At 7-4, the Arizona Cardinals are cruising right now, and have emerged as legitimate playoff contenders following a 40-11 stomping of the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts. That most recent win is the latest in a four game win streak for the Redbirds, causing a lot of good feeling throughout the franchise.
The winning culture is something the Cardinals haven’t experienced the last couple seasons, as usually around this time, the Cardinals are out of the playoff picture. When that happens, fans and front office personnel alike find themselves looking ahead to things like free agency and the upcoming NFL draft.
Just because the Cardinals are in a good spot doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead, though. Championships are won in the draft, and the Cardinals find themselves in an interesting situation. It’s interesting because the situation is predicated on the performance of one man: quarterback Carson Palmer.
One of the big parts of the current four game win streak, Carson Palmer has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL over the last five weeks, throwing for 1,146 yards with a 68 percent completion rate and an 8 touchdown to 2 interception ratio. Considering that his ratio prior was 8 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, his elevated play no doubt has been integral to the Cards turnaround.
Of course, Carson Palmer’s performance also gives the Cardinals front office a lot of flexibility in choosing his successor. If Palmer continues his torrid run, the Cardinals may feel no pressure to get a successor in the 2014 draft, and instead focus on other areas of need, such as a first round tackle or outside linebacker talent.
One of the silver linings of that route is the depth of this draft class in the quarterback position. While the Cardinals will be far out of Mariota and Bridgewater territory, a lot of high upside prospects could conceivably end up in the later rounds. Guys with big arms such as Fresno State’s Derek Carr and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger look to be good fits in Arizona, and could benefit from a year on the bench to be groomed for the starting gig when Palmer’s contract expires.
Assuming Palmer returns to the gig next season, the Cardinals could also try to find their man in the 2015 draft, where guys like Devin Gardner, Bryce Petty and Jeff Driskel could garner some attention as the draft approaches. I don’t like this option as much, as none of those guys have that “it” factor that some of the 2014 quarterbacks possess.
Going back to Carson Palmer’s contract, it’s worth mentioning a third possibility for the Cardinals: extending the veteran USC quarterback. This one may not be the wisest of the options, but at 33, Palmer may still have a couple good years left in him. If performances like Palmer’s most recent ones become more routine, an extension wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the Cardinals, especially if Palmer gives the Cardinals their first playoff berth with someone not named Kurt Warner in the past couple years.
And ultimately, isn’t it about the playoffs?
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