Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert has played well this preseason to help raise his cratered stock.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has thumbed through third-string quarterbacks like a magazine in the waiting room of a dentist's office.
Logan Thomas was drafted in the fourth round but cut before his second season. Matt Barkley hung around for a while before getting jettisoned. Ryan Lindley started a playoff game but was clearly not the answer.
Blaine Gabbert seems different. The former first-round pick joined the Cardinals in May after two months languishing in free agency, and there was a healthy dose of skepticism based on his 9-31 career record and overall ineffectiveness in the NFL.
But as Gabbert's offseason wraps up Thursday in the team's preseason finale against the Broncos – he will play sparingly before giving way to Trevor Knight -- there's a growing belief that he could be a part of the Cardinals' future.
"I've been very pleased," Arians said. "Short-term, I'd be very comfortable if he had to play for us. Long-term, if he continues at this rate, he could be a starter."
The Cardinals may need one as early as 2018. Carson Palmer is under contract next year but contemplated retirement this offseason. Backup Drew Stanton is in the last year of his deal.
Most players who don't make a mark in the NFL by age 27 are sunk, but quarterback can be a different animal. After a terrific offseason, the idea is not without merit. Gabbert's training camp showing exceeded expectations, as he flashed the arm talent and mobility that made him the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
For Gabbert, it's never been a question of physical tools.
"I had worked out with him a handful of times a couple of years ago in the offseason," starting quarterback Carson Palmer said. "Very aware of his skill-set. He's as talented as it gets throwing the football and moving around in the pocket and on the run. I haven't been surprised."
That natural talent rarely translated into games previously, but Gabbert has looked comfortable throughout the preseason. He is 36-of-57 passing for 496 yards and a touchdown – along with a rushing score -- in four exhibition games. He's thrown one interception, but that was receiver Chris Hubert's fault, and Gabbert's yards per attempt of 8.7 is much better than his career average of 6.0.
Gabbert is famously on his seventh difference offensive coordinator in seven years, but Arians said he's been amazed at how quickly Gabbert has grasped the playbook. Arians is known for his ability to tutor quarterbacks, and the pairing has clicked.
"It's been awesome so far," Gabbert said. "B.A. is such a great coach. He sees the game the way we see it at the quarterback position. Being in the room with Carson and Byron (Leftwich) and coach (Tom) Moore, it's a really fun group to be around, but at the same time, smart and intelligent group that's really helped me learn this system and get better as a football player."
First-round quarterback busts have been frequent this decade, and as the weeks went by this spring and Gabbert remained unemployed, it was fair to wonder whether his epitaph should be written. But Gabbert didn't waver.
"Free agency is just one of those things where you never know how it's going to play out," Gabbert said. "The first time I was in it, it played out before free agency opened. This time it took a couple weeks, but, no, a thought (of doubt) never once crossed my mind. Just continued to prepare, continue to work out. Just be ready when that call came."
Gabbert has capitalized on his opportunity, renewing talk that a change of scenery was what he needed most.
Arians believes Gabbert can one day become a successful starter in the NFL. Depending on Palmer's retirement plans, Gabbert could get that chance as soon as 2018.
"He has been very good here throughout our camp," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "It looks like he's gotten very acclimated with our offense. Coach Arians loves him. He loves his arm strength. Hopefully he can be a guy that can help us in the future."
Image of the junior cheerleaders performing alongside the Cardinals cheerleaders in the preseason