NFL Nation: Drew Stanton

It didn't take long for the Arizona Cardinals to have a quarterback controversy this offseason.

But it doesn't involve the starter or even the back-up.

Fourth-round draft pick Logan Thomas began his quest to win the third-string job from Ryan Lindley on Monday, when rookies reported to the Cardinals' practice facility in Tempe.

“It's competition,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Saturday after the final day of the NFL draft. “There is nothing being handed to this guy. He is not the quarterback of the future until he earns it. He has to be a pretty good guy to get that No. 3 spot. The No. 2 spot isn't changing. That's not a problem.

“It's just a matter of, can he beat out Ryan?”

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLogan Thomas will compete with Ryan Lindley to be the Cardinals' third-string quarterback.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Arians said the Cardinals wouldn't take a quarterback if they didn't think he could beat out one of the two back-ups already on the roster. By simply drafting Thomas out of Virginia Tech, Arians showed his hand.

Then on Saturday, after general manager Steve Keim said a team should draft a quarterback later in the draft if it thinks he could eventually be a franchise player, Arians said Thomas fit that bill.

“He has the skill set to,” he said.

A decision won't be made on Lindley's future with the team until some point toward the end of training camp. Until then, it'll be a daily battle between Thomas and Lindley. Although he's likely to make the roster, Thomas' spot isn't guaranteed just yet. He was drafted as a developmental quarterback, Arians said, which means Thomas has to show progress for Arians and Keim to believe he can eventually be Palmer's successor.

Arians already knows what Thomas has physically. There are two intangibles, however, that Arians and Keim couldn't evaluate at the combine that will dictate what kind of quarterback Thomas turns into.

“The hardest things to judge are the heart and the brain because that's what they play with,” Arians said. “You have to have them in your huddle and in your (quarterbacks) room for a little while to really know what you've got. All the athletic stuff, he's got all that stuff.

“He's got the heart. If we can get him trained to play in this offense, his skill set fits what we love to do. He has a beautiful deep ball. He's got as pretty of a deep ball as (starter) Carson (Palmer), who I think has one of the best in the league. He can stand there and just drop it in the bucket.”

Arians said there's a drill that proves how well Thomas can throw a deep ball. The drill places a bucket 40 yards down field, four yards off the sideline. The goal is to throw the ball into said bucket.

“He'll put it in the bucket four out of 10,” Arians said, “which is unbelievable.”

Thomas only has from Monday until the end of the preseason to show the Cardinals how much he's improved. If he's not the starter, Thomas will be running the scout team, Arians said. And even then he'll only be getting half of the reps because back-up Drew Stanton will get the other half. Skill-wise, Arians thinks Thomas is ready to play now but how fast he progresses up the depth chart is all up to him.

What Thomas can offer the Cardinals that Palmer, Stanton or Lindley can't is the ability to make plays with his feet, Keim said. And that's exciting, but it may not be enough on its own to get Thomas snaps.

"Now, is he ready to play?" Arians asked. "No."

But Arians said Thomas will be playing quite a bit in the preseason because Palmer won't.

“The hardest part is you don't get enough practice,” Arians said.

“Once the season starts, the development is more learning the offense, learning why the ball comes out of your hand and it will show up the next offseason when he starts, again, attempting to move up the depth chart. But that first year it's all about coming in, beating out a guy that's already here who's pretty good, who's really improved in the year and (a) half that we've had him and that's Ryan.”

The case for Zach Mettenberger

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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Zach MettenbergerDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger threw for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns for LSU last season.
If you listened to Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians last week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, all is right in the world of the team's quarterbacks.

The Cardinals have their starter in Carson Palmer. And if Palmer goes down, Arians believes Drew Stanton can step in to lead Arizona to a division title.

"If something, God forbid, happened to Carson, I've got all the confidence in Drew taking over and us winning the division or the championship," Arians said. "He's been [in the system] two years now, he's smart, tough. That's all you want. He's a guy who can step in the game and doesn't need any reps. He reminds me a lot of Kelly Holcomb."

None of those comments came as a surprise. Arians loved Stanton when he was signed last offseason as the starter ... until Palmer was acquired in a trade and named the starter. It has worked out well so far. Palmer threw for a career best in yards while leading the Cardinals to 10 wins and the brink of the playoffs -- all of which helped Arizona overlook Palmer's career-worst 22 interceptions.

Arians believes Palmer can play until he’s "36, 37 -- easily." But that means Palmer will have to be re-signed before next February because the last year of his current three-year deal voids five days after the next Super Bowl. Palmer will be 35, probably still slinging it like the cowboy he is while playing in the wild, wild West of all places.

But Palmer isn't the Cardinals' long-term answer. Neither is Stanton. Neither is third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley.

Sure, Palmer could play for another two seasons. But at what point do the Cardinals look toward the future? It needs to happen this year and former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the place to start.

The Cardinals don't need to draft a quarterback in the first or even the second round. It's not that high of a priority, but Arizona needs to select a quarterback who it can mold into what Arians wants. Someone who they can give time to learn the offense.

"You go into every draft looking for the young franchise quarterback," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told SiriusXM NFL Radio from the combine. "Although, Carson gives you the luxury of not having to force [a pick]. Sometimes, when you don't have one, you get into a situation where you have to force a pick and that sets you back two to three years.

