INDIANAPOLIS – General Manager Steve Keim didn’t take Carson Palmer to McDonald’s for dinner last month, but it was still a happy meal.
Palmer announced the following day he would return for the 2017 season, shelving immediate concerns about the quarterback situation.
But sometime soon, the Cardinals will have a new signal-caller under center, and the conversation that night made one thing clear: The plan to groom an effective young quarterback may very well include Palmer, who could continue to impact the franchise after walking away from the game.
“It’s one thing to have a great head coach who understands quarterbacks,” Keim said. “It’s great to have offensive coaches that understand quarterbacks. But there is no question, in my mind – and when I had dinner with Carson Palmer and he reiterated that – there is no better teacher than a veteran quarterback for a young guy.”
Palmer knows from experience. He was drafted first overall by the Bengals in 2003 but sat his rookie season, gleaning wisdom from then-veteran starter Jon Kitna.
“He basically told me he learned so much from Jon, whether it was something mechanically, but more than anything, how to prepare like a pro,” Keim said. “That’s the biggest transition for college kids.”
The Cardinals have the No. 13 pick in the first round, and the consensus top four quarterbacks are Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes. They range in preparedness for the NFL, but there seems to be no doubt each could benefit from a year of guidance before stepping into the limelight.
Trubisky went through it in college, sitting behind Marquise Williams for a couple seasons at North Carolina before bursting onto the scene in 2016 and subsequently flying up draft boards. He said it was a valuable experience.
“You just put in the extra time, even though you’re not getting the reps in practice with the (starters),” Trubisky said. “I would stay after practice and throw to the receivers, throw a lot in the summer, watch extra film. Nobody watched more film than I did in college, just talking from my team’s standpoint. Just being prepared, being a student of the game, helping the starter and telling him what I saw.”
The dynamic between an established starting quarterback and his heir apparent can sometimes be dicey, with the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers relationship the most famous example.
But Palmer has always had a level head about it, going back to the 2014 draft when the Cardinals chose Logan Thomas in the fourth round. The pick didn’t work out, but as quarterback talk increased leading up to that draft, Palmer said he wasn’t threatened by the idea.
“If you are in a position to draft the best player on your board, and that’s the best position to be in as an organization, and (a quarterback) is the best player on the board, you are not only making your team better by creating competition but you are helping out the future,” Palmer said before that draft. “I know I’m not going to play forever. It’s hard for us players to admit that … but that’s the reality. That’s the business. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, whether it irks you or you don’t care. That’s the game.”
It’s not easy for the understudy, either, sitting on the sidelines after finding so much college success. The key, Trubisky said, is to still find ways to improve.
“The thing is, when you’re not starting, you can learn from the starter’s mistakes,” Trubisky said. “So whatever he did in the game, I’ve got to make sure I’m not making the same mistake. I think I did a good job of doing that.”
Palmer is two years older now and closer to retirement. Some players change their tune when their NFL mortality becomes tangible, but Keim said the dinner conversation made it clear to him Palmer would be happy to serve as a mentor.
“One thing about Carson is he is a true pro,” Keim said. “He gets it. There a lot of times we spend time just talking about our roster. He has good perspective in that area, to be able to have a player who has that kind of experience, to be able to lean on, hear what he has to say about guys in the locker room. There’s no doubt he understands. He wants the right thing for the organization. He’s mature enough to look at the big picture.”