Palmer could create tough decision for Cards

Carson Palmer to the Cardinals isn’t a new idea. The possibility that the Raiders might release him to save money was floated early in the offseason. So was the possibility the Cards might pursue him if Kevin Kolb didn’t agree to give back a lot of that money Arizona gambled and lost on him.

But following a report that Palmer is unlikely to restructure his contract with Oakland, and that the Raiders will likely release him if he does not, Palmer’s name has reappeared through the Cardinals’ revolving quarterback door like a hotel guest who has decided to stay another night.

Palmer is scheduled to make $13 million in base salary this season, and his cap figure is $15.35 million, but Oakland is in no hurry to release him because he’s already counting against the cap, and he has no bonuses due soon. The Raiders might let this saga drag into April or even the summer while they further evaluate Terrelle Pryor and see how the draft, free agency and potential trades impact their thinking.

But if he is available, should the Cardinals pursue him? A case can be made for yes or no.

Palmer threw for 4,018 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with a passer rating of 85.3 and a completion percentage of 61.1 percent last season. He did all that on a bad Raiders team (4-12) that boasted no receivers among the league’s top 50, according to Clearly, those numbers far surpass anything seen in these parts since Kurt Warner became a multimedia star.

If the Cardinals were to land Palmer, it would likely cost somewhere between $5 million and $8 million, based on what a good but blemished veteran starter normally fetches. If Palmer is productive, it will seem like money well spent. If he is not, it will merely represent the latest, lame chapter in the franchise’s search for Warner’s replacement.

There are several questions the Cardinals have to ask themselves (and maybe already have): Does Palmer give them a decidedly better chance to win games next season than the current assemblage of uninspiring QBs currently on the roster, Drew Stanton, Brian Hoyer, John Skelton or Ryan Lindley?

In our opinion, the answer there is yes. Coach Bruce Arians predictably talks of his confidence in Stanton and the upside of Hoyer (what else would you expect him to say when those are the only two real possibilities on the roster?). But Stanton hasn’t thrown a regular-season pass in two years, and there’s a reason for that.

The problem with paying Palmer that kind of money is that it would severely restrict the Cardinals’ ability to do anything else. They might be able to fit his contract under the cap, but they’d likely have to let other players go to make room for a guy who won’t be here more than a couple seasons.

Would that money be better spent shoring up other areas in free agency? Should the Cardinals tacitly admit they are in rebuild mode and go to battle with the current quarterbacks and maybe a draft pick while they look for their franchise QB in next season’s draft?

Palmer would obviously be an easier sell to the fan base. Whether the organization wants to admit it or not, Stanton and Hoyer do not get anyone’s blood bubbling. Palmer might help bridge the gap to a better era with his playmaking ability.

On the flip side, anyone hoping for a Warner-like resurrection of Palmer’s career should remember that times were different when Warner elevated Arizona to an NFC championship and two division titles. In those seasons, the NFC West was horrible. Even with Palmer, the Cardinals aren’t any better than the third-best team in the suddenly powerful NFC West – and they might be still be the worst.

Finally, if the Cardinals do draft a quarterback this season whom they believe could be their guy in the future, how would Palmer’s presence impact (hinder?) the rookie’s development?
Our take is simple. If the Cardinals truly are committed to winning now, and not just giving it the requisite lip service that an emotional fan base needs to hear, they should pursue Palmer, because he gives them a better chance than any of the quarterbacks currently on the roster.

On the flip side, if the Cardinals are in rebuild mode, then they should truly embrace that notion and pass on Palmer. It might not sit well with the fan base, but a year or two of smart drafting with higher picks would certainly help Arians and his staff build a foundation.

The NFC West is brutal right now. Even with Palmer, the Cardinals would be a long shot to make the playoffs. Would a little more offensive excitement and a few more fans in the stands be worth the money?

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter