Last month, Doug Clawson of ESPN wrote an article where he ranked each team based on their QB play. Unsurprisingly he had the Bears being ranked dead last in QB play (no Bear's QB has ever thrown for 4000 yards or 30 TDs), but coming in at #29 was the Arizona Cardinals. Since their inception, and the founding of the league, the Cardinals have struggled with finding consistent QB play (with the exception of a few bright spots).Here we take a look back at the "Franchise QBs" the Arizona Cardinals have had this millennium and get a better understanding of why Arizona was ranked so low.
Jake Plummer (1997-2002)
TD-INT: 100 TD-114 INT; 10 Rushing TDs; 2 TD-4 INT in the Playoffs
YARDS: 17,622 Passing; 1,183 Rushing; 455 Yards Passing 10 Yards Rushing in the Playoffs
Win-Loss: 30-52; 1-1 in the Playoffs
Awards: #42 Overall Draft Pick (1997); 9 Cardinals Franchise Passing Records; NFC Wild Card Team (1998)
Head Coach: Vince Tobin (1997-2000); Dave McGinnis (2000-2002)
Prior Teams: ASU Sun Devils (1993-1996)
When the Cardinals drafted Jake Plummer i the 2nd round of the 1997 NFL Draft, there was reason to be excited. He was the hometown hero that led ASU to an 11-1 record that culminated in a loss at the Rose Bowl to Ohio State. He had been named 2nd Team All-American and was the winner of the Pop Warner Trophy. His first NFL action came in the 4th quarter of week 7, and he proceeded to lead AZ to 3 of their 4 victories that year. The following season, Arizona drafted Plummer's ASU teammate, Pat Tillman. Behind Tillman and Plummer, Arizona led a magical run into the playoffs and defeated the heavily favored Dallas Cowboys to earn the Cardinals their first playoff win since 1947, before losing to the Minnesota Vikings the following week. Unfortunately, however, that is where the fairy tale ends as Plummer would never have a wining record in AZ again. In a comment from Football Outsiders following the 1999 campaign that saw the Cardinals go 6-10, they stated "At the start of the 1999 season, Jake Plummer was being celebrated as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks, the man who would make the Cardinals respectable again. By the end of the 1999 season, Plummer ranked as the league's worst quarterback."
Plummer left the Cardinals in 2002, where he signed with the Denver Broncos. In Denver, he was much more successful, going 39-15 and taking the Broncos to the 2006 AFC Championship game. Though his career in AZ did not go as well as may hoped, he is still beloved around the state as the first true Franchise QB the team has had since relocating.
Matt Leinart (2006-2009)
TD-INT: 14 TD-20 INT; 2 Rushing TDs
YARDS: 3,893 Passing; 46 Rushing
Awards: #10 Overall NFL Draft Pick (2006)
Head Coach: Dennis Green (2006); Ken Whisenhunt (2007-2010)
Prior Teams: USC Trojans (2001-2005)
Matt Leinart is a story of "what could have been". In the 2006 NFL Draft, nobody expected him to fall to #10 (most experts had him going to Tennessee), but when he did, head Coach Dennis Green called it "a gift from Heaven." And why wouldn't fans be excited? Leinart was arguably the greatest college football QB in history having been named an All-America, winning 2 National Titles and winning the Heisman Trophy over Adrian Peterson. It seemed like adding him to a lineup that featured Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Edgerrin James would make this an explosive offense...unfortunately that didn't turn out so well. Leainart's career in AZ is more remembered for the 2006 Monday Night Meltdown loss to the Bears, partying in hot tubs, multiple injuries, being replaced by Kurt Warner, losing to Vince Young (again) and clashing with Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt so frequently that it got him cut in 2010.
After leaving the Cardinals, Leinart didn't find much success elsewhere. He backed up Matt Schaub on the Houston Texans and Carson Palmer on the Oakland Raiders, before signing with the Buffalo Bills in 2013. He spent less than a week on the Bills' roster before being cut. He had a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks where he would be reunited with his college coach, but even Pete Carroll couldn't save his career, opting to sign Brady Quinn instead. Leinart now works as a college football analyst for Fox. A lot of "what ifs" have been played out over the years for his career, but unfortunately Leinart became the biggest bust in Cardinal's history...at least until another SoCal QB was drafted in 2017.
