The Arizona Cardinals reached the NFC Championship Game last season and are expected to once again compete for the Super Bowl in 2016.
So far this offseason the team acquired Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots, signed safety Tyvon Branch from the Kansas City Chiefs and kept some of their own free agents, including running back Chris Johnson, tight end Jermaine Gresham and safety Tony Jefferson.
Odds are they still have more free agents to bring in, but the most notable opportunity for them to further improve the roster will come during next week’s NFL Draft, in which the Cardinals are currently slated to have six picks.
Their initial selection is in the first round, No. 29 overall, and at that spot they figure to have a shot at one of the better defensive backs, maybe a center and, if they want, a quarterback.
In terms of passers, Tuesday both Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim addressed the possibility, making it seem as though they might even be likely to take a quarterback if not in the first round, then at some point over the next six.
A guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday, former NFL GM and current NFL Network broadcaster Charley Casserly said the Cardinals should not consider taking a quarterback. No, he thinks they should grab one, no questions asked.
That the Cardinals are on the precipice of the Super Bowl and may not be helped immediately by that pick doesn’t matter.
“I think in this system right now, there’s only been a few teams that have been able to sustain winning for a long period of time, and it centers around having a great quarterback,” he said. “Now, Carson Palmer is a terrific quarterback, but we’re kind of in the twilight now.”
Palmer set career highs last season with 4,671 passing yards, 35 passing touchdowns and a QB rating of 104.6 while earning his third Pro Bowl nod. He seems to be improving with every season in Arians’ offense, but at age 36 it is fair to wonder how many more productive seasons he has left.
Cardinals fans don’t need to look too far in the past to see what life can be like without a quality quarterback, and no one would like to see them suffer through that kind of era again.
“You’ve got to always be thinking ahead,” Casserly said. “You’re going to lose players in free agency so you’ve got to plan to draft for the future, to a degree, all the time.
“So I think you’ve got to think about a quarterback here. Is this the year you take your future quarterback? To me, you’ve got to start drafting some quarterbacks.”
In three drafts led by Keim and Arians, the Cardinals have chosen just one quarterback, and Logan Thomas — a fourth-round pick in 2014 — was cut after just one full season with the team.
Interestingly, just one time since the Cardinals moved to Arizona have they taken a quarterback in the first round, and the selection of Matt Leinart 10th overall in 2006 did not exactly work out.
The idea that they might spend the 29th pick in this year’s draft on a signal caller such as Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, Michigan State’s Connor Cook or Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg may seem a little far-fetched, though, especially when you consider how none of them are likely to be the difference between the team reaching Super Bowl LI or not.
Casserly, however, does not see a reason for the Cardinals to pass on a potential franchise quarterback just because they are contending for the Super Bowl and may have greater needs elsewhere, like in the secondary.
“Here’s the way you have to do that, the answer is yes, you have to fill your needs, but set your draft board on the value of the player and then trade up or back to fill your needs,” he said. “If you’re just sitting there and it’s the first round and we want to get a corner, if there’s no corner with a first-round grade, taking one is going to backfire in the long run. That’s what I’ve found through the years, and I think other people would agree with me.
“So you need to trade up to go get one or trade back where you’re at least getting multiple picks and at least taking your shots at more than one player.”
It really comes down to what players are on the board when the Cardinals are on the clock. The top two quarterbacks, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, are expected to be long gone, while at 29 the best cornerbacks are not likely to be available, either.
What would Casserly do if the perceived third-best quarterback in the draft, Lynch, is an option when the Cardinals pick?
“If there’s not a corner that I feel really strong about because I think that’s one of their needs there, then I would look at it hard,” he said. “And if Bruce Arians is convinced this guy can play and Steve Keim is convinced this guy can play, yeah, I’d take him.
“That would be because there isn’t another player that I think has a bigger immediate impact, and now we’re getting into the second-round quality players who are 50-50 shots anyway.”