"Carson gives us some stability, but at the same time we'll always be aggressive in our approach and in our mindset that you're always looking for the next young quarterback."

There are few NFL-ready quarterbacks in this year's draft and even fewer who'll be sitting around on the second or third day. But Mettenberger has the physical traits Arians likes. He's 6-foot-5, 224 pounds with a big arm and already knows how to play in an NFL scheme. His offensive coordinator at LSU was former NFL coach Cam Cameron.

Mettenberger threw for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2013 before tearing his ACL in the Tigers' regular-season finale. He wasn't able to do any of the drills at the combine, which could make his stock drop -- right into the Cardinals' lap.

"Without the injury, I still don't think he's going to be a first- or second-round pick," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think what he is  and what worries me a little bit on tape is I think he stares down some of his intended receivers, I think the ball comes out late sometimes. He's not a guy that I think can start Day 1 in the NFL anyway.

"So, if you ask me how much it would impact him, the injury, I don't think quite as much as you might think on the surface, because I do believe he's got a lot of learning to do. I like his size, I like his ability and I like his arm strength. It's more just a matter of his footwork, being more consistent with the ball, his feet being lined up, getting the ball out and some of the reads he makes. I think he just doesn't get the ball out quickly enough and I think that's something that a young quarterback has got to develop."

Mettenberger sounds like the perfect project for quarterback guru Tom Moore. Mettenberger likely won't be ready for training camp and may not even be 100 percent for Week 1. But then again, the Cards don't need him to be.

They can place him on the injured reserve/non-football injury list, which would allow Mettenberger to be activated at some point during the second half of the season. By November, Mettenberger's knee would likely be healed -- ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter said last week that Mettenberger's recovery is progressing faster than expected -- and he can start taking reps in practice.

Even though Keim said at the combine that he's always looking for a quarterback, he also has said, according to the team website, that the only way a quarterback can mature is by playing.

"The only way to grow as a player is to get those full-speed reps," Keim said. "You don’t get those in practice. You have to learn on the job. Obviously [Green Bay quarterback] Aaron Rodgers was a different circumstance, and it's not a bad circumstance to be in, but at the same time, if you want to win now and you want significant improvement early in their career, I think it's in their best interest to play early."

Arians shared a similar philosophy.

"I don’t believe in drafting quarterbacks thinking they can learn a damn thing holding a clipboard," Arians said, according to the team site.

But holding a clipboard is exactly what Stanton has done for the past three seasons, two of which have been spent learning Arians' scheme. He hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 2010. Yet, Arians still believes he's capable of coming in, if needed, and leading the Cardinals to a division title?

While Rodgers is the ultimate example of what a quarterback can do after learning for few seasons behind the starter, Palmer isn't far behind. He was drafted No. 1 overall in 2003 and didn’t play a down his rookie season, learning behind starter Jon Kitna. And Palmer has turned out all right. What better player to mentor Mettenberger than a guy who went through the same thing?

Which is why the Cardinals would be better off long term if they drafted a quarterback like Mettenberger and let him learn from Moore, Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and then let him take over in 2015.

The future will be here before Arizona knows it and it looks like Zach Mettenberger.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the 2013 season not even in the books for three weeks, it was time to decide who was the best of the best for the Arizona Cardinals this past year. My inaugural postseason awards were both standard and outside the box.

So, without further ado, I present my 2013 awards:

Offensive MVP: Michael Floyd, wide receiver. It may not be the popular choice, but Floyd was the most valuable player to the Cardinals offense. His breakout year eased the pressure on Larry Fitzgerald and caused teams to think twice about double or triple teaming Fitzgerald -- even though most did. And what did Floyd do? Just catch 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, setting career highs in just his second season. But that wasn't his most important contribution to the Arizona offense. For a team that was struggling to secure first downs, especially when the down marker ticked to third, Floyd was a beacon of first-down hope. Between weeks 10 and 16, he had 25 straight receptions that went for first downs. And of his final 34 catches, 30 moved the chains. There's not a bigger impact a player could have, with the exception of catching touchdowns, than giving his team a fresh set of downs. Add on the game-winning touchdown against Seattle and Floyd's contributions to the offense were worthy of him being the offensive MVP.

[+] EnlargeDansby
AP Photo/John CordesKarlos Dansby was all over the field this season -- setting career highs in tackles and interceptions while notching 6.5 sacks.
Defensive MVP: Karlos Dansby, linebacker. In his return to the Cardinals, Dansby proved age is just a number. He had a career season despite missing out on the Pro Bowl yet again. As the on-field conductor of the Cardinals' sixth-ranked defense, Dansby didn't just put his teammates in the right positions to make plays, he went out and made them himself, impacting games from all three levels of the defense. His career-high 114 solo tackles and four interceptions to accompany his 6.5 sacks proved his versatility. To top off a career year, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Dansby came into training camp slimmer than he's been and it was evident in his ability to get in the backfield and chase defenders from sideline-to-sideline. And when he dropped back in coverage, he got his hands on the ball. His overall impact from front to back and side to side made him worthy of being the defensive MVP.

