The Cardinals last drafted a quarterback in the first round in 2006, when Matt Leinart (7) joined a roster with veteran Kurt Warner.
INDIANAPOLIS – The quarterback is only one of 11 on offense, one of 22 starters, one of 53 on the roster.
Yet the quarterback is everything.
"It's the holy grail for an organization," Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said. "Everyone … in this organization, in some ways, the success of their career is attached to the franchise quarterback. If you don't have one, you can't find one, the head coach and the general manager's stay is usually not very long."
The Cardinals need a quarterback. They actually need multiple quarterbacks, given that they have none under contract for 2018 as of now. But it's the right starter they must have, not only for this season but beyond, a chase that has never really ended since the Cards drafted Jake Plummer in the second round in 1997.
Plummer was supposed to be the long-term answer, and at first he was, leading the team to the playoffs in 1998. His time fizzled by 2003. Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer were veteran additions in 2005 and 2013, both becoming the most successful QBs in the team's Arizona (if not overall) history, but even in that time, long-term solutions
were still sought.
Josh McCown was a third-round pick in 2002. Matt Leinart was a first-round pick in 2006, available in a drop to 10th overall that then-coach Dennis Green called a "gift from heaven." It turned out not so much, and while Warner's resurgence covered that for a few seasons, the miss on Leinart created a crater when Warner retired. The Cardinals traded for Kevin Kolb – with high hopes – in a 2011. That didn't work out either.
Keim, hired by the Cardinals as a scout in 1999, has been a part of the organization throughout this recent QB history.
"Through experience you have a better understanding (how to search for a QB), but at the same time, it doesn't allow you to forecast what's going to happen," Keim said. "That's the million-dollar question."
The discussion at this point has been wide-ranging. Both Keim and Wilks have said multiple times all three potential avenues – free agency, trade, draft – are options. Using a couple seems likely, given that Wilks noted that ideally the Cards would sign a veteran for now and still draft one to develop.
Maneuvering for a free agent is different than grabbing a QB in the draft, however.
"I know that Steve has been through this process before, which is great," Wilks said. "We'll definitely going to be able to lean on him. Unlike the draft, (when) the guy is sitting there to take, free agency, it's all about how it falls into place for you."
In Keim's time as GM, with the final say on draft picks, the Cardinals have drafted just one quarterback in five years – the fourth-round selection of Logan Thomas in 2014. Palmer's success helped put the position on a backburner.
If he has any regrets about not addressing the post-Palmer years sooner, Keim didn't name names. But he does work hindsight into his post-move self-evaluations.
"You don't look at the guys you hit on or had success with," Keim said. "You are not in the business to pat yourself on the back. It's a humbling process, both the draft and free agency. There are a number of guys where, maybe you should've traded up for, maybe you should've made this decision. But that's the challenging side of the business that excites you."
It can also keep a GM up at night, something Keim has said in the past the QB situation has done.
"Teams with sustainable success, for the most part, it's pretty simple," Keim said. "Find a franchise quarterback and put good pieces around him. (But) there are 32 teams, and 32 guys don't exist that are considered franchise quarterbacks."
Images of Cardinals GM Steve Keim and coach Steve Wilks during their press conferences at the NFL Scouting combine on Wednesday in Indianapolis