Kurt Warner (2005-2009)
TD-INT: 100 TD-59 INT; 1 Rushing TD; 16 TDs-4 INTs in the Playoffs
YARDS: 13,130 Passing; 82 Rushing; 1,731 Passing Yards and 9 Rushing Yards in the Playoffs
Win-Loss: 27-30, 4-2 in the Playoffs
Awards: NEA NFL MVP (2008), NFC Champion (2008), 2x Pro Bowl (2008, 2009), Walter Payton Man of the Year (2008), 4x FedEx Air Player of the Week (2008, 2009), 3x NFC Offensive Player of the Week (2006, 2009), 5th QB in NFL History to Throw a TD in 3 Super bowls (2009), 2nd player in NFL History to throw 100 TDs for 2 Teams (2009), First QB to throw 5 TDs in multiple Playoff Games (2010), Bart Starr Award (2010), 8 Cardinals Franchise Records, Cardinals Ring of Honor, NFL Hall of Fame.
Head Coach: Dennis Green (2005-2006); Ken Whisenhunt (2007-2009)
When Kurt Warner was signed to the Cardinals in 2005,nobody expected him to become the Hall of Famer he is today. By ten, everyone had heard his Cinderella Story of going from stocking shelves at the local grocery store to become NFL MVP and Super Bowl Champion, but after the Rams loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the wheels fell of the Greatest Show on Turf. Warner was eventually benched for Marc Bulger and then cut from the team altogether. He ended up signing with the NY Giants but replaced mid-season by Eli Manning in 2004. In 2005, the Cardinals signed him as the veteran backup to Josh McCown and then in 2006 as the veteran backup to rookie Matt Leinart. The goal was for Leinart to learn from Warner before taking over the starting job, but that all changed when Ken Whisenhunt took over. Whisenhunt brought with him vertical offense that was more suited for Warner's skill set than Leinart's. While Leinart was named the starter for the 2007 season, Warner would replace him periodically. It wasn't until Leainart was placed on Injured Reserve that Warner took over the starting job, never to give it back. He led Arizona to an 8-8 season in 2007 and in 2008 the Cardinals shocked the world.
The 2008 Cardinals boasted three 1,000 yard receivers as Warner passed for a franchise records 4.583 yards and 30 TDs en route to a 9-7 record and NFC West Title. Despite being called "the worst team in history to make the playoffs", the Cardinals beat the the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta (30-24), the Carolina Panthers in Carolina (33-13) and the Philadelphia Eagles at home in the NFC Title Game (32-25). The story would end in a heart breaking 27-23 loss to Whisenhunt's former team (and ironically, Arizona's next Head Coach) Pittsburgh Steelers. The following season, Warner would lead the Cardinals to another NFC West Title, The Cardinals would win a 51-45 shootout against the Green Bay Packers in the highest scoring playoff game in history, before falling to the New Orleans saints the following week. During the Saint's game, Warner was knocked out of the game by a "violent hit" after having a "bounty" placed on him. Several days later, Warner announced his retirement.
After his retirement, Warner became a successful commentator for the AFL and NFL. He was named to the Cardinals Ring of Honor in 2014 and the NFL Hall of Fame in 2018. From 2015-2018 he was the QB Coach.Offensive Coordinator for Desert Mountain High School where he helped mentor USC's QB Phenom Kedon Slovs.
During the 2014 season, rumors started circulating that Warner was going to come out of retirement to take over for the injured Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, and even though he claimed to be ready, the team never called.
Warner is the most beloved of all Cardinal's QBs and continues to have a presence in the valley today.
Carson Palmer (2013-2017)
TD-INT: 105 TD-59 INT; 1 Rushing TD; 4 TDs-6 INTs in the Playoffs
YARDS: 16,782 Passing; 102 Rushing; 584 Passing Yards in the Playoffs
Win-Loss: 38-21, 1-1 in the Playoffs
Awards: First QB in NFL History to throw 4,000 Yards for 3 Teams (2013), FedEx Air Player of the Week (2013), NFC Wild Card (2014), NFC Air Player of the Year (2015), Pro Bowl (2015), 2nd Team All-Pro (2015), Sports Illustrated comeback Player of the Year (2015), NFC West Champion (2015), 17 Cardinals Franchise Records, Cardinals Ring of Honor.
