No risk in Cardinals’ look-see with QB Blaine Gabbert

May 12, 2017, 4:30 PM
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) scrambles against the Arizona Cardinals during t...
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) scrambles against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians’ most vivid memory of Blaine Gabbert came in the quarterback’s rookie season with Jacksonville, while Arians was still the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

“I remember a throw,” Arians said Friday after the first day of Cardinals rookie camp. “James Harrison came unblocked. [Gabbert] stood in there and threw a skinny post on the money for a touchdown [to Jason Hill] and I mean James Harrison clocked him. He just jumped up and kept on playing.”

The Cardinals’ decision to sign Gabbert to a one-year deal for $855,000 (if he makes the team) has spurred plenty of questions. Do the Cardinals think he is their quarterback of the future? Why didn’t they sign Colin Kaepernick instead? Could Gabbert supplant Drew Stanton as the Cardinals’ backup this season?

The simplest way to view this signing is that it comes with no risk attached. Gabbert’s salary is negligible, the Cardinals have an unquestioned starter for the season in Carson Palmer and Arians still feels confident in Stanton’s ability to man the backup role.

Why not take a look-see at a guy who was drafted 10th overall in 2011?

“I loved Blaine coming out,” Arians said. “He was very young when he came out of Missouri. He had a great arm. He was very athletic. Like most rookies that get put into a situation, he struggled, then went into San Francisco and battled his way out on the field.”

The glass-half-full view of Gabbert is that he has played for too many coaches and too many offensive coordinators on bad teams to get a true feel for what he can do.

The glass-half-empty approach is that Gabbert did nothing to elevate those teams. In six NFL seasons with the Jaguars and 49ers, he completed just 686 of 1,226 passes (56 percent) with 38 touchdowns, 37 interceptions and a 71.5 passer rating.

It’s a rare occurrence for scouts and executives to miss a franchise or No. 1 quality quarterback in the NFL Draft. It’s even less common for a guy to play in the NFL for six years and suddenly emerge as a bona fide starting quarterback capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Gabbert’s salary and the Cardinals’ current QB situation suggest his best bet of making the roster would be in the No. 3 slot, by beating out Zac Dysert. He’ll also give the Cardinals another arm through offseason workouts, since Palmer isn’t expected to start throwing in earnest until the last week (the Cardinals also signed two rookie free agents). And training camp will be about a week longer this year because the Cardinals play five preseason games with the Hall of Fame Game added.

If Gabbert earns a spot on the team with his play, the Cardinals will have upgraded the bottom of their roster as general manager Steve Keim always strives to do. If he doesn’t make the team, the lack of risk means no biscuit lost.

It’s up to Gabbert now, but Arians professes to like what he has seen so far.

“Extremely great workout,” Arians said. “He can really spin it. He’s got great velocity but also he’s got great accuracy when he takes something off of it. I was really impressed with that and I was really impressed with his recall from the [former Jaguars’ coach Mike] Mularkey offense that is similar to ours. He could spit it out.”

Arians doesn’t sense any of the detritus that might accompany a quarterback who has played for bad teams, and been beaten up, physically and mentally.

“When you get beat up mentally by the press and everybody else it can weigh on you,” Arians said. “I don’t feel that when I talk to him. I feel some confidence still and I’m really anxious to throw him in the mix with our guys.”

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