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Cardinals see five or six starting QBs in draft, but do they love any of them?

TEMPE, Ariz. — QB or not QB, that is the question.

As the Arizona Cardinals prepare for the 2017 NFL Draft, most of the questions surrounding their preparation revolve around the quarterback position.

It makes sense, given that the team’s starting QB, Carson Palmer, is 37 years old, and his backup, Drew Stanton, is entering the final year of his contract.

Add in a stated desire to find a young quarterback to succeed Palmer, and the idea that the Cardinals will leave the three-day draft with a young passer is not at all unfounded.

If you believe Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Steve Keim, there will be plenty to choose from.

“I think there is more than one. Maybe five or six,” Arians said of how many starting QBs he sees in this draft class. “This is probably the best group of arms in the last four or five years. A number of arms.”

This time of year is ripe for deception and misdirection, and just because Arians said there is a collection of arms he’s high on does not mean he really believes that. Furthermore, even if he does, it does not necessarily mean he likes any of them for his own team.

As for who he might be referring to, five QBs — Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb — are generally viewed as the best in the draft, and it would not be a shock if at least a few of them are off the board when the first-round concludes.

The Cardinals, with pick No. 13, are likely to have their choice of at least a few of them, if they so choose.

“The thing that is harder for me, as I think back at that position, there are only so many people walking this earth that have the ability to, not only make the throws from a physical standpoint, but for their mind to be able to play fast enough as well,” Keim said. “That is why the supply and demand is such an issue at this level. There are very few guys that can do all those things.”

The Cardinals are going to be picky, and next year’s draft likely being loaded with QB prospects will have no bearing on this year’s draft board.

“You can look ahead and say there is two or three that we have watched on tape that are fantastic,” Keim said. “But if they are picking one, two or three in the draft, and I hope we are not picking anything but 32, how are we going to get up there and get them?

“Even if we had 11 comp picks, that is not going to get it done. I just don’t think you can rely on that. If you have a player you fell in love with you take them.”

In that scenario, the Cardinals have rarely so much as rounded second base.

Just once since the franchise moved to Arizona, in 2006, has the team chosen a quarterback in the first round. That year, they tabbed Matt Leinart out of USC with the 10th overall selection, and while his career began with so much promise, he ended up not panning out.

Missing on Leinart was mitigated, in part, by Kurt Warner’s resurgence, but it turned disastrous once the Hall of Famer retired following the 2009 season. The Cardinals were then left with a gaping hole at the position, one that saw the team turn to disappointing options and unqualified candidates before finally nabbing Carson Palmer via a trade with the Oakland Raiders in 2013.

Under Keim and Arians, both of whom took over in 2013, the team has spent just one draft pick — a fourth-round choice in 2014 — on a QB, and though Logan Thomas was at the time seen as a project, he was cut following his second NFL training camp and is now trying to stick in the NFL as a tight end with the Buffalo Bills.

If finding a franchise quarterback in the draft was easy, well, everyone would do it.

In the past, Arians has said there were passers on the board the Cardinals were ready to take only to have them selected just before they were about to pick. Given the high demand for talent at the position, teams are more apt to value quarterbacks just a bit higher than other positions, which could then lead to them reaching for an arm.

“I think in the last five years you have seen it more than any,” Arians said. “People start taking quarterbacks just because they have to have one. They will take a guy that they must have had on their board in the first round and you had in the third or fourth round, but he was the next best quarterback so they took the position over the player.”

Keim and Arians both talk about staying true to their draft board — regardless of position. But with Palmer nearing the end of his career and no viable replacement on the roster, they know the clock is ticking.

“I would like to keep my job for a while, I do have four small kids,” Keim said about finding a QB for the long-term. “It is certainly going to be beneficial to doing that, but Coach can answer it better. If you don’t have a quarterback you are not going anywhere.”

Arians agreed with his GM.

“I can’t think of, in the last three years, any playoff teams that did not have a good one,” the coach said. “Just to get to the playoffs, let alone win, you don’t have chance. If you have the greatest defense in the world, you still have to have a hell of a quarterback to score points.”

The team’s saving grace at this moment is that they already have a pretty good quarterback in Palmer, one whom Arians is confident can lead his team back to the postseason. If the Cardinals were to pick a QB at any point in the draft, he would not be asked to lead the team this season, or perhaps even in 2018.

The ability to sit, watch and learn behind Palmer and Stanton is something Arians has consistently highlighted as a benefit for a prospective young quarterback, especially given how many of them come from college systems that are nothing like what they will be asked to do in the NFL.

Possibly using an early pick on a player who will not be expected to contribute in 2017 may seem like a bitter pill to swallow, especially for a Cardinals team trying to make a last push for a Super Bowl, but Arians does not think there is any doubt his team has enough depth to allow them to choose a player based on the future.

Besides, as Arians said, with Palmer not practicing on Wednesdays a rookie “is going to get first-team reps with his starting offense” during the season, which is not normal for a rookie.

“This is going to be a very unique situation if the guy falls to us,” he added.

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