Head Coach: Bruce Arians (2013-2017)
Prior Teams: USC Trojans. Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders
During an interview in 2011, after the Cardinals went 5-11, Kurt Warner was asked who he thinks the Cardinals should acquire as their next starting QB. Without hesitating, he said: "I think a guy like Carson Palmer would be tremendous in that kind of system." The Cardinals instead traded for Kevin Kolb, and 2 years later Ken Whisenhunt was fired, ironically replaced by the man who succeeded him in Pittsburgh: Bruce Arians. Like Whisenhunt, Arians ran a vertical "no risk-it, no biscuit" offense that required a strong armed QB. He brought with him Drew Stanton, and then Steve Keim traded a 6th round pick for a, believed to be washed up, Carson Palmer. When Carson Palmer arrived in the desert in 2013, it seemed as though he was going to be a stop gap QB to take the reigns of the team until they drafted a successor (Matt Barkley, Derek Carr, Paxton Lynch and Patrick Mahomes would all be linked to them over the next few years). As luck would have it though, Palmer was about to take Arizona on it's most successful regular season run in history.
2013 started off rough, with Palmer becoming a turnover machine, but by mid-season the offense finally clicked and he led the Cardinals to a 10-6 record. Though they didn't make the playoffs that season, they were able to snap Seattle's home winning streak. The following season Palmer was hurt in a Week 1 victory over the Chargers, sustaining nerve damage to his shoulder from a hit by Eric Weddle. He missed the next 3 games and, backup QB, Drew Stanton helped lead AZ to 2 victories in its next 3 games. Palmer took over the 5 games and posted an undefeated record, throwing 11 TDs and 3 INTs on the year. After signing a 3-year contract extension however, Palmer tore his ACL (2nd time in his career) in a Week 10 victory over the St. Louis Rams and would placed on IR. The Cardinals would then lose Drew Stanton to, coincidentally a knee injury against the St. Louis Rams, in Week 15 .They finished the season 11-5 and lost to the 7-9 Panthers in the Wild Card Round.
In 2015, Carson came returned and at age 35, he had the best season of hi career. He led the Cardinals to a 13-3 record and NFC West Title en route to being named the FedEx Air Player of the Year and 2nd Team All-Pro. He would also be named to the third Pro Bowl of his career after breaking every single season passing record in franchise history. In the 2016 postseason against the Green Bay Packers, Palmer got his first career playoff win as the Cardinals defeated Green Bay 26-20 in one of the wildest playoff games in NFL History. The victory would be short lived however as AZ would be completely dismantled by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Title Game. in that game, Palmer would commit 4 costly turnovers as they lost 49-15.
In 2016 the Cardinals were a hot pick to make the Super bowl, however they finished 7-8-1, as Palmer missed a game with a concussion suffered against, yet again, the Rams in Week 4. In 2017, Carson would get off to a hot start throwing for 1,978 yards in just 6 games before breaking his arm in the first half of a Week 7 shutout against, you guessed it, the Rams. Palmer would be placed on IR and at the end of the season, he retired.
After football, Palmer became an ambassador for the FedEx Air and Ground Player of the Year Award, but has largely remained away from the game, living up in the mountains with his family. In 2019, he would be named to the Cardinals Ring of Honor.
Josh Rosen (2018)
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TD-INT: 11 TD-14 INT
YARDS: 2,278 Passing; 138 Rushing
Awards: #10 Overall NFL Draft Pick (2018)
Head Coach: Steve Wilks (2018), Kliff Kingsbury (2019)
Prior Teams: UCLA Bruins
There's something about a SoCal kid being drafted at #10 by the Cardinals that just never works out. Following the retirements of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, the Cardinals attempted to overhaul the team and start over by hiring Steve Wilks. Wilks changed the defense from a 3-4/Hybrid to a 4-3 and he brought in Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who would change the vertical offense into a horizontal west coast. He would then bring in players like Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon, Tre Boston and Brice Butler and attempt to convert other players to positions they were not accustomed to (Bucannon to OLB, Johnson to a power RB, etc). Knowing that Bradford wasn't going to be the long term solution, Steve Keim made a trade with the Oakland Raiders to move up to #10 and select Josh Rosen in the 2017 NFL Draft. His career with the Cardinals started off on the wrong foot right away as he boldly stated that 9 mistakes were made ahead of him.
