When will the Arizona Cardinals choose a quarterback of the future?

Justin K. Aller

After three seasons of quarterback play that more resembled the stages of grief than a spectacle of entertainment, the Arizona Cardinals found a way to move on in the form of a loaner. Carson Palmer will only be with the team for so long. Sooner or later they're going to have to draft a good one. It could happen sooner than you think.

When would it make the most sense for the team to take the next step and draft the man who will lead the team for a decade? It doesn't have to be now, we know that... but it could be. Palmer's deal will expire in either one or two years, depending on which the team prefers. If he plays well, he'll probably last to the end of his deal. Unfortunately, playing well is no certainty when it comes to Arizona quarterbacks, and there are other factors. Palmer wants to play for a winner and he didn't exactly cooperate with his former teams when he decided it was time to move on. The offensive line is still shaky, and it wouldn't be a surprise if injuries play a factor again this season.

Palmer could be gone by this time next year. The Cardinals have to find a player who can take over the franchise.

The most reliable source of quarterback talent is at the top of the draft and with all this talk of players slipping out of the first round, it seems likely that a decent prospect will still be on the board in the second and third rounds... but what about the first?

Draftniks all over the internet have decided that there's a good chance Geno Smith will still be on the board with the seventh selection. They question his value as a top ten pick, and most of the quarterback-needy teams picking in that range made moves in the off-season that, on paper, stabilize their rosters. If he makes it past Jacksonville... if he makes it past Philadelphia... it's one possible scenario, maybe even a likely one.

Most of the knocks I've heard on Geno come from his ability to get the ball out on time, read defenses, and handle complex concepts. He's not as pro-ready as many recent first-round picks and compares more to Ryan Tannehill than Andrew Luck. He's the type of player that would benefit from sitting behind a veteran and learning the pro game for a while.

Geno to Arizona may sound a little hare-brained, but I kind of love the idea. It would hurt the team in the short-term. You can only expect to get a starting-caliber player in the first two rounds of the draft, and drafting a player for the bench in the top 10 sounds like crazy-talk in today's NFL.

However, if we've learned anything over the last few years, it's that teams can't take a band-aid approach to the quarterback position and be successful. You need to be able to evaluate and groom talent, and you need the foresight to keep the position strong every year instead of scrambling to find a starter season after season. Drafting Geno could set the Cardinals up for a long time, and sitting him behind Palmer for a year (or two) would minimize some of the growing pains scouts expect with his rookie season.

Taking a QB this early with an established starter already on the team won't pay off for a year or two, and we may have a chance to get a better prospect by then anyway. I kind of love the idea, but the team has other holes. Franchise left tackles and pass-rushers don't come around every day, either.

Looking for Value

Taking a quarterback in the second or third round makes more sense from a value stand-point and when considering the other holes on the team, but of course there's a drop-off in available talent. The Cardinals have been connected to a few players who project in that round already and I'm sure we'll hear about more in the coming weeks.

Confirmed visits include Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib. A case can be made that one or all of those players will be available in the second round of the draft. Analysts may not agree on who is better but if the team thinks they can develop one, he would be hard to pass up.

The problem with later prospects is that they have a lower probability of panning out in the NFL. Geno should be a good player with the potential to be a dynamic talent in the league for a long time. Barkley and Nassib have been tabbed as career back-ups, while Glennon's attributes make him a boom or bust prospect.

If anyone can turn one of these prospects into a successful pro, it's Bruce Arians (we hope). However, he's given us every sign that the team is committed to using Drew Stanton as a back-up. They are confident in what they have with Stanton and have given us every indication they are comfortable going into the season with the possibility of using him in games, even going so far as to say, "I have all the confidence in the world with him being our starter." It doesn't sound like a rookie is going to be taking snaps during the season. If the team looks for a quarterback in this range, he has to have starter upside.

Developmental Gem

Everyone will be looking for a Matt Cassell or Matt Flynn later in the draft. The Cardinals' approach to this strategy depends entirely on Ryan Lindley. That may sound absurd after his tragicomical 2012 season but there was a reason he was taken in the fifth round last year, and that was as part of a much stronger quarterback group overall. Even if most of his time on the field so far has been regrettable, he suits Arians' offense.

Most teams want to keep a third quarterback, even if he's not on the active roster. The team doesn't need more experience sitting on the bench but a sleeper pick or priority free agent is always a possibility. If the Cardinals pass on a quarterback all the way through the draft, I would at least expect them to bring in someone that they like undrafted and have him compete with Lindley for a spot on the practice squad.

Two Chances

There are good reasons to wait until next year to draft a quarterback. The offensive line could get the help it needs immediately, or they could plug a hole in the defense. Next year's group of quarterbacks should be stronger than this year's. The team is comfortable with what they have on the roster today. The window to find our new quarterback is narrow but it hasn't shut yet.

On the other hand, the team may not have a better opportunity to take a quarterback next year. Geno is a good prospect, and he could be available with the seventh pick. If the offense experiences a renaissance under Carson Palmer, which seems possible, the team could be able to eke out a couple extra wins, moving them farther back in the draft. Sure, the top couple quarterbacks in that group may be better than those available now, but if the team finds itself in a position where they would have to trade up to get the player they want, the cost may outweigh drafting Geno or another early pick now and sitting on him for a year. Taking the best quarterback in this draft class and developing him has to be an attractive option compared to the possibility of picking an inferior prospect later in the draft next year and having less time to develop him.

Waiting until after Palmer's contract has expired to draft their future star is a risk the Cardinals won't want to take, meaning they effectively have two chances to get it right. You can probably tell that I'm torn on this, so now I ask you. Do they speculate on next year's market, or do they invest today?

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