Special teams MVP: Justin Bethel, gunner. This was almost a no-brainer but I did consider punter Dave Zastudil. But how many gunners have special teams game plans built for them? He was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 21 special teams tackles, four downed punts inside the opponents' 10 and two blocked field goals. He also recovered a muffed kickoff. Bethel's ability to get past double teams constantly made him a threat to kick returners. Opponents would normally double and often triple team Bethel, forcing him out-of-bounds before he had a chance to break free. When he had a step on his defenders, it was tough for them to catch Bethel, who'd often bring down kick returners within a few yards of them fielding the punt which, in turn, would give the Cardinals great field position.

Assistant coach of the year: Brentson Buckner, defensive line coach. Buckner had a tough task. For as well as the defensive line did in pass rush situations in 2012, it was equally as bad against the run finishing 28th. He challenged the defensive line in an early-season meeting and it responded by becoming the No. 1 run defense in the league. Buckner's experience as an NFL player and his honesty endeared him to his charges, who laid it on the line for Buckner.

Rookie of the year: Tyrann Mathieu, safety. He made an instant impact, forcing a fumble in his first game, and didn't slow down until a knee injury forced ended his season after Week 13. Mathieu's athleticism and nose for the ball earned him playing time and his versatility kept him on the field. Other Cardinals' rookies contributed but none had as large of an impact as quickly as Mathieu.

Best offseason move: Trading for Carson Palmer. Without Palmer, all the interceptions included, where would the offense have been? In the hands of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Capable, I'm sure, but Stanton hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010. Palmer's addition gave the Cardinals a reliable thrower who made passes that hadn't been completed in Arizona since the Kurt Warner days.

Best in-season move: Trading Levi Brown. Signing tight end Jake Ballard, receiver Brittan Golden or linebacker Marcus Benard were also considered. But trading Brown set the Cardinals up for future success. He was moved after Week 4 and was instantly replaced by second-year tackle Bradley Sowell, a more athletic and nimble tackle, who found his footing along with the rest of the line midway through the season. Sowell brought athleticism and the ability to slow down an outside pass rush.

Veteran of the year (8-plus years): John Abraham, linebacker. Initially signed to be a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was thrown into the starting rotation after Week 3 and proved to everyone, including himself, that at 35 he still had what it takes to be an every-down player. All he did was have 11.5 sacks, to move onto the top 10 in history and earn his fourth Pro Bowl nod.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The NFL’s active leader in sacks may be stuck at 133.5 until next season.

Arizona Cardinals linebacker John Abraham will be a game-time decision because of a groin injury that has sidelined him from practice this week, coach Bruce Arians said.

Abraham
“It’s pretty sore,” Arians added.

While Abraham may be out, Arizona could get back safety Rashad Johnson from a high-ankle sprain he suffered against Tennessee. Johnson practiced Thursday for the first time in two weeks and “did very well,” Arians said.

Backup quarterback Drew Stanton practiced in full but was added to the injury list because of a knee issue. Linebacker Daryl Washington was also added to the injury report with an ankle injury.

Guard Daryn Colledge (back), Johnson and Washington were limited.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (shoulder), tight end Rob Housler (groin), running back Rashard Mendenhall (finger), quarterback Carson Palmer (right elbow/ankle), tackle/guard Nate Potter (ribs) and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (groin) were upgraded from limited to full.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

October, 13, 2013
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SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the Cardinals’ 32-20 loss to the 49ers.

What it means: The Arizona Cardinals showed Sunday they aren’t a pushover in the NFC West. Even though the offense started out looking pitiful with turnovers , the defense carried the Cardinals while making the San Francisco 49ers look human. By playing the Niners tough until about seven minutes left, the Cardinals put the Seattle Seahawks on notice, essentially telling them that no matter the venue, their defense will come to play. Although the offense continued to have its issues, especially in the first quarter and a half, it showed what coach Bruce Arians’ offense could accomplish, when tweaked.

Stock Watch: Rookie running back Andre Ellington has been establishing himself all season, but he showed what he could do when being entrusted during crucial situations. Ellington provided a burst, the proverbial lightning to veteran Rashard Mendenhall’s thunder. He scored his first career rushing touchdown on a 15-yard run in the second quarter in which he cut out wide to the right and turned on the jets to hit the end zone.

Two Palmers: Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer may very well have turned a corner. He started horrendously Sunday, throwing two interceptions in the first nine minutes of the game, and then was sacked early in the second quarter for a safety, although that wasn’t totally Palmer’s fault. But then something happened. With backup Drew Stanton looking like he was preparing to get his first snaps since 2010, Palmer executed a nearly perfect three-play drive that pulled the Cardinals within 15-14 late in the first half. Palmer’s resurgence continued in the second half, when he threw a touchdown to Michael Floyd off his back foot, a play that has been intercepted in the past.

Drive killers: It’s not just interceptions that hampered the Cardinals on Sunday. Two fumbles derailed drives when Arizona needed them most. In the third, Larry Fitzgerald's fumble at San Francisco's 23-yard line ended a drive that could've given the Cardinals the lead. And then in the fourth quarter, Alfonso Smith fumbled his only carry of the game, ending a drive that would’ve helped cut into the Niners’ lead. To compete in the NFC West, of all divisions, the Cardinals need to keep their hands on the ball.

