The Arizona Cardinals have a quarterback problem. It's not exactly a secret that John Skelton and Ryan Lindley have not taken advantage of the opportunities they have been given this season. What does remain a secret, however, is Kevin Kolb's strong level of play in 2012. Kolb's season was hindered in large part due to the lack of talent (recognition) on the offensive line. As the season has progressed, coach Ken Whisenhunt has gotten a better idea of who to start and who to sit. Arizona will obviously need to use the draft to bolster their offensive line. Guards, centers and tackles are recognized the league over as the important players in any offense. Even if you have Adrian Peterson on your team, it doesn't mean anything if he's getting hit in the backfield. Likewise, if you have a capable quarterback who is always getting hit, your team will likely having a losing season because, let's face it, players like Kirk Cousins coming off the bench to lead their team to victory usually proves to be the exception, rather than the rule. Backup quarterbacks are most often just roster-fillers. These are guys who can check it down and hand the ball off when called upon to do so.
This is true for most teams, just not the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have suffered a plethora of quarterback injuries in Ken Whisenhunt's tenure that the team needs to have two (or even three) players who can start at any given time. This is the approach taken by the Seattle Seahawks with Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson, as well as the San Francisco 49ers with Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith. The Cardinals will have to follow suit if they want to compete in the NFC West. This will mean investing high draft picks in a quarterback and/or shelling out big money contracts for guys to play on the bench.
I am of the opinion, unlike many other people who have written about the Cardinals, that Kevin Kolb should remain with the team. He has yet to play a 16-game season, but this is not due to his lack of toughness or his lack of development. So far, he is the only quarterback since Kurt Warner who appears capable of improving his game over time. Expect him to be a better quarterback in 2013. The only issue is his health. With that in mind, I'd like to show you five quarterbacks who I believe are capable of making a significant difference for the Cardinals in 2013.
1. Kyle Orton
Kyle Orton is currently the backup for the Dallas Cowboys. He was benched in the 2011 season for the Denver Broncos for turning the ball over nine times in five games. (That sounds a lot like what Kurt Warner did with the New York Giants, doesn't it?) During this timeframe, he went 1-4 as a starter, though it must be noted three of those games were decided by one score or less. Due to a bad Broncos defense and a poorly-designed offensive gameplan, Orton was forced to throw it early and often. He can be a gunslinger, but he works best as a game manager. He excels in a team that plays good defense and runs the ball often.
While Orton may not reach the pro bowl any time soon, he is a player who can help his team reach the playoffs. While he is signed to a three-year contract with the Cowboys, it is likely that he would jump at the chance to compete for a starting job, rather than remain entrenched as a backup to Dallas golden child Tony Romo. Dallas paid him a 5 million dollar signing bonus, largely to feel safe in case Romo got injured. He is due 1.35 million next year, and, not having started too many games in the last two years, it is likely that the Cardinals won't have to break the bank to sign him.
2. Tim Tebow
Rex Ryan refuses to start Tim Tebow. Tebow says he wants to go somewhere he is appreciated (although he would remain a media darling by staying in New York). Tebow plays more like a running back than a quarterback. Starting him on offense would require Arizona to run a heavy run-first offense, something they are more than capable of with the trio of Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell. Individually, these three running backs haven't opened any eyes, but their skill sets are unique enough that the run attack would be varied enough to be effective, should they all play together. In addition, Patrick Peterson has been taking snaps on offense. The Cardinals are capable of running the Tebow offense, if they choose to do so.
Signing Tebow would likely require another offensive coordinator, as the current OC Mike Miller has appeared clueless when it comes to utilizing his players in the most efficient way possible. Tebow wants to start, and there are a few teams in the NFL that need a starter. The Cardinals are one of them. This may be a match made in heaven or a disaster waiting to happen. Either way, we do know that the Cardinals are capable of mounting comeback victories in close games, something Tebow specializes in. A returning Ray Horton as the defensive coordinator should provide Arizona with a lot of opportunities in the red zone. This is where Tebow excels.
3. David Carr
David Carr appears content to be the backup of the New York Giants, who won the Super Bowl. Whether he would make a good starter or not remains to be seen, as he has not started a game since 2007. In that season, he played for the anemic Carolina Panthers who were grasping at straws for a quarterback. In his last full season in 2006, playing for the Houston Texans, he completed 68.3 percent of passes but threw for under 3000 yards. He only managed 11 touchdowns that year.While this was Andre Johnson's breakout year, the Texans had no other talent around Carr. Ron Dayne led the team in rushing with 612 yards. Eric Moulds, then one year away from retirement at age 33, provided little help in drawing double coverage away from Johnson. Kevin Walters and Owen Daniels had not yet come into their own.
