Commentary

Cards should target Geno Smith

Even with Carson Palmer on roster, Arizona needs to plan for future at QB

Updated: April 2, 2013, 2:00 PM ET
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Drew Stanton was not going to be the answer.

Now that the Arizona Cardinals have reportedly completed a trade with the Oakland Raiders for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer -- and, just as critically, reworking Palmer's contract -- the team has made four significant moves regarding a quarterback this offseason. Released Kevin Kolb. Signed Stanton. Released John Skelton. Traded for Palmer.

There's one more thing the Cardinals need to do to solidify their quarterback room: Draft Geno Smith. Not for this season. For beyond.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/David SmithThe new rookie wage scale makes taking a quarterback such as Geno Smith in the first round less of a financial risk than it used to be.

Palmer is an adequate stopgap for a team playing uphill in the best division in the National Football League. The Cardinals aren't going to overtake the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks or even the St. Louis Rams this season. They aren't looking at the playoffs or likely even at a season that ends with a record over .500.

Arizona is building. Palmer can ease the process because he's a quarterback with 10 seasons of experience, is sturdy in the pocket, has a decent arm and is coming off a season in which he threw for more than 4,000 yards. He isn't the Carson Palmer of the mid-2000s, when he was in his prime. But he isn't washed up, either. Palmer can still play. He is smart enough to pick up new coach Bruce Arians' offense. He is a hard worker and a good teammate.

But the future? Palmer isn't the future. He isn't going to be the second coming of Kurt Warner, the last decent quarterback Arizona had. Like Palmer is now, Warner was 33 years old when he joined Arizona and endured the end of the Dennis Green era. Through perseverance, Warner finally secured his spot as the Cardinals' starter after having to fight through Josh McCown and Matt Leinart, of all people.

Warner played 61 games in five seasons for the Cardinals, and in 2008, at the age of 37, he completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 4,583 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Arizona won the NFC West with a 9-7 record, and then beat Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia en route to Super Bowl XLIII, where the Cardinals lost to Pittsburgh 27-23.

Palmer isn't Warner. He isn't a two-time NFL MVP. He hasn't won a Super Bowl, much less played in one. He hasn't even won a playoff game.

Palmer is a better option, with more experience and talent, than Stanton, no matter how comfortable Arians has insisted he is with Stanton possibly as the Cardinals' starter in 2013. Arians worked with Stanton last season in Indianapolis, where Stanton backed up rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Arians liked how Stanton practiced and how he grasped his offense, even though he didn't throw a single pass and hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since he was with Detroit in 2010.

Stanton was a necessary addition in March. Palmer will be a better one, once the trade happens. And Smith would round out the room.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Carson Palmer
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer passed for 4,018 yards for the Raiders last year.

If anyone can develop the West Virginia quarterback into an NFL-caliber performer, it is Arians. Some quarterbacks just have it, like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Luck, three guys Arians has had the good fortune to coach. But at the NFL owners meeting two weeks ago in Phoenix, Arians said he took the most pride in coaching Kelly Holcomb in Cleveland.

"Took him from a guy who basically was off the street to every time he played he'd throw for 400 yards," Arians said. (Holcomb actually had two 400-yard games for the Browns, including one in the playoffs.) "The bigger the game, the better. Drew Stanton reminds me a lot of Kelly. Ben, Peyton, Timmy [Couch], Andrew. All those guys, God gave them a ton of talent. And they had great families. You just tried to guide them and not screw them up. You get your hands on a guy like Kelly and you watch him grow and fight the battles, bringing somebody in to beat him out every year, then he shines.

"There are guys who don't have the hype who can play the position."

Smith certainly has more hype than Holcomb, and a higher upside to go with it. And Arians could help Smith maximize his potential.

The Cardinals hold the No. 7 pick in the draft. Even though new Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell want to create competition for Blaine Gabbert, it's hard to imagine they will use the No. 2 overall pick on Smith. Oakland is set. Philadelphia could be interested in Smith. Detroit no. Cleveland maybe.

If the Cardinals need to move up, then so be it. They can, and they should be willing to move if necessary.

No quarterback in the draft is a surefire starter the way Luck and Robert Griffin III were last year. Drafting Smith would be a risk. The Cardinals have other needs. They have to do something about their offensive line, which didn't do their quarterbacks any favors last season. If they don't fix their issues up front, it won't matter who the starting quarterback is in 2013, because that guy will be on his back, or worse.

But taking a risk on a quarterback in the first round isn't the gamble it was before the rookie wage scale. The dollars invested simply aren't the same. Arizona won't have to shell out Matthew Stafford money. Not even close. It is why Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley will probably come off the board in the first round, too, even though he's not necessarily a first-round talent.

Since 2010, Arizona has had six different players start at quarterback: Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer. Poor Larry Fitzgerald is in danger of wasting away in the desert. Arizona needs an offensive line that can keep the quarterback upright and a quarterback who can get Fitzgerald the ball.

Palmer can be a short-term fix. The Cardinals might as well also take a shot at finding the long-term answer, too.