Few players in the history of the NFL have had careers quite as interesting as that of Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer. 12 NFL seasons have seen the former Heisman winning, No. 1 overall pick jump from a long stint with the Cincinnati Bengals (where he spent seven seasons), a short stint with the Oakland Raiders (where he spent two years), and now a current successful stint with the Cardinals that will be entering its fourth season. During all of those seasons, Palmer has dealt with being the pressure of being the top pick, multiple injuries, and trades. Entering this season, it was questionable if he could finally put together a complete season free of any adversity.
Entering the postseason, Palmer and the Cardinals had done just that. A 13-3 regular season led Arizona to the second seed in the NFC playoffs, thanks in large part to Palmer’s career best season that saw him garner MVP attention. He threw for more than 4,600 yards, 35 touchdowns, and just 11 interceptions with an impressive passer rating of 104.6 (all career bests). More importantly, Palmer made it healthy through the entire regular season. With a balanced roster around him, the Cardinals were supposed to make a Super Bowl run. The rest of the NFC had other ideas, however.
After surviving a wild game against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, Arizona was faced with the task of traveling cross country to play the Carolina Panthers for the NFC title. The fact that the Cardinals lost wasn’t necessarily surprising. It was the way they lost that turned heads, as Carolina cruised to a 49-15 victory. In the contest, Palmer threw not 1, not 2, not 3….but 4 interceptions, which created countless scoring opportunities for the Panthers. Overall in the postseason, Palmer threw 6 picks, easily the most among playoff passers.
With the playoff loss in the past but still fresh in the minds of the Cardinals, questions will certainly arise about what the team should change so that they can take the next step next season. One of those questions will be about their aging quarterback, as Palmer is set to turn 37 at the end of next season. With that said, here’s what we think will happen with the Cardinals-Palmer union.
Palmer’s contract will likely keep the veteran in the desert for the foreseeable future, as he is signed through the 2017 season with an option to extend things through the 2018 season. However, that doesn’t mean that Arizona shouldn’t begin thinking about the future of the quarterback position.
Currently on its roster behind Palmer are the likes of Matt Barkley and Drew Stanton, two guys that leave much to be desired in terms of a potential starting quarterback in the NFL. If Palmer gets injured, Stanton is a serviceable option for a game or two, but he certainly isn’t what the Cardinals are looking for in the long term. With that being said, what Arizona really should be thinking about this offseason is drafting a young QB that can develop under Palmer has he plays out the remainder of his contract/career.
Even with a pick late in the first round, there should still be some options for the Cardinals when the draft rolls around in May. Paxton Lynch out of Memphis comes to mind as a guy that could use some mentoring before he is ready to take the reigns of an NFL franchise. Michigan State’s Connor Cook could also be available late in the first round as another potential option for Arizona. Even if they decide to wait until the later rounds, it would be nothing short of shocking to see Arizona go the entire draft without picking up a quarterback. They have to prepare themselves for life after Palmer, which could be sooner rather than later.
After the way things ended in the postseason for Arizona, it’d be easy to pull a dramatic move like making a change at quarterback. That’s not what the Cardinals should do at all though. They had one of their best seasons in franchise history and ran into a buzz-saw in the Panthers who simply weren’t going to lose the NFC title. Arizona is still set up for an even better season in 2016 if they can retain their key pieces, which for now includes Carson Palmer. It’s time to start thinking about the future at quarterback, but that future shouldn’t begin for at least one more season. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Cardinals back in the NFC Championship next season and to see them take the next step with Palmer at the helm.