Making the cut: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is a steady force under center, but durability is a question mark.

"Making the Cut"

As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team's roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we're taking a look at the key players at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.

Player: Carson Palmer

Position: Quarterback

Age: 36

Experience: 14 years

Contract Status: 2016 salary: 17,875,000, 2017 salary: 20,675,000, 2018 salary: 4,375,000 (team option) 

2015 season quick review: At the age of 35, Palmer enjoyed his best season as a pro as the veteran led the Cardinals to a 13-3 record and set career highs in passing yards with 4,671 and passing touchdowns with 35. Palmer's connection with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald rejuvenated the team's offense as the pair synced up more than 100 times through the air last year. As the regular season came to a close, Palmer suffered a finger injury that drastically reduced his production and may have played a part in the eight interceptions he threw over the course of the final four games the Cardinals played. Palmer has struggled with durability concerns during his career, as his 2014 season was cut short due to an ACL injury.

Projected roster status: Palmer will be one of the three quarterbacks the Cardinals likely keep on the 53-man roster, and one of two quarterbacks as part of the 46 players active on game days.

Projected depth chart status: Palmer is the incumbent starter and one of the faces of the franchise, and barring an injury, Palmer should start all 16 games. 

Position group analysis: The Arizona Cardinals have handled their quarterback situation remarkably well in recent years, as Palmer's up-and-down career took a turn for the better upon his arrival in the desert in 2013. Though Palmer threw 22 interceptions during his first season with the franchise, he helped revive an offense that spent three seasons searching for Kurt Warner's eventual replacement. When Palmer went down with an ACL injury in 2014, the organization had a chance to see what career backup Drew Stanton could bring to the position, and Stanton proved he could handle the load and keep the offense afloat. It's rare for backup quarterbacks to earn a "dependable" label, but Stanton is a capable veteran who can be counted upon as a serviceable option in a time of need. Behind Stanton, the Cardinals have declared a competition for the third-string job, as Matt Barkley and undrafted free agent signee Jacob Coker will battle for the position during fall camp. 

Moving forward: The Cardinals' decision to pass on adding a quarterback in the NFL Draft was a vote of confidence in Palmer, whose age is surely forcing the organization to think about a future without Palmer under center. However, quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Drew Brees are playing into their late 30s with effectiveness, and Palmer is no exception. If Palmer remains healthy, there's no reason to believe he'll surrender his job as the starter before the end of the 2017 season. Palmer came to the Cardinals with the goal of leading the team back to the Super Bowl, and if he comes close to matching the success the Cardinals' offense enjoyed in 2015, the former No. 1 overall draft pick has the potential to lift Arizona to even greater heights.

Key skill: Palmer's deep ball

The Cardinals have a stable of receivers with elite speed, and Palmer takes more downfield chances than practically any other quarterback in the league. Arizona isn't afraid to throw over the top in any situation, and Palmer's combination of arm strength and accuracy typically gives receivers a chance to go up for a ball and make a play. Deep chances are enabled by Palmer's ability to identify coverages, which is what he's doing in the image below in a week 13 games against St. Louis.

In this situation, Palmer sees two defensive backs aligned in front of two Cardinals receivers, including John Brown who is highlighted in yellow. With a single high safety over the top and a corner near the line preparing for press-man coverage, Palmer identifies the situation and recognizes that if Brown ends up with one-on-one coverage, there's plenty of space along the sideline to guide his receiver open.

As soon as Brown beats the press at the line of scrimmage, Palmer locks in downfield because the single-high safety is too far away to come make a play on a ball thrown over the top. Because Brown is running at the numbers and not outside of them, Palmer can loft the ball along the sideline and put his pass in a place only Brown can make a play on it. With excellent protection from the offensive line, Palmer eventually steps up and lofts a pass that hits Brown in stride around the 50-yard line en route to a 68-yard gain.

Palmer's accuracy isn't exclusive to this type of downfield chance. The following week against Minnesota, we saw another example of what Palmer can do if he's given a clean pocket to work from. The Cardinals will take shots over the middle of the field, and in the image below, we see Palmer is set up with a chance to do that.

With the right amount of time to make a decision, Palmer threads the needle and throws the ball over the hands of a linebacker and in front of the deep safety to hit wide receiver Michael Floyd over the middle in stride for a 22-yard gain. The precision this ball is thrown with is remarkable, but it's the type of pass Palmer consistently makes when he's protected well and comfortable reading defensive coverages.

Overall value: It's easy to look at Palmer's contract and scoff at the $20 million he's set to make at age 37, but strong quarterback play comes at a premium in the NFL. Though Palmer is widely considered among the 10 best signal-callers in the game, Palmer won't find his 2016 salary among the top half of quarterbacks in the league. Deals franchises have given quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins and Brock Osweiler prove how much teams value players who even demonstrate potential, let alone production. Palmer's contract is significant, but it's necessary to pay quarterbacks well for franchises to contend on an annual basis. Palmer's contract has outstanding value for the Cardinals as long as he continues to play at a high level, especially considering the contract expires when Palmer will be 38 and be in a better position to contemplate retirement. 


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