The Cardinals have zero quarterbacks signed to the active roster. It is the league’s most vital position and yet general manager Steve Keim and the new coaching staff are left searching for someone to list on the depth chart. Free agency and the draft are fast approaching and the hope for Arizona is that they will find their starter. The official league year has not yet begun, but already teams are making their moves for quarterbacks with Alex Smith being traded to Washington and the Vikings looking to offload all three of the quarterbacks on their team last season.
Today we take a look at three free agent targets the Cardinals should realistically consider at the quarterback position. While many have clamored for Kirk Cousins, the reality of his contract demands will price out the Cardinals. This is a look at financially feasible options who can step in and start for Arizona, whether as the franchise quarterback or as a bridge option.
Ideal Salary: $13-$15 million/year
Ideal Length: 3-4 years
Keenum played well with the Viking in 2017, leading the team to the conference championship. His play often lifted the time in big moments and served as a leader rather than as someone following along. Keenum threw for over 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns. The issue with Keenum is figuring out how well the quarterback will do away from Mike Shurmur. The veteran played his best football last season, but has eclipsed 2,500 yards passing just once. Keenum is also 30 years old and is looking at a major pay raise over his $2 million last season.
Ideal the Cardinals are able to get Keenum for a relatively shorter deal around three years and under $15 million a year. Currently the Cardinals sit around $25 million in cap space with needs at the offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, and quarterback. Getting Keenum for a deal near three years and a back loaded value of about $35-$40 million. Keenum won’t turn the Cardinals into a championship contender, but he will go a long way towards a playoff berth.
Ideal Salary: $7-$9 million/year
Ideal Length: 3 years
McCown is a bridge quarterback. He is not an ideal starter, but someone who will minimize mistakes and allow the defense to lead the team. McCown is someone Arizona fans are familiar with as he was with the team at the beginning of the 2000’s, going 10-12 as a starter over four seasons in the desert. He is best known for his late games heroics in the finale of the 2003 season against the Vikings. He brought the Cardinals back from an 11 point deficit in the game’s final two minutes before hitting Nate Poole for a 28 yard touchdown as time expired. It knocked the Vikings out of the playoff race.
The veteran quarterback spent 2017 with the Jets, finishing the year 5-8, with a completion percentage of 67.3 percent. The Jets were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL last season but was a surprise contender for most of the season. McCown played well as a game manager and utilized a strong defense to put the Jets in a position to win. In Arizona he’d have a better defense and better weapons on offense with David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. As previously mentioned, McCown would serve as a veteran quarterback to stabilize the offense while a young, likely newly drafted quarterback learns from the bench.
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Ideal Salary: $1-$1.5 million/year
Ideal Length: 1-2 years
Once the laughter has subsided there is a point to be made for Osweiler returning to the desert. The former Arizona State quarterback is likely nothing more than a game manager. Osweiler’s best stretch came with Denver as he stepped in for an injured Peyton Manning in 2015. That season he went 5-2 while throwing for just under 2,000 yards. Osweiler has struggled with his accuracy and forcing the football into coverage.
In Arizona, Osweiler would be asked to hand the ball off to a talented running back group and occasionally throw underneath routes to Fitzgerald. If the game plan is simple, Osweiler has the tools to successfully help the team win. The reason to go with Osweiler is to have him compete with a young quarterback for the starting position. While someone like McCown would serve as the obvious bridge, Osweiler would instead be the catalyst to help get the drafted quarterback get up to speed.
At the end of the day the Cardinals are going to make their move for who they feel will best set the team up for winning. Build for the future with a mid-round drafted quarterback teamed up with a smart veteran like McCown? Go with Case Keenum, brought in to take over for a few years? That would allow the team some time to locate their quarterback of the future.
The defense is ready to win now. The offense is a few pieces away from making the Cardinals a contender. Keim and the front office will have their hands full over the next couple of months. Time will tell who is right and if the Cardinals can return to winning.