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Carson Palmer Remains Leading Candidate

Quarterback's steadying influence -- and play -- important for Cardinals both this year and next


Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer launches his 80-yard touchdown pass against the Seahawks Sunday.

Carson Palmer turned 37 on Tuesday, although the video-watching and acupuncture that took up his time wasn't out of the ordinary.

"Nothing fun," the Cardinals quarterback said.

Birthdays are for the young anyway, and in NFL years, Palmer is anything but. Yet there are benefits to that as well. Palmer has been a leader since the day he arrived in Arizona, but perhaps he's done more of it – perhaps he's had to do more of it – this season.

It means something to the offensive linemen when Palmer expressed confidence in them, especially when the Cardinals have delved deep into the depth chart. It's important when Palmer reiterates after a dropped pass that he knows his receivers are good – he did it multiple times with Michael Floyd before Floyd was cut, and he's done it with John Brown and J.J. Nelson.

"You want your quarterback to be the leader, but he's also a father figure to those guys," coach Bruce Arians said. "He's not a big brother; he's too old to be a big brother. I’m a cool uncle, but he's a father figure."

In his 14th season, Palmer doesn't think twice of this, doesn't flinch when he's making sure he makes a beeline to kicker Chandler Catanzaro after a missed kick to reinforce the idea the Cardinals will need the Cat Man the next time a kick comes up.

That's what a veteran quarterback is supposed to do.

"I don't feel like it's weighed heavy on me or it's been a burden," Palmer said. "It's just part of your role. Once you get to 10 years in the NFL, you've seen a lot, you've been through a lot of situations and you have the right to say certain things. I think that's kind of where I felt most of the year."

Leading relies on one other significant but sometimes overlooked component – play. It's tough to lead if you aren't doing your job on the field. Palmer's season hasn't been the spectacular MVP-quality performance in 2016, but it's been better than many think.

There have been poor games – the four fourth-quarter interceptions in Buffalo, a couple of them forced throws; the troubles in the rain in Miami; the mistakes in Minnesota – but for the most part, Palmer hasn't been the problem.

He will still throw for 4,000 yards this season (he's at 3,978) even missing a game with a concussion and getting sacked much more (and being under duress much more) than he was all of last season. Even with his problems in Miami, Palmer has still completed 63.3 percent of his passes over the last four games, with eight touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 97.7.

"The guys around him have picked it up," Arians said. "Pass protection has been better, receivers are playing better, but I think he was a victim of the injuries and things that went on at wide receiver. He missed some guys early in the season that he has not normally missed. He's playing extremely well this month."

Palmer shrugged off the idea of his play trending up – He noted he just wants to make sure he has mostly 'pluses' and not 'minuses' when he's being graded on his performance each week – but he was the rock upon which the Cards came up with their win in Seattle last week and will be important for 2017 as well.

The Cardinals still could draft for their quarterback-of-the-future in April, although that's been a possibility since Palmer arrived in 2013. But they need Palmer to make a run next season. They need Palmer for Larry Fitzgerald to feel comfortable to play another season (if Fitzgerald indeed decides to do so.)

They need Palmer to lead them in 2017, to use this season and what is has become as a cautionary tale.

"Coulda, woulda, shoulda to death," Palmer said. "Keeps you up at night, frustrates you, but again it's a learning lesson."

Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders at the final home game of the season

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