What's next: The Cardinals face their second straight NFC West foe in a week when they host Seattle at 5:25 p.m. MT Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Bruce Arians knows how to present a joke.

He looks like a seasoned comic in front of the media, knowing what will draw laughs and what won’t. So when he approached one of his punch lines Monday afternoon, he was in perfect form. He teed it up. Nailed it. Then waited for a reaction.

But there wasn’t anything except for a bit of stunned silence.

“Offensively,” Arians set it up, “it was putrid.”

Pause.

Silence.

This wasn’t a joke, however. This was an apt description of not just the Cardinals’ inability to move the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4 but their offensive struggles as a whole this season.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCoach Bruce Arians is optimistic that WR Larry Fitzgerald and his teammates will soon fully grasp Arizona's offensive scheme.
“That’s a good defense,” Arians said, referring to the Bucs, “but we continually harmed ourselves with mental errors, which sounds very repetitive but it is getting repetitive for me too.”

The Cardinals rank 26th in total yards per game, 27th in rushing yards per game and 17th in passing yards per game. But there’s more. They’re 30th in third-down percentage and 31st in red zone percentage.

It sounds like a broken record, but Arizona continues to struggle on third down, converting just 29 percent this season. The two teams worse than the Cardinals, the St. Louis Rams and the New York Giants, are 1-3 and 0-4, respectively. Despite struggling to move the ball, Arizona has been able to manage a .500 record.

While a lot of that has to do with the defense, the offense, when executed properly, has shown to be an effective force. It moves the ball quickly while eating up chunks of yards with a balance of running and passing.

But it’s not just poor decisions and third downs that have derailed more drives this season than Arians can count. The Cardinals don’t yet have a complete understanding of the offense after six months of learning it.

“I haven’t seen it take this long ever,” Arians said. “We’ve looked at it long and hard as a coaching staff, if we’re asking too much, and everyone decided obviously not. We just have to do a better job as coaches and players.”

Backup quarterback Drew Stanton watched Arians install the same offense last season in Indianapolis as the offensive coordinator then interim head coach. There are small changes this season, mainly because of personnel and opponents, but the Colts didn't take as long to pick it up.

Arians wants to create mismatches as often as possible, and that philosophy has changed how players like wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald approach the offense. Fitzgerald has been moved around the field for the first time in his career, lining up out wide, in the slot, off the line and everywhere in between.

He struggled to pick up the added positions during organized team activities and minicamp, but after an entire offseason, he figured out where he needed to be. Yet Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd can still be seen changing positions at the last second before a snap or figuring out where to go coming out of a huddle.

“At times there are moments where there’s a little bit of confusion,” Fitzgerald said. “I think guys, overall, are getting better at digesting things that are going on. This week, hopefully, it’ll be a lot sharper.

“We’re going to do some things to make things a little bit easier for guys to go out there and play fast.”

Last week, there were 180 plays on the quarterbacks’ wristbands, a high number around the league.

“I don’t think it’s any more complicated than it has been in the past from my limited knowledge of last year’s experience,” Stanton said.

But complicated it still is.

Even for Fitzgerald, who’s known for being among the most studious players in the NFL, the variances in Arians’ offense are a lot to comprehend.

“Just a lot of nuances. Just a lot of just specific things,” Fitzgerald said. “A route could be run one way in this coverage, and it could be run a different way in [that coverage] based on coverage. There’s a lot of different things you have to pick up pre-snap and also while you’re running the route.

“Once you get it, it’s pretty indefensible because they can’t guess right. They can’t play coverages that’s gonna take it away if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do and you’re on the same page as your quarterback. We’re just trying to get to that point where it’s just second nature. It’s like just playing ball with your buddies in the backyard, and that’s how we want to get to.”

It will take practice, Arians said.

One thing Arians has stressed since he arrived was the importance of all 11 players being on the same page. If 10 are and one isn’t, quarterback Carson Palmer said, the play will be a dud.

So far, the Cardinals have had more plays with 10 men on the same page instead of 11, Palmer added.

For weeks, the general feeling has been the Cardinals are one play away from their offense churning out points and eating up yards on every drive. Whether it’s converting a third down or finishing in the red zone, it always comes down to one play. In practice, those plays are being finished and mistakes aren’t being made, just in games.

Palmer can’t figure out why. Neither can Arians. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin sees it too. Some Cards are picking up the offense faster than others, but the offensive flashes during the past two weeks have proved to Goodwin what can happen once all 11 players are on the same page.

“Trust me,” Goodwin said, “the play would work.”

A wild ride: Nine QBs in 18 months

September, 3, 2013
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Does the Jets' quarterback situation make your head spin? Welcome to the club.

The last 18 months have been like a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone. We're talking about nine quarterbacks, three free-agent signings, three cuts, two trades, one retirement and one contract extension. Pop a dramamine, and relive the madness:

UNDER GM MIKE TANNENBAUM

March 12, 2012: The Jets profess their faith in Mark Sanchez, rewarding a mediocre season with a three-year contract extension -- a total package of five years, $58 million.

March 16: They sign former Lions backup Drew Stanton to serve as Sanchez's primary backup, giving him a $500,000 signing bonus.

March 22: Stunning the NFL, the Jets trade for Tim Tebow and name him the No. 2 backup. Hello, quarterback controversy. Stanton immediately requests his release.

