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Green: Cardinals QB route is hazy at best

The Arizona Cardinals need a quarterback.

The market for elite signal callers is mediocre, though there are a few decent options to choose from.

One of the possibilities is a 26-year-old who averaged 6.5 yards per passing attempt and has thrown touchdowns on 3.4 percent of his passes while being picked off on 4.4 percent of his attempts. Thought to finally be getting his opportunity to lead his team, he suffered an early-season injury and opened the door for a veteran to come in and take his place. When he did get back on the field he was average – not great – and the team ultimately decided the veteran gave them the best chance to win. A once-promising career has been put on hold as the quarterback – who believes he can be an effective starter in the NFL – is hoping to find a team that will give him an opportunity.

Another option is a 27-year-old who has experience in a system similar to Arizona’s, has averaged 6.5 yards per attempt and has thrown a touchdown on 2.4 percent of his passes while being interecepted 3.4 percent of the time. Originally anointed the starter by his team, he got hurt early in a season where he wasn’t playing great to begin with and was subsequently replaced by a veteran who, somewhat surprisingly, went on to have a Pro-Bowl campaign. The veteran re-established himself as a top-flight QB in the league, seizing the starting job and relegating the youngster to the bench.

Factor in the career QB ratings, with the former sitting at 73.2 with the latter at 70.8 and you may have a tough time deciding who gives you the best chance to win going forward: Kevin Kolb or Matt Leinart.

That’s right, the quarterback so many seem to want the Cardinals to give up the farm for is not that much different than the one they ran out of town not eight months ago. Irony can be a funny thing, no?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Cardinals should bring back a quarterback who apparently couldn’t beat out Derek Anderson, feuded with his head coach and was a third stringer in Houston for the duration of last season. Leinart’s tenure as a Cardinal was as disappointing as it was brief, and that ship has surely sailed. The point is while Kolb is being hyped as the next great QB, he’s really as much of an unknown as any other player would be with just seven career starts and 319 total attempts.

Could Kolb be a good quarterback? Sure, why not. He’s 6’3 and 218 lbs., meaning he has good size. His arm strength is solid and he’s been coached by one of the best in Andy Reid the last four years. However, the Houston product is no sure-thing, and if the Cardinals are to give up draft picks (especially their first rounder in 2011) merely hoping they are getting the franchise’s long-term answer at the most important position is not enough – they must know.

The Cardinals need a quarterback in the worst way, and while Kolb may be the most enticing option the idea that he is the best one has the scent of ‘after what we saw at the QB spot last year simply average would be awesome.’ Yes, average would be an upgrade, but average doesn’t win Super Bowls. Great does, and if you are sacrificing picks along with the big contract that would be handed to Kolb upon trading for him, you need to get great.

So, is greatness available? Well, in free agency, probably not. Teams know better than to let a franchise QB hit the open market, and players like Kurt Warner and Michael Vick only do so if they are carrying some level of baggage, be it on the field struggles or off the field issues. So, while a guy like Marc Bulger may be the choice, it must be understood that expecting him to have a career renaissance like the one Kurt Warner went through is a little unfair, as lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place very often.

Of course, the Cardinals could turn to the draft, but as they found out after taking Leinart 10th overall in 2006 there is the classic boom/bust potential and inherent risk that comes with taking a QB in the first round. Granted, Auburn’s Cam Newton, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and others have the potential to be stars, but the Cardinals are really in no place to take that chance – unless of course they have a solid veteran to take the snaps while the franchise’s future learns and matures on the sideline.

Which leads us to the final option: trade. Carson Palmer wants out of Cincinnati, the Broncos’ Kyle Orton may or may not be available and of course, there’s the aforementioned Kolb. Going this route means the Cardinals would have to give something up, meaning the cost absolutely plays a factor in whether or not the team should pursue. While we don’t know the asking price for each (or if Palmer and/or Orton are even available), the consensus seems to be that Kolb will be the most expensive.

And that price, ultimately, may be too much to pay when you realize you’re not even sure of what you’re getting.