The problem with attempting an overhaul of a team without fully committing (changing scheme but not personnel) is that it simply does't work. Rosen was set up for failure before the season even started and everyone could see it. After proving to be ineffective, Bradford was benched midway trough the Week 3 contest against the Bears for Rosen who remained the starter for the rest of the season. While there were some high points in the season such as sweeping the San Francico 49ers and defeating the Packers in Green Bay for the first time ever, Rosen was completely overwhelmed. Behind a terrible offensive line and ineffective scheme, Rosen was sacked 45 times. OC Mike McCoy and Sam Bradford were released midway through the season and Wilks would be fired on "Black Monday" following a 3-13 season that netted AZ the #1 Overall Draft Pick.
After the season, the Cardinals would hire Kliff Kingsbury away from USC. At first many people though it could revive Rosen's career, until a video came out of Kinsbury talking about how he would draft Oklahoma's Heisman Winner Kyler Murray #1 Overall if he had the chance. At that point it appeared the writing was on the wall. Rosen would be shipped to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for picks that would become Andy Isabella (2nd rounder) and Kenyan Drake (5th rounder traded back to Miami).
In Miami, Rosen never really got a shot. He was benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2019 ad the Dolphins drafted Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa #5 overall in 2020. Rosen will probably be finding himself on his 3rd team in as many years, and hopefully he can finally get his career on the right track on a team where he can actually fit in (potentially the Buccaneers where he can be reunited with Byron Leftwich and learn behind Tom Brady).
Kyler Murray (2019-Present)
TD-INT: 20 TD-12 INT; 4 Rushing TDs
YARDS: 3,722 Passing; 544 Rushing
Awards: #1 Overall NFL Draft Pick (2019), NFC Offensive Rookie of the Week (2019), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (2019), 14 Cardinals Franchise Rookie Records
Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (2019-Present)
Prior Teams: Texas A&M Aggies (2015), Oklahoma Sooners (2016-2018), Harwich Mariners (2017), Oakland A's (2018)
When the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury following the 2018 campaign, a clip came out of Kingsbury speaking on Oklahoma's Heisman Trophy winning QB Kyler Murray: "Kyler is a freak.....I would take him with the first pick of the draft if I could." Then the two sport athlete paid back his signing bonus to the Oakland A's and declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft. Add that with a private workout in Tempe in which Murray's agent attended and th fact that Kingsbury's relationship went all the way back Murray's days in high school when Kingsbury helped recruit him to Texas A&M (where his roommate was Christian Kirk) and you could see where it was going.
From the second that Murray held up his Cardinals jersey, everyone knew that this was HIS team. Murray brought in a unique skill set that AZ had never had in a QB before and paired him with the perfect coach to utilize it. Despite the criticism about his height, Murray showed that he was worthy of the #1 pick during his Week 1 debut against Detroit. Down by 18 in the 4th quarter, the offense finally clicked for the Cardinals and Murray lead them to an 18 point comeback and overtime 27-27 tie, The following week, Murray kept pace with future NFL MVP Lamar Jackson but ultimately lost the match up 23-17. The following two weeks, the Cardinals came back own to Earth as they were handedly beaten by the Panthers and Seahawks in Arizona. The Cardinals then went on a three game win streak against the Bengals, Giants and Falcons (where Murray won NFC OPOW) to be sitting at 3-3-1 before being dismantled by the New Orleans Saints. Murray then had the Cardinals in close games against the, eventual NFC Champion, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached by former Cardinal's HC Bruce Arians that would have been victories had it not been for the defense giving up game winning 4th quarter drives in each. Against the Rams they were thoroughly dismantled in a 34-7 drubbing and the defense gave up another game winning 4th quarter drive against the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. In Week 15, the Cardinals faced the Cleveland Browns, in a match where Kyler Murray easily outdueled his former Sooner Teammate Baker Mayfield. In Week 16, Arizona shocked the Seattle Seahawks, knocking them out of a First Round Bye, in a 27-13 victory before losing to the Rams in Los Angeles 31-24.
For his efforts, Murray was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. With the amount of off season additions made on both sides of the ball, most notably Deandre Hopkins and Isaiah Simmons, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals look to contend for a playoff spot for years to come.