Moreover, Carr had the misfortune of playing for a new franchise team. They played their first year in 2002 during which Carr was sacked 76 times in 16 games. He was then sacked 68 times in the 2005 season. While it may be unfair to ask a quarterback who played behind a bad offensive line to come to play for another team who has a bad offensive line, Carr is another game-managing quarterback who throws for accuracy and likes short passes. He is by no means the gunslinger Ken Whisenhunt likes to have. However, as a backup behind Kevin Kolb, he will not embarrass himself if called upon to play.
4. Dan Orlovsky
A career backup, Dan Orlovsky's claim to fame is running out of the back of his own end zone in the midst of a brutal 2-14 season from the Colts in 2011. Ideally, if Jim Caldwell had not insisted on starting the atrocious Curtis Painter, Orlovsky would have been able to show what he could do with a full season. In the five games he started, he won two of them and lost two others by a one-score deficit. His 81.1 completion percentage and 353 yards against the New England Patriots in week 13 of 2011 made him the darling of fantasy leagues everywhere. He finished the 2011 season with a 63.2 completion percentage.
His position in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn't likely to change based on staring quarterback Josh Freeman's continued effectiveness. Freeman might not make the pro bowl, but the starting job is his to lose. Tampa Bay's faith in Orlovsky is such that the team only has him as the sole back-up for Freeman. While Orlovsky has yet to play a full season of NFL football, there are many backups out there who could do far worse than him. Currently signed to a two-year contract with the Buccaneers, the team will owe him 1.5 million dollars next year, a price they may not be willing to pay when they already have their quarterback situation resolved.
5. Alex Smith
Alex Smith did everything right for the 49ers. He led the team to the NFC Championship game, where he posted a 97.6 quarterback rating and forced an overtime period by leading a game-tying field goal drive with 5:36 left in the fourth quarter. While the 49ers lost the game, Smith did everything he could to help the team win. Since then, Alex Smith played so well in 2012 that he can still win the passer rating title. Statistically, he has performed better than teammate Colin Kaepernick, but the 49ers have started Kaepernick because they want to go with the hot hand. In reality, I suspect Kaepernick's ability to connect with wide receivers compared against Smith's preference for tight end Vernon Davis had a lot to do with it.
Signing Smith will mean building around him. This means a strong offensive line and a strong running game. Smith's best friend on the 49ers was running back Frank Gore. The 49ers ran the ball so much that they'd even call in Kaepernick to run it out of the backfield. The Cardinals have to be willing to commit to the run if they use Smith, since he is an accurate passer who doesn't light up the scoreboard. He is capable of making all the throws, but the 49ers have preferred to dominate time of possession, which has limited Smith's opportunities.
The only problem: Alex Smith is on contract with the 49ers for a base salary of 7.5 million dollars in 2013. It is unlikely that they would trade him to the Arizona Cardinals given that the two teams play in the NFC West. If Arizona does acquire him, it will be through free agency, which will likely mean cutting Kevin Kolb loose. In the end, the 49ers may decide to keep Alex Smith. But if he can be signed, he will instantly propel any lackluster team to a playoff contender, provided the coaching staff knows what to do with him.
5 Quarterbacks to Ignore
Michael Vick. Do I need to elaborate? Vick is on the wrong side of 30. He holds on to the ball way too often, takes too many hits and turns the ball over far too much. Andy Reid might like him, but Vick's best shot of starting again is for a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars who will need to cut Blaine Gabbert and start from scratch with their quarterbacks.
Kirk Cousins. Cousins had a few good games with the Washington Redskins. The book is completely wide open with him. Signing him to a big deal and expecting him to start is a risky proposition simply because no one knows what they will be getting out of him in the long-term. His name will be bandied about in the post-season, but my guess is the Washington Redskins will make every effort to retain Cousins given that Robert Griffin III plays a physical form of football in which he risks injury on a regular basis.
Mark Sanchez. Sanchez should be released by the Jets at the of the season. If they decide to retain his services, they are welcome to him. He is an inaccurate passer who turns the ball over. If the Cardinals want a player like that, I'm sure Skelton and/or Lindley would be glad to return for 2013.
Jason Campbell. Campbell is the Bears' insurance policy against Jay Cutler getting injured. Campbell may think he can help a team to get to the playoffs by checking it down thirty times a game, but if so, he's mistaken. In 2011, the Oakland Raiders outright benched him in favor of oft-injured quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
Matt Cassel. The Chiefs have lost all faith in Cassel. The talent is around him on the team, and Cassel does have two good seasons to his credit, even if they didn't happen recently. Whether the losing atmosphere in Kansas City negatively affected his play, or whether he just doesn't have it anymore, Cassel will more than likely not be starting in the NFL in 2013. I expect him to be backing up for a team like the Eagles or Browns.