March 24: Stanton is traded to the Colts. He makes a half-million bucks for a week of doing nothing.

2012 season: Pick a day, any day. Dysfunction reigns throughout the season.

UNDER GM JOHN IDZIK

March 12, 2013: On the one-year anniversary of their commitment to Sanchez, the Jets sign veteran David Garrard to compete with Sanchez for the starting job. Team officials are blown away by his workout, downplaying (or ignoring) his chronic knee condition. Privately, they say he has a good chance to win the job.

April 27: They draft Geno Smith in the second round, changing the landscape of the position. Idzik, with a straight face, calls it an open competition with six QBs -- Smith, Sanchez, Tebow, Garrard, Greg McElroy and neophyte Matt Simms.

April 30: After showing up for two weeks of off-season workouts, Tebow finally gets his release -- a foregone conclusion.

May 15: Unable to make it through a month of OTAs, Garrard announces his retirement, citing chronic knee pain -- an unexpected snag in Idzik's grand plan.

Aug. 9: Smith sprains an ankle in his first preseason game. Another snag.

Aug. 24: Sanchez suffers a significant shoulder injury because of Rex Ryan's controversial decision to play him in the fourth quarter behind the second-team line -- yet another snag in the plan. This time, it's a $715,000 mistake. Read on.

Aug. 28: The Jets sign Packers castoff Graham Harrell, giving them five quarterbacks. The depth chart is growing at a time when most teams are cutting down.

Aug. 31: McElroy is waived with an injury. Simms, their best quarterback in the preseason, makes the 53-man roster.

Sept. 1: The Jets quietly fly the well-traveled Brady Quinn into town for a workout.

Sept. 2: With Sanchez expected to miss a few weeks, the Jets sign Quinn to a one-year deal, probably for the $715,000 veteran minimum. Harrell is released. Quinn is expected to open the season as the No. 2 quarterback, essentially filling Tebow's role. That's interesting because Quinn wasn't good enough to beat out Tebow in 2011 with the Broncos.

This can only happen to the Jets.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener, which they led 17-0 when I filed this late in the fourth quarter:

1. Palmer's debut: New quarterback Carson Palmer completed four of six passes for 77 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a 149.3 passer rating. He certainly looked like the upgrade Arizona sought from its previous quarterbacks. Both incomplete passes were deeper attempts on third down. Palmer found Andre Roberts for a 38-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers' starting defense (Arizona was tied for last in the NFL with three passes of 38-plus yards last season). Palmer also found Larry Fitzgerald for a 21-yard gain and Michael Floyd for an 18-yard gain. When backup Drew Stanton threw a touchdown pass to Jaron Brown, the Cardinals had as many scoring passes as the 2012 team managed through two-plus preseason games. Nearly 12 minutes remained in the second quarter.

2. Mathieu and the DBs: The Cardinals are building their secondary around young defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both made impact plays in this game. Peterson, the fifth player selected in the 2011 draft, picked off Green Bay backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Mathieu, a third-round choice this year, broke up a pass with a hard hit early in the game. He later collected a 12-yard sack on a blitz from the slot. Mathieu also provided a 23-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. He and Peterson could be good together for a long time.

3. Running back picture: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington did not play. Alfonso Smith carried 10 times for 21 yards and didn't appear to have much room for running. Rookie Stepfan Taylor looked good picking up 14 yards on one of his carries. However, the Cardinals did not run the ball well in this game. They did not find out much about their running backs.
A newly re-signed Tarvaris Jackson will compete against Brady Quinn for the No. 2 job behind Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback Russell Wilson.

The way those players performed in their most recent starts suggests the team would be better off with Jackson as the starter if Wilson became unavailable.

We could make that case by noting that Jackson posted a 7-7 record with Seattle in 2011, his most recent season as a starter, while Quinn went 1-7 with Kansas City last season. But if we wanted a breakdown more specific to the quarterbacks, we could revisit a method we used when estimating NFC West quarterback values about five weeks ago.

That method suggests Wilson's performance for the full 2012 season provided about 3.8 additional victories relative to the 2011 version of Jackson and an additional 6.5 victories relative to the 2012 version of Quinn, based upon Total QBR scores for those players.

Teams posting Total QBR scores around 50 can expect to win about half the time. That baseline allows for calculating how many added victories a quarterback provides or takes away over the course of a 16-game season and relative to another player.

In the Seattle example, we start by averaging the single-game QBR scores for Wilson last season. The result was 63.9. We then average the single-game scores for the 14 games Jackson started in 2011 (40.1) and subtract the total from 63.9. The result rounds to 23.77. We then take 23.77 percent of 16 games to determine how many victories Wilson would provide over Jackson, based upon how each played in his last season as a starter.

By this measure, Wilson added 3.8 victories over what Jackson would have provided over a 16-game schedule if he had been the Seahawks' starter instead of Wilson, and had he performed the way he did in 2011. The calculation for Quinn goes like this: Wilson's average QBR score (63.9) minus Quinn's average QBR score last season (23.0875) equals 40.8125, which taken as a percentage of 16 games equals 6.53 additional victories with Wilson.

