The Arizona Cardinals quarterback room is as strong as any in the NFL following the acquisition of veteran signal caller Carson Palmer, if head coach Bruce Arians is to be believed. But that hasn't stopped the team from scoping out numerous quarterbacks in advance of this years upcoming draft.
The quarterback position in Arizona has been one of the teams biggest sore points for fans in recent years, and many had speculated that the team would be forced to spend their first round pick on a passer in the upcoming draft. Though Arians was reportedly hot on former Colt's backup Drew Stanton, and expressed a confidence in his ability to perform if needed, his hesitance to name him starter throughout lead many to suggest that he remained open handing the reigns to a rookie QB, taken with the number seven overall pick in the upcoming draft.
The signing of Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders, however, seemed to all but settle the argument—at 33 Palmer still gives the team at least two years of starting-caliber performances for the team before they need to find his replacement, when age relegates Palmer to backup or retirement calls. Given Arians reticence and ambivalence towards this years QB draft class, and perceived strength of the 2014 class, the idea of the Cardinals selecting a signal caller with anything more than a late-round pick seemed unlikely.
Yet, in the days which have followed, the Cardinals seem to be sending entirely the opposite message. After previously attending private workouts and pro-days, as well as spending more than a little time assessing QB's including Mike Glennon at the combine, the Cardinals have gone on to arrange private workout's for two of the top signal callers in the draft—Geno Smith, consensus number one passer, and Matt Barkley, most people's number two.
It is a confusing turn of events for a team who so boldly announced Palmer as their starter just days earlier. Neither man seemed to be on the Cardinals radar any more with their first round pick, but at the same time, few see either man falling back to the Cardinals in the second round either.
Indeed, so unlikely does it seem that the Cardinals will actually draft either man, that it has lead local beat reporter Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic to question if the team are actually just wasting their time.
Somers suggests that the team may be working on the assumption that Barkley may fall out of first round, or else are scouting him with a view to trading for him or picking him up in the future—though this assumes he will fail or be relegated to backup with whichever team he lands, and I have to question if the team would take a punt on another man's castoffs again.
But while this would be a plausible explanation for visiting his pro-day or taking a long hard look at him, and sitting down with him at the combine, flying a guy out to you and putting up him and his family on an long-shot that he will tumble or be trade fodder in years to come just doesn't ring true.
The reality is Barkley's arm doesn't really fit Arians' vertical offense, his shoulder injury remains too big a concern to risk, even in the second round, for a team "reloading" after an injury plagued 2012. The idea of the Cardinals taking Barkley at all seems like a stretch to most.
Yet wasting time meeting with Smith or Barkley they most certainly aren't.
The truth is, anyone in the top 10-15 of this years draft are a craps shoot, especially at quarterback. After the top three or four picks, the difference in the quality between the next 10 or so players, and those at the bottom of the first and top of the second rounds of the draft simply isn't that great. For a team like the Cardinals, trading back in the first round, and getting additional picks later in the draft is their best move by far. Priorities for the team are bolstering their offensive line and adding depth in their pass-rush, especially following the four game suspension of Pro Bowl linebacker Daryl Washington. However given the depth at both of these positions in the upcoming draft, the Cardinals can find potential starters into the third round and even beyond. When you're in the Cardinals position, quantity trumps quality, especially when the so-called quality at the top of the board has so many question marks surrounding it.
But in order to have the chance of trading back, the teams behind you need to feel as though it's worth their while to do so. They need to believe that you're about to take the guy that they really wanted.
If I had to guess, I'd say the Cardinals were playing mind games with those teams picking behind them. They're making sure everyone knows that they may take a QB with their first pick, just in case someone else wants Barkley or Smith enough to jump up and get him. They are inflating the value of their pick, and hoping that someone else is high enough on one of these players to pick up the phone and make them an offer.
Whether it will work or not remains to be seen—personally, I'm not so sure it will—but one thing is clear, come the seventh overall pick, don't expect to hear the names of any quarterbacks the Cardinals have been linked to called out.