TEMPE, Ariz. – The NFL’s worst-kept secret is finally official. The Cardinals released quarterback Kevin Kolb on Friday morning, ending a disappointing two-year relationship in which Kolb showed flashes of the ability to become an effective starting quarterback but couldn’t stay healthy enough to establish that identity.
Foot, head and rib injuries limited Kolb to just 15 of a possible 32 games in 2011 and 2012. He completed 255 of 436 attempts (58.5 percent) of his passes for 3,124 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Kolb was due a $2 million roster bonus by 1 p.m. Friday. He was also due to make a $9 million base salary and a $500,000 roster bonus next season. Kob’s agent Jeff Nalley, never discussed whether his client would be willing to take a pay cut – a must if the Cardinals were going to bring him back – but it is believed that is what created the impasse and eventual release.
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Kolb’s release saves the Cardinals $7.5 million in salary-cap space.
By signing Drew Stanon to a three-year deal on Thursday and by placing a second-round tender on Brian Hoyer, the Cardinals made it clear they were moving in another direction. Those two will likely compete with either John Skelton or Ryan Lindley for a roster spot, but the Cardinals also are likely to select a quarterback in April’s draft.
Given the unimpressive resumes of the quarterbacks currently under contract, it is fair to speculate that the Cardinals may use the No. 7 pick on a quarterback such as West Virginia’s Geno Smith or USC’s Matt Barkley. That was considered unlikely before these events because none of the current crop of college QBs is considered a first-round lock; many have significant issues with their technique, arm strength or footwork.
“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,’” former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said last weekend.
The draft is also deep in offensive linemen, leading to the belief that the Cards could use their first pick on that position because that is the most significant shortcoming on the team other than QB. However, that same depth may provide the Cards with a solution in the second or third round if they choose to pursue a QB in the first round.
The unwillingness to address the offensive line was one of the failings of the previous coaching staff that led to its almost-complete dismissal. Had the Cardinals addressed the line, Kolb might not have been injured as much and the team might have seen a clearer picture of who he was as a quarterback.
“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,” seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback Steve Young said last weekend at Warner’s charity event. “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.”
Following a disastrous 2010 season that saw Matt Leinart cut in the preseason and Derek Anderson and John Skelton lead the Cardinals to a 5-11 record, the Cards shipped 2009 Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick to Philadelphia to land Kolb, who at the time was perhaps the hottest QB commodity on the market.
When Kolb was sidelined for the season with a concussion after only nine mostly lackluster games, the Cards vigorously pursued free agent Peyton Manning in the offseason. But Broncos GM John Elway won out.
The Cards named Skelton the starter for Week 1 after Kolb performed poorly in the preseason, but Skelton suffered an ankle sprain against the Seahawks, and Kolb stepped and eventually led the Cardinals to a 4-0 start that seem to validate the previous season’s trade. In Week 6, Kolb suffered cracked ribs that separated from his sternum on a botched running play when running back William Powell ran the wrong way. He missed the rest of the season, leading to speculation that the Cards would try to reduce his salary or release him.
Multiple reports have surfaced that Kolb could sign quickly with the New York Jets, who had their own quarterback issues last season with Mark Sanchez.
Clearly, money was a significant factor in the Cardinals’ decision, but new coach Bruce Arians is taking a huge risk with the QBs he currently has under contract. The 49ers and Seahawks have both improved playoff teams this offseason, and the Rams, with an emerging defense and quarterback Sam Bradford, appear better poised to compete in the NFC West than the Cardinals based on their current rosters.
With the current cast of quarterbacks, this roster will be a tough sell for fans settling back into the notion that these are the same old Cardinals.