Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert launches his first pass Sunday against the Rams, a throw that was intercepted.
How Blaine Gabbert finishes the season does matter to Bruce Arians when it comes to determining his future with the Cardinals.
It is an audition, Arians agreed. "Totally."
Just how does the coach view Gabbert? Is he being judged as a veteran quarterback, or as a young QB learning an offense for the first time?
"He's a veteran quarterback who is learning for the first time," Arians said with a chuckle. "That's exactly what he is. He's spent one spring and three games in this offense. There are always things that happen that you just have to know from being in your offense. He's not there yet."
Sunday was Gabbert's "roughest day," Arians acknowledged.
The two early interceptions are teaching moments. The Alec Ogletree pick-6 was just a good defensive play,
Arians said, with Ogletree disguising a late drop into coverage when he normally pass rushes. The opening pick was more frustrating, saying that Gabbert made the right call to throw deep but made a "poor decision" not to stop and set his feet before launching.
An area Arians wants to see Gabbert improve upon is using his scramble ability to extend plays rather than look to simply run. The coach said in a couple of instances Sunday, Gabbert had open receivers had he looked for them.
"He's gifted with athletic ability, but once he gets out of there, he's got to get his eyes downfield more," Arians said.
With four games left in the season and math the only thing keeping any postseason play a (slim) possibility, the discussion remains what to do with Gabbert – set to be a free agent after the season – for 2018.
Gabbert himself isn't getting too deep into any such talk.
"It's so week to week," he said. "I'm just trying to improve each and every week.
"There's going to be bumps in the road. My biggest focus right now is to just be a leader in that huddle,
being a leader for this football team, and taking it one week at a time."
Arians, however, did delve into the subject.
There is a risk, if Gabbert plays well, that he could leave as a free agent. Arians said that is something he and General Manager Steve Keim – who said on Arizona Sports 98.7 earlier Monday Gabbert's play down the stretch were "critical moments" in the Cards' evaluation – talk about often.
As for talking to Gabbert about a contract extension, Arians said that could "possibly happen." He also said he has talked to Drew Stanton about Gabbert getting the starts, although Arians did add a "this week" when he said Gabbert was the starter.
Injured starter Carson Palmer remains in the mix for both this season and next as well. Arians said Palmer is "working his tail off" to try and come back for the final two games of the season, which is when he would be eligible to return from injured reserve. The Cardinals play at home against the Giants and then in Seattle those two games.
"That would be a blessing," Arians said. "We haven't lost in Seattle, I don't think, with him playing ever."
(Arians is right. Palmer has started in Seattle for the Cardinals in 2013, 2015 and 2016, all Cards' wins.)
As for a scenario where Gabbert was re-signed in 2018 and Palmer returned next season, yes, Arians has thought about that too.
"If that was the case, (there) would be some competition" Arians said. "But to me, if Carson's coming back, he's coming back to be the starter."
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