negative but I have so much experience now that I can look back on it and pull little things from it.”
Palmer firmly believes that change can revitalize a player.
“For sure. It happens with lots of guys and it happens in every sport,” he said. “This is a great time to be here. I couldn’t have timed it any better with (team president) Michael Bidwill taking over and (coach) Bruce (Arians) coming in and some of the veterans that are here and have played in a Super Bowl, that have been so close and are still so hungry.”
But while the Cardinals believe they have added some pieces around Palmer to ease his transition, Warner still sees myriad questions including the team’s rebuilt offensive line, running backs and its receivers after Larry Fitzgerald.
“If the offensive line plays well and if one of these backs can show themselves and stay healthy, Carson has a lot of skill. He can do a lot of things,” Warner said. “Carson’s an upgrade from where they’ve been in the recent past.”
Will it be enough in a division stacked with two Super Bowl contenders (San Francisco and Seattle) and the emerging, well-coached Rams?
“The benefit for me is that I’ve written the last chapter, and it went pretty good for me,” Warner said. “Nobody’s going to remember how we came here. People are going to remember how we leave here.
“I know Carson feels like he has a lot left, so I hope that he can follow along that same path and resurrect his career to a degree — but just as importantly, resurrect this organization to where we were just a few years ago.”