Quarterback Drew Stanton (right) hugs wide receiver John Brown as the Cardinals met for a final time of the season Sunday.
While coach Bruce Arians wouldn't admit it during the season, he acknowledged on Sunday how tough it is to win with a third-string quarterback in the NFL.
The Cardinals' season came to an end with Ryan Lindley under center in the wild card round on Saturday, but now that it's over, Arians is already looking ahead, excited about the prospect of 2015 with a healthy stable of quarterbacks.
"You get (ticked) off for about a half hour (over the disappointment of the season ending), and then you dream about next year for a half hour, two hours," Arians said.
Starter Carson Palmer continues to rehabilitate the torn ACL he suffered against the Rams on Nov. 9, while backup Drew Stanton (knee sprain) said he had been aiming for a divisional round return if the Cards had beaten Carolina and seems on track to participate in early offseason work.
Arians appears content keeping the same three quarterbacks in place with whom he began this season, and also pointed out the difficulty of stashing a veteran for emergency situations like the one which arose.
"We got about $15, 18 million in that room," Arians said. "I don't think we can put another one in there. You'd like to bring a young one. You don't ever anticipate playing with your third. We've got a great 'two'. We've got a really good 'one' and we've got a nice project at 'three' (in Logan Thomas)."
The Cardinals were 6-0 in games Palmer started, as he finished with 1,626 yards passing, a 62.9 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He hopes to be back at some point during OTAs in June.
"I'm just continuing to grind it out," Palmer said. "It's baby steps from here but I actually get to start up-tempo walking-slash-jogging on Monday, so I'm excited about that."
Stanton was up-and-down in his nine games, but still kept the Cardinals competitive. After he injured his knee, the team finished 0-3.
"It was difficult because you don't know when the opportunities are going to come, especially as a backup in this league," Stanton said. "You want to get the opportunity to play, and do the most when you get those chances."
CROMARTIE FEELS "COMFORTABLE" IN ARIZONA
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie felt like this season was one of the finest of his career, and he capped it with an interception on Saturday afternoon
against the Panthers.
Cromartie signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals last offseason and is again a pending free agent. He said he enjoyed his time in Arizona but was non-committal about his future, although he has expressed the desire to be back.
"I feel comfortable here," Cromartie said. "All the young guys that are here, especially in the defensive backs room, they grow on you. It's just a point of seeing what happens in the offseason and go from there."
Arians said he would love to see Cromartie return. His situation could be similar to linebacker Karlos Dansby's a year ago, where the market dictates where he ends up.
COOPER, MATHIEU, OTHERS ON THE MEND IN THE OFFSEASON
Wide receiver Jaron Brown was the only player to suffer a significant injury against the Panthers. He fractured his scapula and his expected recovery time is four-to-six months.
Guard Jonathan Cooper practiced during the week, but was inactive for the third straight game with a wrist injury. Cooper started training camp
slowly while recovering from last year's broken leg, suffered turf toe as the season began and then hurt his wrist on Dec. 11 in St. Louis. Cooper, the team's 2013 first-round pick, started only two games this year as injuries and ineffectiveness moved him to a backup role.
"Coop's just been bad luck," Arians said. "He was starting to play pretty solid. He should be able to get back into this offseason the healthiest he's been. All he's got is a wrist. His leg's fine. I look forward to him growing this year."
Safety Tyrann Mathieu missed two games with a broken thumb and played the final three with a cast over it but he wasn't the same player. He also started slowly while recovering from a torn ACL.
"It was tough all season," Mathieu said. "I thought once I got over my knee I was getting into a groove and then I broke my thumb. That was unfortunate. But like I said I am looking forward to getting healthy, because I know I can be pretty good."
BOWLES GETTING SET FOR COACHING INTERVIEWS
Arians said the Falcons, Bears and Jets have formally requested to interview defensive coordinator Todd Bowles for their head coaching positions. Arians has his fingers crossed both ways, for Bowles to land one of the coveted openings and also for him to return to the Cardinals.
"I'm pulling for him to get a job -- the right one," Arians said. "Not just any one. The right one. And obviously I'd desperately like to have him back."
When asked how many assistant coaches Bowles would be allowed to take with him were he to find a job, Arians smiled broadly: "None," he said.
ARIANS HAPPY WITH PETERSON'S PERFORMANCE DOWN THE STRETCH
Patrick Peterson and Arians were both in agreement that the team's star cornerback underperformed early in the season, but his finish was much better.
Peterson had an impressive three-game stretch in November where he limited the receiving totals of star wideouts Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson and added an interception return for a touchdown against the Rams. He had a bad day against Atlanta's Julio Jones in Week 13 but overall Arians was content.
"I think he was in a little slump early in the year, but once he got rolling, he was as good as ever," Arians said.
ARIANS REMEMBERS STUART SCOTT
Arians began his press conference not with football, but in remembrance of ESPN television anchor Stuart Scott, who died Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
"Obviously, we are still stinging from the loss (to the Panthers), but I think when you come to work you find ways to put things into perspective," said a misty-eyed Arians. "We lost a football game, but we lost more this morning. I think one of the best members of the media I've ever dealt with, Stuart Scott, passed away. That's more real than a football game. You guys lost a great ally and a friend – we lost one, too. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."