TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been the question of the Arizona Cardinals’ offseason.
Will they draft a quarterback?
“We would love to have the next guy,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Whether or not it comes through the draft or through a trade, however he comes. We have [third-string quarterback] Matt Barkley, who I think has a future, but I’d like to have another guy that we can say, ‘Hey, here’s the future.’”
Looking for a quarterback has become an annual ritual in Tempe, but Arians believes the Cardinals could find what they need Friday or Saturday.
“There are some intriguing guys in the this draft but whether they’re there when we pick [is the question],” Arians said. “You’re not going to go and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to draft a quarterback in this position because we want one but he’s really two rounds later as his draft grade. That’s where you get in trouble.”
Finding the “future” has long been difficult. This year might be no different.
Arizona doesn’t have a second-round pick unless it trades its way into the round, leaving the Cards to start their quarterback quest in the third round. They’ll have options, though. Arians believes there are “about five” quarterbacks remaining who played at “solid programs” and fit his offense with their size and arm strength. He wouldn’t reveal specific names, but the quarterbacks still available who fit Arians’ criteria include Connor Cook, Jeff Driskel, Christian Hackenberg, Cardale Jones, Joel Stave and Nate Sudfeld.
Cook, Hackenberg and Jones are rated the highest, but Arizona will run the risk Friday of losing out on Cook or Hackenberg without a pick in the second round.
But this is where general manager Steve Keim earns his seven-figure salary. When he looks at those six names, he wants -- check that, needs -- to be in love with one of them enough to either trade up for or simply spend a pick on them.
“Supply and demand says one thing,” Keim said. “You have to take chances, but there’s something about that position that I’ve evaluated over the years, on the hits and the misses, and I always felt like I knew in my heart when the guys have had success because of certain things – not just the physical tools but the intangibles, the passion, the ability to process information and the leadership skills. That’s a whole different part of that position that’s hard to find.”
He was asked this offseason: “How important is mental toughness in quarterbacks?”
To which he answered: “That’s the million-dollar question.”
With quarterbacks, there are two muscles Arians said teams can’t evaluate during the pre-draft process -- the brain and the heart. All the tape in Arizona can’t show Arians what he needs to know about a player’s passion and how he processes information. He tried to get in the huddle with the quarterbacks during pre-draft interviews as often as he could. By doing that, he could evaluate what a quarterback knew, but he couldn’t evaluate how they were processing it in 30 seconds or less.
“So much of it is still a crap shoot,” Arians said.
During the 15-minute interviews at the combine, Arians had quarterbacks give him every call of their college’s two-minute offense.
“I can figure out a little bit of what he knows about his offense,” Arians said.
In longer interviews, Arians had quarterbacks recite their favorite plays in specific situations, such as third-and-5 or when the game is on the line. He had them predict what coverages they would anticipate -- otherwise known as “things that are totally relevant to just that one position.” By going over those situations enough times, Arians felt he got a sense for a player’s football IQ.
A quarterback could be Peyton Manning-smart, but it might not matter in 2016 in Arizona.
If the 36-year-old Palmer stays healthy, he’ll be the Cardinals’ quarterback. That’s good for 2016, but not so good for 2017 (or 2018 if Palmer keeps playing) and beyond.
“The only way to learn is to play,” Arians said. “I say that, we might draft one, and he’s going to hold a clipboard for a year, but I don’t believe in holding clipboards.
“You learn from practice. You have to get every snap. The trick with a young guy, especially if you’re going to sit him for a year, is getting him enough practice work to where he’s improving in your offense, not somebody else’s offense. When they’re sitting there and not playing, it’s very hard to develop them.”
If the Cardinals are set on developing a quarterback behind Palmer and backup Drew Stanton, Keim said Saturday would be the best time to draft him.
“You can’t be afraid to miss,” Keim said. “That’s the hardest position to find and you got to continue throwing darts. You can’t stop. You got to keep trying and you can’t be ashamed to miss. That’s part of the business.”
Life after Palmer is quickly approaching but, as it is with finding a quarterback in the draft, the Cardinals don’t know when it will arrive.
“We’ve talked about it a bunch,” Arians said. “Whether or not we’ll act on it, we’ll see.”