The difference between Jackson in relation to Wilson (minus 3.8 victories) and Quinn in relation to Wilson (minus-6.5 victories) works out to 2.7 victories -- say, the difference between 8-8 and 5-11 if the team played Jackson instead of Quinn over a full season.

The differences could become even more pronounced if we considered other factors. For example, Wilson had a 78.2 average QBR score over his final nine games. He might be more apt to play near that level in the future than how he played in the first seven games of his career. Also, Jackson played much of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle. Taking those things into account would change the calculations.

Note that averaging the single-game QBR scores for Wilson produced a number (63.9) that is lower than his cumulative QBR score for the season (69.6, as displayed in the first chart). We would see similar disparities if we compared a basketball player's average game-by-game shooting percentages to his cumulative percentages. Making both foul shots in one game and missing all four attempts in another would produce a 50 percent average and a 33 percent rate.

The chart below shows stats for current NFC West backup quarterbacks since 2008.

The St. Louis Rams said they would rather sign a couple big-money free agents than several mid-priced ones.

Quality over quantity was the rationale.

That approach helps explain why the Rams rank sixth among NFL teams in contractual commitments for unrestricted free agents signed from other teams this offseason despite landing just two of them in Jake Long and Jared Cook.

Maximum potential contract value can be misleading, but in general, the more aggressive teams will commit larger total dollar values toward free agents. As the chart shows, St. Louis ranks relatively high in total dollar values despite signing fewer UFAs than any other team ranked among the top 10.

ESPN.com's John Clayton takes a closer look in his column Sunday. While the Rams focused their UFA resources narrowly, the Arizona Cardinals added a long list of players at relatively low cost. Clayton liked the approach from a value standpoint.

"Three winners emerged from the post-frenzy shopping market -- Arizona, Chicago and Tennessee," Clayton writes. "Based on playing time from last year, I'd give the Cardinals the slight edge from the post-March 17 market."

The chart below, updated from the version published here March 27, lists playing time and contract information for all the UFA players Arizona has signed or re-signed this offseason.

Sizing up West's backup QB contracts

April, 18, 2013
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NFC West teams have added four veteran backup quarterbacks with regular-season game experience this offseason.



The chart provides 2013 contract info for each.

Guaranteed money serves as the strongest indicator for where a veteran player stands on a team when he signs a deal in free agency.

It's pretty obvious the Arizona Cardinals plan for Drew Stanton to be their clear No. 2 quarterback based on his $2 million guarantee.

The other players listed in the chart have fewer assurances from a financial standpoint.

The San Francisco 49ers' Colt McCoy, acquired by trade from Cleveland, is still playing under the rookie contract he signed with the Browns. The guaranteed money listed for him in the chart was paid as a signing bonus in 2010.

Brady Quinn (Seattle) and Kellen Clemens (St. Louis) signed for guarantees totaling less than $100,000 combined. Clemens could face the strongest competition for the No. 2 role given that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has suggested Austin Davis could serve in the No. 2 role even with Clemens in the picture.

Of the four quarterbacks listed, only Stanton is signed beyond 2013.

Reassessing the Colts' needs

April, 3, 2013
4/03/13
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The Colts have restocked their roster in a big way since free agency opened, adding 10 veterans from the outside.

Some are sure to be upgrades, like right tackle Gosder Cherilus and safety LaRon Landry. Others require a wait-and-see approach as we find out how strongside linebacker Erik Walden and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois fare with expanded roles.

Despite an 11-win season, Indianapolis headed toward the second season of Ryan Grigson as the general manager, Chuck Pagano as the head coach and Andrew Luck as the quarterback with some significant holes.

With all the additions, the pressure to find answers at certain spots in the draft is significantly lightened. That makes for a far better atmosphere in which to draft.

Here’s my assessment of what they’ve done to fill roster gaps and what now rank as the team’s primary needs with the draft drawing near.

[+] EnlargeGosder Cherilus
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsGosder Cherilus, left, provides an infusion of talent to a Colts O-line that was lacking it last season.
Offensive line -- Cherilus is a physical player who can help change and set a better tone for a position that simply didn’t have enough talent last season. Donald Thomas will upgrade a guard slot as well. Is it enough? I think they should add at least one more lineman in the draft who can contend for a guard spot or at center.

Cornerback -- Greg Toler could be a fine second starter, but they qualify as three deep at best with Vontae Davis, Toler and Darius Butler. They have to have another solid guy in the mix, and the draft should provide someone who will automatically qualify as better than Cassius Vaughn.

Wide receiver -- Can they get more out of Darrius Heyward-Bey than they got out of Donnie Avery? I would think so. Is DHB going to be the ultimate successor to Reggie Wayne? I highly doubt it. They need to be looking for that guy to go with T.Y. Hilton, their lone long-term sure thing at the position.

Safety -- LaRon Landry is a significant upgrade over Tom Zbikowski. He and Antoine Bethea should be a nice tandem. Joe Lefeged is fine as depth. But in a good safety year and with Bethea heading into his eighth season, I think it would be a good move to add a young player at the spot.

Outside linebacker -- Walden was a controversial addition, but they’ve emphasized his ability to set the edge. That does not make for much of a pass rush opposite Robert Mathis. I hope they aren’t counting on big production from Jerry Hughes or Lawrence Sidbury. They still need a pass-rushing outside 'backer.

