Arians, Palmer, Cardinals running out of chances

Sep 9, 2016, 3:15 PM
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, left, meets with quarterback Carson Palmer after an NFL ...
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, left, meets with quarterback Carson Palmer after an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Philadelphia. Arizona won 40-17. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians believes in windows of opportunity, but he doesn’t believe the Cardinals’ window for winning a Super Bowl has anything to do with his age.

“I get sexier every year,” Arians quipped.

“I don’t see anybody talking about (Seattle’s) Pete (Carroll) and (New England’s) Bill (Belichick) and they’re older than me. I still enjoy what I’m doing and I still enjoy the guys I’m with so we’ll cross that bridge some day when we get there.”

Arians, 63, may wish to keep coaching past the 2018 season when his quarterback’s contract expires, but age will absolutely be a factor for Carson Palmer, who will turn 39 in the final season of his deal. That matters in a league where elite quarterback play is essential to winning a championship.

There are other harsh realities of the National Football League to consider as well. When the Cards extended the contracts of Palmer and receiver Larry Fitzgerald during training camp this summer, the Cardinals floated the idea that their window would be open a little longer because those players would still be around and playing at a high level, but the salary cap will play a role in the Cards’ goal to win a championship.

When this season ends, the Cardinals will have decisions to make on key free agents such as Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones, as well as other contracts that may not fit into their plans.

“It’s hard to keep teams together and make that run — and if you make the run, keeping that team together,” Arians said. “I don’t know how many [chances] I’ve got and it’s the same thing for players with injuries and everything.”

The NFL prides itself on parity and it’s easy to see why. This week’s Cardinals opponent, New England, is tied with Green Bay for the longest active postseason streak in the NFL at seven seasons. Cincinnati and Denver are tied for third at five, Seattle has made it four straight seasons and Carolina has made it three straight. The Cardinals, with just two straight playoff berths, are tied for seventh with Pittsburgh.

On the one hand, that’s a much better feeling than how the rest of the league is living.

“We are pretty good,” Palmer said. “We’ve got to go out and play it and prove it and back that up, but to be on a team that you know has a shot — that people are putting a circle around you on their schedule and a bull’s-eye on you… it’s a good thing.”

On the other hand, the way the rest of the league lives is instructive. The Cardinals can’t take for granted that this run will last, even if they feel they have the right organizational pieces in place.

Sure, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both won Super Bowls at an advanced age, but those are two Hall of Fame quarterbacks; two guys who should likely be placed among the five greatest quarterbacks of all time. Both had won Super Bowls before their latest. They had the resumes. They had the pedigrees.

Palmer has played in four postseason games. He’s only won one.

It’s nice to think that Palmer can play at his current level for three more seasons, but it’s dangerous to assume it — perhaps even illogical despite the advances in sports science Arians always touts. Arizona is built to win a championship now, but there is no guarantee that will last beyond this season, and precedent suggests it won’t last more than a couple.

Arians, Palmer and the Cardinals are running out of opportunities. There sense of urgency in the Valley this year is justified.

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