The trade wasn’t done quite yet, but Carson Palmer was already in Arizona and had had dinner with potential bosses Steve Keim and Bruce Arians the night before.
The next morning, with the clock not far past 6 a.m., Keim – the Cardinals’ general manager – got a call from the man who would soon become his quarterback. Palmer didn’t want to be at the hotel anymore. He wanted to get over to the team facility and start breaking down video.
The enthusiasm convinced Keim and Arians, Palmer’s soon-to-be coach, they had picked the right guy to install behind center. Palmer just wanted to get to the football.
“I don’t recall the exact phone call,” Palmer said. “I can’t remember what (the details) were, that I wasn’t allowed to come into the meetings or not be in the facility, but I was trying to figure out how I could get in and get rolling.”
All three principals involved were coming from a different perspective. Palmer, his time obviously at an end in Oakland as the Raiders committed to purging their salary cap problems, needed a new place to play. Arians, in his first head coach job, needed a starting quarterback. And Keim, having watched the Cardinals’ chaos with quarterbacks since Kurt Warner retired, wanted to re-set the position in his first year running the team.
“This was the place I was intrigued with the most,” Palmer said, noting that he ahead of time watched video of both Arians’ offenses and the Cardinals, as well as calling fellow players around the league for insight. “I was hoping this would happen. It was the place for me, for a lot of different reasons.”
The Cardinals hope he is the right choice for them, too. Palmer’s statistics were solid last season, but his career has been bumpy for a few
Palmer turns 34 in December and has carved out a very good NFL career after the Bengals took him first overall in 2004. He restructured his contract after the Cardinals traded for him in April, potentially keeping him here through 2014.
He doesn’t talk about retirement but he does leave the impression he’d like the Cardinals to be a successful final stop. Arians paints the same picture.
“I told him, ‘This is a cowboy movie, two old guys,’ ” Arians said. “ ‘This is our last rodeo in the desert. Let’s make it a good one.’ ”
A QUIET FOCUS
Most early mornings at the Glendale hotel the Cardinals are calling home during training camp, Palmer hangs out in the lobby coffee shop, not looking unlike a businessman on a road trip getting a jump start on his day.
His iPad is out, which allows him to look over video or the playbook. It looks so cerebral, so far away from the “noise” Arians is fond of noting happens on the football field.
It’s apropos, really. Palmer never seems to raise his voice as he makes a point, whether it’s in a press conference or on the field. His focus is clear and getting rattled doesn’t look like it makes much sense to him.
“He seems extremely mellow but he has a real serious tone in the huddle,” center
“Each play there are talking points or coaching points, and you look at him, and you can tell how serious he is.”
Palmer has mentioned multiple times he didn’t want to go to a team that wasn’t going to compete. Walking into an organization that was reshuffling and playing against powerhouses like the 49ers and Seahawks this season wasn’t going to make that easy.
There is a pump-the-brakes part of Palmer’s personality. It’s not that he doesn’t believe the Cardinals – especially their offense – can be successful. But over the offseason, every time he was asked about the progress he and his unit were making, he made sure not to make any grand pronouncements.
“I’m just a realist,” Palmer said. “Everyone thinks they are going to be great right now. Not everyone is going to be great.
“It’s easy to get into camp and just get through camp. I’m going to do everything I can so we don’t do that. We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back or start pounding our chests about how good we can be until we prove it.”
There are hints of expectations, though. While Palmer won’t say it, most feel Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver he has ever had, even though Palmer threw the ball to Chad Johnson in his prime. He’s a long way from his last days in Cincinnati, when Bengals owner Mike Brown said for a while he wasn’t going to trade Palmer and Palmer was ready to sit out indefinitely.
Back then, “I didn’t know where I’d be playing (but) I hoped to be playing (in 2013),” Palmer said.
In his fourth offensive scheme in four seasons, Palmer chooses to see that as a benefit in which he has learned a lot. Despite some feeling that a 2008 elbow injury robbed him of some of his arm strength, Keim said he doesn’t see any issues with Palmer’s throws and Palmer insists he’s good physically.
“I’m not as quick as I was when I was 21, but my arm is as strong and conditioned as it has ever been,” Palmer said. “I am very happy where I am.”
There was a successful run that came to a close with his original team and a disappointing stint with a second team before coming to the Cardinals at the end of his career.
The narrative fits a pair of quarterbacks who have come to Arizona, so in some ways, it makes sense for people to make comparisons of Palmer’s arrival to Kurt Warner. Even Warner does it.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Warner said while visiting Cardinals’ camp as part of his work with the NFL Network. “You come to your third (organization) when people have questions about, ‘Is the best behind him? Should he just retire and move on, or go in a different direction?’ I think there are a lot of accurate comparisons with that.
“The benefit for me, I’ve written the last chapter and it went pretty good for me. At the end of the day, that’s what will be compared. No one will remember how we came here. It’ll be how we left here.”
Palmer is effusive in his praise of Warner – “Kurt Warner doesn’t get the credit he deserves” – but he is blunt when the Warner/Palmer comparison is made: “It’s not (fair).”
“Two completely different styles of quarterbacks, two quarterbacks that came up different in their careers,” Palmer said. “Just because in their 30s these quarterbacks got to the same organization … and it’s a different organization too. There are some similarities, some parallels, but it isn’t fair to compare to completely different quarterbacks and two completely different teams.”
Palmer makes it plain it’s his own path he is forging. He wanted to come to Arizona not because the organization had a reputation of resuscitating a quarterback but because Arians had a history of working well with the position.
Last year, Palmer threw for more than 4,000 yards and had 22 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions, statistics that were pretty decent for a player who was constantly throwing from behind (73 percent of Palmer’s passes came with the Raiders trailing.)
Arians smiles about the possibilities with Palmer and thinks highly of Palmer as a leader. Palmer talks about his “very good fit” for Arians’ offense – before throwing in another cautionary pause.
“I haven’t been in an offense like this and so far I love it,” Palmer said. “I hope I can say that Week 8, 9, 10 as the season goes on.”
There are other quarterback comparisons that fall in Palmer’s favor too – like the ones fans make with the struggling quarterbacks of the past couple of years. No one argues that, wherever Palmer stands in his career, he comes in as an upgrade for the Cardinals. As for the Warner talk, “as a player, you like those burdens,” Warner said. “You want to be that guy to step in and, to some degree, make them forget about the guy before you.”
Besides, if those early days with coffee looking over playbook on his iPad -- or that first phone call to Keim, champing at the bit – is any indication, Palmer will have put in the work to create his own space in the Cardinals’ history pages.
“He’s the kind of guy,” Arians said, “that you want to be your quarterback.”