Defensive end -- They resigned Fili Moala and hope Cory Redding will be more durable. Newcomer Ricky Jean Francois could start outside and move inside in nickel. Another guy in that mix wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Running back -- Vick Ballard, Donald Brown and Delone Carter are the three-pack that will return. Ballard showed a lot of promise, but the other two are not sure things. Bruce Arians’ offense didn’t throw to backs much. Pep Hamilton’s offense will do so more. If Grigson sees a versatile back as a value, I expect he’ll add one.

Defensive tackle -- Went from being a need to not being a need. Jean Francois will play some tackle and some end. Aubrayo Franklin can be an early-down run-stopper. And they expect Brandon McKinney and Josh Chapman to be healthy and equipped to contribute. They could have a lot of options at this spot who fit the 3-4 front.

Quarterback -- They did well replacing Drew Stanton with Matt Hasselbeck as Luck’s backup. The No. 2 was never going to come from the draft.
The Bruce Arians quote file grew Tuesday to include this doozy from the Arizona Cardinals' coach: "I think our quarterback room is as strong as any in the National Football League."

That quarterback room became much better Tuesday when the Cardinals acquired veteran Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders. Still, Palmer and the other quarterbacks on the Cardinals' roster combined for 23 touchdown passes, 23 interceptions and a 5-15 starting record last season. Backup Drew Stanton did not contribute to those figures while backing up Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, but still, there isn't a team in the NFC West that would trade its quarterbacks for the ones on Arizona's roster.

Comments such as this one from Arians are forming a pattern, as if Arians is breathing confidence into the organization following a rough three-year run that bottomed out with Arizona losing 11 of its final 12 games last season.

Arians has been available for interviews periodically, and already he has produced great copy. He used the word "elite" to describe much-scrutinized left tackle Levi Brown. He said newly acquired running back Rashard Mendenhall can "carry a team to a Super Bowl" title. Before adding Palmer, Arians said the team could win a championship with Stanton starting. He has said the Cardinals, losers of their last five NFC West games dating to the 2012 opener, should be fine in the NFC West because the team has defeated division rivals in the not-too-distant past.

"We've beaten these teams in the last two years, so it's not like they are dominating us," Arians said.

Suffice to say, Arians does not see the Cardinals being in rebuilding mode.

"I never use that word," he said. "We’re reloading, not rebuilding. We refused to use that word in Indianapolis last year with 37 players turned over on the roster. Robert Mathis said, 'I ain’t got time to rebuild.' We were in the playoffs. There is no rebuilding going on. We are just plugging in new faces and different faces. This team is not very far off."

That was apparent to Arians, the only NFC West head coach with a Super Bowl ring, when the Cardinals opened their offseason conditioning program Tuesday.

"That's as good a looking football team as I've seen on the first day," he said.

Note: The 49ers have added cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on a one-year deal. More on that in a bit.
NFC West teams have drafted five quarterbacks, acquired two by trade, shipped off four others for draft choices and spent roughly $130 million on the position -- all since 2010.

It's been a wild ride.



In 2012 alone, every team in the division but the St. Louis Rams benched a quarterback earning at least $6.5 million per season for ones earning between $490,000 and $1.3 million annually. Two of the three displaced starters have already been released (Kevin Kolb) or traded (Alex Smith). The third, Matt Flynn, appears on his way from the Seattle Seahawks to the Oakland Raiders in a trade that is reportedly imminent.

Signs of progress abound. Consider this juxtaposition: Two current NFC West starters finished their 2012 seasons in the Pro Bowl (Russell Wilson) or Super Bowl (Colin Kaepernick). Two castoffs from the division, Kolb and 2012 trade subject Tarvaris Jackson, are competing to start for the Buffalo Bills in 2013.

So much has changed since Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, Sam Bradford and Smith opened the 2010 season as starting quarterbacks for NFC West teams. Only Bradford remains. Though firmly established as the Rams' starter, his long-range career trajectory appears less defined. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals are still searching for Kurt Warner's worthy heir, a process that has led them to Drew Stanton until further notice.

The following team-by-team accounting shows what's been ventured and gained at quarterback for NFC West teams over the past three years. The period dates to Warner's retirement, Pete Carroll's hiring as Seahawks coach and Bradford's selection as a No. 1 overall draft choice. I've ordered the teams by cash spent.

St. Louis Rams

Cash spent on QBs: $48.4 million

Top earners: Bradford ($42.05 million), A.J. Feeley ($4.95 million), Kellen Clemens ($863,087), Austin Davis ($395,000) and Tom Brandstater ($132,352).

Draft capital invested: The Rams used the first pick of the 2010 draft for Bradford. They have not drafted a quarterback subsequently.

QBs added by trade: None.

QBs subtracted by trade: None.

Comment: The current collective bargaining agreement came along too late for the Rams. They're stuck paying Bradford $50 million in guaranteed money because the old wage scale was so much more generous for high draft choices. Last year, Andrew Luck got $22.1 million in guarantees as the first overall pick. So, while the Rams drafted Bradford to rescue their franchise, the financial obligation is making it tougher for the team to build its roster in a fundamentally different economic environment. Of course, it's all good if Bradford produces the way the Rams think he can produce.

