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What If Long-Term QB Isn't There?

It sounds right to say the team wants to to find elite answer, but it's not that simple


The Cardinals hope Logan Thomas, a fourth-round pick, can develop into a starting NFL quarterback.

Carson Palmer is ahead of schedule in his ACL rehab and is expected to be ready by the time the Cardinals get into training camp later this year.

That works out well, since the quarterbacks in this year's draft expected to be the best bets to be long-term answers at the position – Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota – will be long drafted by the time the Cardinals pick 24th overall.

The idea of drafting a quarterback to be your long-term answer is sound in theory. Reality makes it more difficult. Sometimes, those guys aren't there, and won't be – for years.

"It's no different than choosing a college or your wife," Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said. "It sounds crazy, but you know in

your heart when you find a guy who can be an elite quarterback.

"We talk all the time, if you think a guy can be your franchise quarterback, you take him in the first round and you don't look back. When you have a guy who has all the physical traits to play the positon but there are questions or concerns, you take him (in rounds) four through seven and try to develop them. But when you start spending high picks on quarterbacks and they don't pan out, you set yourself back."

That's what the Cardinals did with Logan Thomas last season, spending a fourth-round pick on a player who at this point is no sure thing. It seems unlikely, with the Thomas project entering Year Two and Drew Stanton returning to back up Palmer, that the Cardinals make a move in the draft.

That's both because of their situation and how the draft lines up, with NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock saying "I don't think it's a great quarterback class."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has been in both spots. He's coached on teams that featured the No. 1 pick in the draft at quarterback, like Tim Couch and Andrew Luck. He piloted the Cardinals with Palmer in place.

If Aaron Rodgers doesn't fall into your lap, you "get the best available," Arians said. The Cardinals did that with a trade for Palmer.

"Hopefully you don't have a 1-15 season where you have to pick one – and that's if there is one (at the top of the draft) that year that is the real deal," Arians said. "Those Andrew Lucks don't come around very often. It's a hit-or-miss situation. I feel very comfortable with ours. Carson has plenty of gas in the tank, Drew showed he can win games and we have a great young prospect."

Arians noted how so many college quarterbacks don't even get under center anymore to take a snap. It seems simple but isn't, a symptom of what NFL teams must sort through as they look at potential quarterbacks.

It's a concern with Mariota, and he will be a top 10 pick. Beyond that, looking at the Brett Hundleys or Bryce Pettys of the draft, it makes it even more confusing. Both of those guys have the physical tools to be a good quarterback. But the way they've played and been coached, with a set receiver most plays and then a take-off-and-run approach if that first option isn't there, doesn't do well on the next level.

"You want to say you're going to need at least a redshirt year as a second or third round draft pick, but what they need is live snaps, not seven-on-seven snaps in practice," Mayock said.

And that's a problem. That's what Thomas is going through now, headed into an important offseason but with only so much he can do to improve off the field. Game action isn't available. Practice time is less than it once was, and the quarterback position – with the NFL game skewed toward successful passing – is more important.

The sure thing simply doesn't come around often to any one team. The Colts, with Peyton Manning and Luck, were incredibly fortunate. Other teams, like the Cardinals, hope that guy becomes available at the right time.

"That transition to the NFL is a jump," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "There's a lot more that you have to handle as a quarterback in the NFL. Some guys can do it and some guys can't."

Images of the Cardinals in individual showdowns

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