Carson Palmer: Cardinals ‘system might not be built’ for David Johnson

Jan 17, 2020, 8:39 AM | Updated: Jan 19, 2020, 8:26 pm
Quarterback Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals (left) celebrates a third quarter touchdown w...
Quarterback Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals (left) celebrates a third quarter touchdown with running back David Johnson #31 during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There is tons of respect between former Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and current Arizona running back David Johnson.

Palmer took Johnson under his wing in his first few seasons and in Bruce Arians’ offense helped the running back to 1,239 rushing yards and 879 more receiving in 2016.

Of course, you know the rest of the story. Johnson got hurt in 2017, signed an extension and under two head coaches since Arians left the team hasn’t been the same.

Johnson’s future remains in question with Arizona looking like it wants to bring back free agent running back Kenyan Drake, who shined under head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense in 2019. Palmer, who remains one of Johnson’s biggest fans, admits it might just not be the right fit for his former rookie to remain with the Cardinals.

“I am a 100% believer. I think he can get those numbers back,” Palmer told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station when he joined their show Friday. “This system might not be built for him and Bruce’s system might’ve been perfect for him.

“I just think maybe the system’s a little bit too different than what was so perfectly built for him with Bruce’s system. Maybe a fresh start is something that he needs or something that he’s thinking about and looking at.”

Johnson rushed for two touchdowns and 345 yards on 3.7 yards per carry in 2019. He was more utilized in the passing game, catching 36 of 47 targets for 370 yards and four touchdowns.

Being used in the passing game is Johnson’s strength, and it’s an important part of Kingsbury’s offense. But it became clear that indecisiveness hurt Johnson as a runner, at least in the eyes of GM Steve Keim, who in the middle of the year said Johnson just needed to stick his foot in the ground and go.

Johnson disagreed, but he kept working to earn playing time, at one point even asking to help out in return duty to get on the field. Kingsbury appreciated that, but it remains a question if Johnson can contribute to the degree of his contract that pays him $14.2 million in 2020 if he hits certain roster and games played benchmarks, per Spotrac.

Palmer admits that he directed an Arians offense that was built around Johnson. Fit matters.

That’s no longer the case with Kingsbury implementing zone reads around quarterback Kyler Murray and spreading the field with the aim of distributing the ball all over the field.

“When you think back to what we would do with Bruce’s system with Dave, I mean he was so good about the inside zone plays,” Palmer said. “He was so good when you’d give him a sweep or a toss and he’d get the edge and stick his foot in the ground and get upfield. What separated him was what he could do in the passing game. Bruce would find ways to get him matched up on middle linebackers and outside linebackers …

“I don’t know how Kliff’s system is built and it’s a great system, obviously. But there were so many things that Dave did in (Arians’) system that was so perfect for his skillset … It was really fit and built around Dave.”

Extra points

“I loved everything I saw. I felt like I watched the first three or four weeks and I made up my mind, I was like, ‘this is the guy.’ It didn’t take 16 weeks for me. It typically does.” — Palmer on watching Murray his rookie year

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