Arizona Cardinals

Cash spent on QBs: $28.7 million

Top earners: Kolb ($20.5 million), Anderson ($3.25 million), Stanton ($2 million), John Skelton ($1.5 million), Rich Bartel ($920,000), Max Hall ($325,000), Brian Hoyer ($108,529), Ryan Lindley ($105,698). Releasing Matt Leinart right before the 2010 season spared the team from paying him.

Draft capital invested: The Cardinals drafted Skelton in the fifth round and Lindley in the sixth. Arizona also parted with a second-round choice when acquiring Kolb.

QBs added by trade: Kolb. The Cardinals sent a second-round choice and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadelphia Eagles for Kolb.

QBs subtracted by trade: none.

Comment: Signing Kolb to a deal averaging better than $12 million per season appears foolish in hindsight. Other unproven quarterbacks haven't gotten that much since the Kolb trade went down right before training camps opened in 2011. However, the Cardinals badly needed a quarterback at the time. They paid what they felt was necessary to get the quarterback they wanted. Arizona needed Kolb to cooperate on a contract extension to facilitate the trade. That meant paying a premium. New coach Bruce Arians has said the team can win with Stanton, but this situation appears fluid. Carson Palmer's name has come up as a potential alternative. Arizona holds the seventh overall pick in the draft. It's still early.

Seattle Seahawks

Cash spent on QBs: $28.4 million

Top earners: Matt Flynn ($8 million), Charlie Whitehurst ($8 million), Hasselbeck ($6.75 million), Jackson ($4 million), Wilson ($1 million), Josh Portis ($375,000), J.P. Losman ($296,470). The team traded Seneca Wallace before Wallace was due to receive salary compensation for 2010.

Draft capital invested: The Seahawks used a third-round choice to select Wilson. They used another third-rounder in the Whitehurst deal, which also included a swap of second-round choices.

QBs added by trade: Whitehurst. The third-round pick sent to San Diego in the Whitehurst deal was for one year in the future. The exchange of second-round picks involved choices that year.

QBs subtracted by trade: Wallace and Jackson. Seattle traded Wallace and Jackson for seventh-round picks. The team figures to get something in return for Flynn.

Comment: Landing Wilson in the third round and daring to start him as a rookie turned the Whitehurst, Jackson and Flynn experiments into footnotes. Seattle has done a good job getting something in return for its castoff quarterbacks despite failing to draft players at the position in 2010 or 2011. The Rams and Cardinals haven't been able to do that in recent seasons. What the Seahawks get in return for Flynn will factor into this analysis as well. Whitehurst returned a seventh-round compensatory choice from the NFL after leaving Seattle to re-sign with the Chargers.

San Francisco 49ers

Cash spent on QBs: $24.7 million

Top earners: Alex Smith ($15.9 million), David Carr ($3.9 million), Kaepernick ($3.2 million), Scott Tolzien ($844,960), Troy Smith ($545,000), Josh Johnson ($350,000). The 49ers released Johnson before he played for the team, but by then the team had paid a $350,000 signing bonus to him. Shaun Hill was traded before the 49ers had to pay any of his 2010 salary. Nate Davis was on the practice squad in 2010.

Draft capital invested: The 49ers used a second-round choice for Kaepernick after using fourth- and fifth-rounders to trade up. They have drafted no other quarterbacks over the past three years.

QBs added by trade: None.

QBs subtracted by trade: Alex Smith and Hill. The 49ers fared well in landing a high second-round choice from Kansas City in the Smith trade. Trading Hill returned a seventh-round pick from the Detroit Lions.

Comment: San Francisco would have considered releasing Alex Smith for salary-cap reasons if no trade had come together. Getting a premium pick in return was commendable. Put another way, Smith's departure armed the 49ers with a pick roughly equivalent to the one used for selecting Kaepernick. The Hill trade wasn't as fortunate because it meant proceeding with Carr as the backup. Overall, though, the 49ers put themselves in prime position at quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh's push to retain Smith in 2011 worked out well. So did the decision to replace Smith with Kaepernick.

Cardinals could have options at No. 7

March, 28, 2013
3/28/13
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Anyone familiar with the Arizona Cardinals' recent offensive struggles can be forgiven for thinking the team absolutely, positively must select a quarterback with its 2013 first-round draft choice.



The Cardinals ranked last in Total QBR and NFL passer rating on their way to a 5-11 record.

But what if Arizona does not see a quarterback worth selecting when on the clock with the seventh overall choice? What if coach Bruce Arians is serious about Drew Stanton projecting as a quality starter?

A few years ago, Arizona might have been stuck with that seventh overall choice. Teams weren't all that eager to acquire picks that early because the rookie salary structure made those choices especially costly.

This year, the Cardinals could have some options. Contracts for highly drafted rookies have come down in price over the past two drafts. Teams could be more willing to acquire those choices.

Six of the top seven picks in 2012 changed hands.

One year does not make a trend, of course. Only two of the top 10 choices changed hands in 2011 even though the same favorable salary structure was in place. Still, the spike in trades near the top of the draft provides some precedent, at least.

The chart shows how many first-round picks were traded by year and by where those picks fell within the round. I checked to see if there were any strong positional tendencies associated with those trades. Nothing jumped out right away.

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