Arizona Cardinals: Full Position Breakdown, Depth Chart Analysis at Quarterback
The Arizona Cardinals are in relatively uncharted waters this offseason when it comes to the quarterback position. Don’t take that as it sounds, because it’s really a good thing.
Trivia Question: How many quarterbacks have started all 16 regular-season games for the Cardinals and returned to start Week 1 the next season?
Trivia Answer: Three; Neil Lomax (1984-85), Jake Plummer (1998-99, 2001-02) and Kurt Warner (2008-09).
In 36 years of the NFL using a 16-game regular season, just three signal-callers have stuck around after starting every game the year before to start the first game of the next season.
By comparison, the Green Bay Packers, who have not had the issues at quarterback through which the Cardinals have suffered, have seen five quarterbacks pull off this same feat—with Aaron Rodgers doing it five times and Brett Favre an amazing 14 times. How sad is that for the Cardinals franchise?
Barring an injury, Carson Palmer will become the fourth Arizona quarterback since 1978 to start Week 1 after starting all 16 games the previous season.
The future of the position looks promising as well. Palmer is 34 and could be in his final year with the Cardinals, but rookie Logan Thomas could be ready to take over as early as 2015—after a fortnight of OTAs, he certainly looks the part of an NFL quarterback.
His development, along with Palmer’s 2014 performance, could determine whether general manager Steve Keim re-signs Palmer beyond this season.
Let’s take a gander at the quarterback depth chart and analyze each player one at a time.
Note: The parenthetical number following each player’s name indicates his year within the organization.
Starter: Carson Palmer (2)
Palmer had an up-and-down first season with the Cardinals. Todd Bowles’ defense carried the team most of the season and, if not for a Week 1 breakdown in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams, would have led it into the playoffs.
The epitome of this was a Week 16 game against the division-rival Seahawks, an away contest Arizona ultimately won because of one drive Palmer and the offense put together at the end of the game.
But the defense won that game by stifling Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the rest of the Seahawks all afternoon and keeping Palmer within striking distance despite his career-high-tying four interceptions.
This season—and especially after the Daryl Washington year-long suspension—will be much different for the Cardinals. Palmer must be more consistent if the Cardinals are to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
He has the weapons on the outside, the running back behind him and the blocking to get it done.
There is no excuse for failure in 2014.
Backup: Drew Stanton (2)
Drew Stanton was with head coach Bruce Arians in Indianapolis as the backup to Andrew Luck in 2012. He became a free agent after the season, followed Arians to Arizona and was briefly named the starter until Palmer arrived via trade.
Stanton hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game since Week 15 of the 2010 season while with the Detroit Lions. He has started just four games in six NFL seasons with three teams, going 2-2 over that span (all with Detroit).
Arians has complete faith in Stanton as Palmer’s backup and even went so far as to tell NFL Total Access back in March 2013 (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com)—before trading for Palmer—that he was comfortable with starting Stanton if he had to:
Yeah, we got a very capable [starter] in Drew Stanton we just happened to steal away from (Colts coach) Chuck (Pagano). Drew knows the offense, he’s more than capable of doing it and if he’s our guy, I’m comfortable.
Though Stanton is more mobile, his arm talent is not on par with Palmer. He is a more-than-capable backup, but fans should worry if Palmer goes down, and Stanton is forced into action for an extended time.
No. 3: Logan Thomas (1)
Let’s be real: The rookie fourth-round pick out of Virginia Tech is the No. 3 quarterback on the roster this season. He won’t be the No. 2, but he also won’t be the No. 4—Arians is not likely to carry four quarterbacks this season, in fact. That wouldn’t make sense.
Thomas needs to marinate in Arians’ offense for a season and work with the team of great quarterback minds the Cardinals employ, including Tom Moore. Moore has worked with the likes of Rich Gannon, Peyton Manning and, more recently, Jake Locker.
For Thomas, it’s all about getting as many repetitions as possible this offseason. That started at Arizona’s rookie minicamp, held May 23. The 6’6”, 248-pound rookie took every snap that day and enjoyed the extra work, according to Zach Buchanan of AZCentral.com:
You get to see multiple, different things that you don’t normally get to see. I get two snaps every five reps on the other field (during OTAs), and here I got every one of them. It’s very nice being able to have that chance to see things.
The talent is there for Thomas to develop into a good starting quarterback, and he has the time and the support system in place to do so.
It’s the perfect situation for the big-armed and sometimes-inaccurate quarterback.
No. 4: Ryan Lindley (3)
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s just a matter of time before Ryan Lindley is called into Arians’ office for a sit-down conversation about what the former sixth-round pick’s next move is. With Arians’ guy on the roster, there is no room for the final remaining quarterback from the previous regime.
Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com mentioned early on in the OTA process that Lindley was on the main field with Palmer while Stanton was down on the second field with Thomas. Arians’ explanation for that was just what you’d think it would be:
Right now it is 3 (plays) to 1. Drew took 3-to-1 on the far field and Carson took 3-to-1 on [the main] field. ...
(Drew) leads that group well. He needs 3-to-1 right now to get where we need to be.
Realistically, Stanton was with Thomas on the second field not only to get more work, but also to be a sort of coach-on-the-field type for the rookie.
Palmer has his own work to do, as does Stanton. But it will be Stanton getting with Thomas on Sundays while Palmer runs the offense on the field. Getting the two backups acquainted now is for the best—they will be spending plenty of time together over the next eight full months (someone please connect the dots I just laid out).
Lindley, of course, is the odd man out this season. After starting four games as a rookie under former head coach Ken Whisenhunt and throwing seven interceptions to no touchdowns, Lindley did not play a snap in 2013.
The writing has been on the wall for a while. His day of reckoning is approaching fast.