GLENDALE, Ariz. — There was a time a couple years ago, not too long after Carson Palmer became his starting quarterback, when Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians talked about riding off into the sunset with his new signal-caller.
The idea was that each was at his final NFL stop and would hopefully accomplish great things in Arizona before calling it a career.
Things seemed to be going pretty well last season, until Palmer suffered a torn ACL that ended his season after just six games. The duo is back for another try this year, with perhaps a greater appreciation of what they are trying to do and how little time they may have to do it.
“Neither one of us want to ride out there too soon,” Arians said of the whole sunset idea. “It’s a big desert; there’s a lot of good things to do. Hang out in Scottsdale on the way to the desert — that we’d like to do a little bit more of. But yeah, I think we both see it.”
Neither Arians nor Palmer have been shy talking about the team’s window to do special things. The reigning Coach of the Year, Arians will turn 63 this season, while Palmer, a former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick, will be 36 in December.
There are some who would see that and think that ride into the sunset will come sooner rather than later.
“We’re three years in from that date,” Palmer said of when he and Arians joined forces. “I don’t like to use the word ‘old,’ though. You can use it when you talk about coaches. I’m in my mid-to-early 30s, and in quarterback years that’s middle of the road in my book.
“But yeah, I don’t think Bruce is going to coach for 20 more years. I’m definitely not going to play for 10 more. I think everybody in this locker room realizes the opportunity we have.”
Palmer pointed to the many coaches and players in the organization who will not move elsewhere when they are done in Arizona.
“It’s very evident and everybody understands the opportunity we have, and I think that’s why we’ve had such a good camp,” Palmer said. “Guys understand you can’t just let a practice get away or let a training camp get away, or before you know it you’re thinking about next year, next season. Everybody’s very focused on each day, one day at a time, getting through training camp and getting to the New Orleans game.”
It was also evident in Palmer’s dedication over the offseason as he was working to return from an injury some thought might end his career.
In fact, back when it first happened, Palmer openly discussed the possibility that the team may be willing to move on from him.
Though he had just signed a three-year extension prior to getting hurt, the veteran said he really thought that was a possibility.
“You just don’t know,” he said, adding he remembers thinking that if the team went on a long playoff run without him it would have been possible for the team to release him. “I definitely was hoping that wasn’t the case, but I’ve been around long enough, I’ve seen crazy things happen, and I’ve seen guys let go that you never thought would get let go and guys stick around that you never thought should be there.
“So I’ve seen the ups, the downs, the positives, the negatives and seen a lot. And as crazy as the first 10 weeks of the season were and the next seven, I’ve seen weirder and crazier things happen and just didn’t know. There was so much up in the air.”
“Was” is the operative word, because with the way he looked in the offseason and so far in camp, there is no doubt that not only will Palmer be the team’s starting quarterback but that he will pick up right where he left off last season, when he completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,626 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
And in his last 15 starts with the team, the Cardinals are 13-2 with the quarterback completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 4,159 yards and 27 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions.
Palmer seems to be as strong as he ever was, and now entering year three in Arians’ system, he seems poised for a big season. His offseason set the stage for it.
“He was on a mission to come back,” Arians said. “And when you look at these guys playing 38, 39, 40 now, it’s amazing. But the conditioning and the sports science now is way, way better than it was 15 years ago.”
Palmer has never been part of an offense with as much versatility as Arizona’s. He’s never had the ability to play with speedsters like John Brown, J.J. Nelson, Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson. He’s never had that and the ability to play three-tight end sets or with bigger running backs.
“Most offenses I’ve been in, you’re ‘X’ offense, whether it’s West Coast or whatever it is, you’re categorized as one thing,” he said. “Because we’re very multiple and we have have a bunch of different types of players at each position. I think it’s hard to lump us into one category or one scheme.”
And that, Arians and Palmer hope, is enough for them to ride off into the sunset smiling. Whenever that time comes.
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