"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: Drew Stanton
Experience: 10 seasons
Contract Status: 2016 salary: $2,500,000, 2017 salary: $4,000,000
2015 season quick review: Stanton's 2015 campaign was far less eventful than the 2014 season in which he started eight games in place of an injured Carson Palmer. With Palmer back to full health last year, Stanton played primarily at the end of games, as well as an extended week 17 performance against Seattle. The Seattle game was the only appearance Stanton made last season where he completed more than a single pass, and against the Seahawks, he went 8-for-18 with two interceptions in a 36-6 loss. While Stanton may not have shined last year, he kept the Cardinals' offense afloat after Palmer's ACL injury in 2014 and demonstrated the necessary skills to be a successful backup quarterback. Stanton went 5-3 in eight starts that season while throwing seven touchdowns compared to five interceptions, which are strong numbers for a career backup.
Projected roster status: Stanton is the clear cut second-string quarterback for the Cardinals, as the team will keep him on the 53-man roster and as the only quarterback aside from Palmer who is active on game days as a member of the 46-man squad.
Projected depth chart status: It would come as a significant surprise if either Matt Barkley or Jacob Coker surpassed Stanton during the course of the season and assumed the second-string job. The Cardinals obviously hope to avoid using a second quarterback, but if Palmer suffers an injury, all signs point to Stanton as the man who would step in and assume the quarterback duties.
Position group analysis: After general manager Steve Keim took over in 2013, the Cardinals' have enjoyed more stability at the quarterback position than at almost any other point in franchise history. Arizona doesn't have a rich tradition of excellent quarterbacks, but Palmer has provided the team with a bona-fide starter who immediately cleaned up a mess of a situation the franchise struggled with following Kurt Warner's retirement. Palmer isn't the only reason for the continuity, as Keim added Stanton as the team's backup and the Michigan State product helped the Cardinals' maintain their playoff push in 2014 following Palmer's injury. While Stanton ultimately suffered an injury that forced the Cardinals into an unfavorable situation, Stanton's presence as a backup gives the Cardinals' a capable signal-caller who can manage the offense if needed. As many teams search for an answer in the form of a starting quarterback, Arizona is as strong as any team when you consider the Cardinals' two-deep combo of Palmer and Stanton.
Moving forward: The Cardinals are closing in on difficult decisions regarding the future of the franchise, considering Palmer is 36 years old and Stanton is 32. Stanton signed a new contract this offseason to keep him in the fold through 2017, so Arizona knows both of its top two players at the position are signed through the next two seasons. Still, quarterback is a position requiring both short term and long term plans, and the Cardinals will need to begin formulating a plan for the future over the course of the next year. The team added Coker as an undrafted free agent, and will surely attempt to mold him into a potential contributor, but in all likelihood, the franchise will need to make a move through the draft or through free agency within the next two years to solidify the future.
Key skill: Experience
There are a variety of ways to measure the value of a backup quarterback in the NFL, but perhaps none are more important than experience. So many franchises rely on younger signal-callers who have been added through the draft to provide depth behind a starter, but the Cardinals follow a different strategy. While Stanton has only made 12 starts over a 10-year NFL career, his experience in practices, in film study and during his eight-start run during the 2014 season make him a valuable asset as a backup to Palmer. Stanton's arm strength and accuracy may not be good enough to merit consideration as an NFL starter, but when the situation calls for a backup quarterback, the Cardinals are confident they can count on a veteran presence who understands the intricacies of the team's offense and can execute when called upon.
Overall value: In looking at Stanton's contract compared to other backup quarterbacks around the NFL, it's safe to say the Cardinals have found a nice value in their No. 2 asset at the position. As we mentioned in our "Making the cut" piece on Palmer, quarterback play comes at a premium price in the NFL, and players who are far more productive than backup quarterbacks will often make less money. With that being said, Stanton will be the 38th highest paid quarterback in the league in 2016, and his contract is worth less than that of players with less service time and a relatively equivalent amount of on-field experience like Los Angeles' Case Keenum and Oakland's Matt McGloin. In the end, a team hopes it never has to realize the value of a backup quarterback, but Stanton's contract is right in line with league standards.