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On Love And Quarterbacks

Posted Feb 24, 2014

Cardinals have to be seriously sold on a signal-caller to bother taking one in draft

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron throws at the Scouting combine.

Love is a strong word.

But sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, and in the case of the Cardinals and the seemingly annual discussion of whether or not to draft a long-term answer at quarterback, if there isn’t that deep devotion, the marriage is best avoided.

“It’s a lot easier to judge (prospects) when you have a quarterback you think you can win games with,” General Manager Steve Keim said. “When you have a player like Carson (Palmer), who has had some success and you feel comfortable with, even though you are looking for the next guy – which you always are at every position – it helps you look through the lens a little bit clearer.”

The clear view still shows that the Cardinals need to think about a quarterback of the future. There is a question when the future arrives. Coach Bruce Arians said at the Scouting combine he thought Palmer could play until he was “36 or 37,” which in theory could be three more seasons.

In many ways, the question is somewhat moot for the Cardinals this year. The team’s first-round pick is 20th, and rare is the obvious quarterback answer that remains there when so many teams at the top of the draft need the position. It can be argued that the 49ers (Colin Kaepernick in the second round) and Seahawks (Russell Wilson) seem to have found those players later, but truth be told, if either had been locks to succeed, no one would have waited so long to take them – including the teams that now look so smart for doing so.

Another side exists within this love quest. It isn’t just about loving a player’s game or what he can bring to the table. In the case of Keim and Arians, both make it clear they’d want to take a quarterback to play. Now.

“The only way to grow as a player is to get those full speed reps,” Keim said. “You don’t get those in practice. You have to learn on the job. Obviously Aaron Rodgers was a different circumstance, and it’s not a bad circumstance to be in, but at the same time, if you want to win now and you want significant improvement early in their career, I think it’s in their best interest to play early.”

Rodgers, who fell to 24th in the first round and then spent a few years backing up Brett Favre, is the exception to the rule, just like Tom Brady being found in the sixth round. Instead, Arians talks about how much faith he has in backup Drew Stanton, and then emphasizes he doesn’t want to fool with chemistry for a flyer on just anyone.

“You have a (quarterbacks) room, (and) if you have a starter and you know who the backup is and you have a third guy who fits in the room, you don’t fool with it,” Arians said. “It’s too delicate of a learning place to fool with it.

“To bring guys in to trade them, because they flashed in the preseason or flashed in a game, I’ve never bought into that philosophy. I don’t believe in drafting quarterbacks thinking they can learn a damn thing holding a clipboard.”

Arians believes you can learn to love a quarterback. But he reiterates his belief that the two “major muscles” a quarterback uses is his head and his heart, and later in the draft a QB better have “a hell of a redeeming quality in one area.”

It’s impossible to forecast exactly how it will play out. But Arians’ point makes sense, given that many of the non-first-round picks end up as backups at best and the Cardinals don’t need to burn a pick on one right now.

Things can always change on draft day as well. Last year the Cardinals had no plan to take a second running back after choosing Stepfan Taylor, but Andre Ellington’s high grade among the prospects left in the sixth round made it impossible not to go in that direction.

Perhaps a quarterback makes them take notice the same way this year.

“If you ask anybody, any GMs or head coaches, nobody knows where anybody is going to fall,” Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron said. “The draft is just kind of here and there really. One guy could get picked up earlier than expected and it can change the whole draft.”

Even with the confidence in Palmer, it’s possible the love bug could bite in the first round. In such a deep draft, maybe that could happen.

“If there is a player at 20 that we fall in love with, that we think is the future franchise quarterback, there is no question we will pull the trigger and take him,” Keim said. “At the same time, if there are three or four other players there at the same spot that we have graded significantly higher, it’s an easy decision.

“We won’t force the pick. We have looked historically at the draft … if a team gets desperate, not only can you make a mistake, it has a tendency to set you back three to five years.”

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