PHOENIX — Many thought the Arizona Cardinals would leave the NFL Draft with a quarterback, either spending one of their six picks to acquire one or making a trade that would ensure they could select a passer.
Those people were wrong.
The Cardinals had opportunities to take quarterbacks, yes, but in each round ultimately decided they were better off addressing other positions.
Monday, however, they did add another QB to a group that includes starter Carson Palmer and backups Drew Stanton and Matt Barkley, agreeing to terms with undrafted rookie free agent Jake Coker.
Coker led Alabama to a College Football Playoff championship last January, and as a senior completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 3,110 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“Just watching him grow his senior year and winning the national championship, he got better and better,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday while promoting the 2nd annual Arians Family Foundation Fundraiser at Steak 44. “And they started leaning on him.”
Arians pointed out Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry as someone who played a big role for the Crimson Tide as well, and he’s right to do so. But in two playoff games (including the championship contest) Coker threw for a combined 621 yards with four touchdowns, and he finished the season having not thrown an interception in his last five games.
“He won the games throwing the football in critical downs, and watching him grow — really can’t wait to get our hands on him this weekend and watch him grow with us,” Arians added. “He’s got the size, he’s got the skill; he’s got a lot of moxie about him.
“So yeah, I’m very anxious to get him here.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Coker looks the part of not only an NFL quarterback, but the type of quarterback Arians likes to have on his roster. He will get a chance to impress the coaching staff during the team’s rookie minicamp, which will take place at the end of the week, and as long as he performs well will likely get an invitation to training camp.
And lest you think Coker would be more of a camp arm than a competitor for a roster spot, Arians pointed to one of last year’s undrafted rookie free agents as an example of what a good offseason can do for a player.
“It looked like last year when Phillip Sims was a tryout — he wasn’t even a signed undrafted free agent — and almost made our football team,” he said. “That journey isn’t far-fetched. Somebody this weekend is coming here unsigned that’s going to get signed, and it’s how fast can you learn and process that information and show off to the coaches, where other guys can’t.
“If you can, we’re going to probably drop one and sign the other because you’ve got a chance to make our team.”
Whatever odds Coker is facing, his shot at making the roster will really come down to proving he has a brighter future than Barkley. Acquired last season for a 2016 seventh-round pick, the former USC Trojan who was not with the Cardinals during training camp never appeared in a game for the team and is still a be of an unknown.
However, one could see the team not using a draft pick on a quarterback as kind of a vote of confidence in the 25-year-old former fourth-round pick.
“Matt’s got a lot of talent,” Arians said. “Jake and he, they’ll go at it pretty good, and let the best man win.”