On Saturday, the Arizona Cardinals announced their 53-man roster for the 2016 season and for the first time since Bruce Arians arrived in Arizona, the Cardinals will start a season with just two quarterbacks.
Arians has traditionally kept three signal-callers on the team's roster, but this season, the team elected to release third-string quarterback Matt Barkley who enjoyed a productive preseason and move forward with Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.
The move is somewhat unsurprising as more NFL teams have been moving toward a two-quarterback model while stashing a third player on their practice squad. After Barkley signed with the Chicago Bears' practice squad Sunday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Cardinals signed former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Zac Dysert to the team's practice squad.
Many Cardinals fans were frustrated with the news of the team releasing Barkley, especially because Stanton struggled during his preseason reps. Nevertheless, Arizona's Super Bowl hopes hinge on a healthy Palmer, so keeping the quarterback upright should be the Cardinals' primary concern.
Carson Palmer: Palmer enjoyed the best season of his NFL career in 2015 as the 14th-year veteran amassed career highs in passing yards with 4,671 and touchdowns with 35. Palmer also threw the fewest interceptions of his career during a season in which he played all 16 games, as his 11 picks helped him to his best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.
Palmer finished fourth among all NFL quarterbacks in passing yards, but was near the middle of the pack in completion percentage as he connected on just 63.7 percent of his passes. While a lower completion percentage than the league's elite quarterbacks may spark a cause for concern in some analysts, anyone who has followed the Cardinals' offense since Arians arrived knows Arizona is going to take its fair share of downfield attempts, which is going to eventually hurt a quarterback's completion percentage.
The greatest concern moving forward for Palmer is whether or not 2015 was an aberration for a quarterback rapidly approaching his late 30s. During the preseason, Palmer tossed a pair of alarming interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, and throughout his career, he's had a propensity for pairing perfectly timed deep balls with puzzling, unnecessary and completely preventable interceptions. Palmer has thrown 20 interceptions in three of his 13 professional seasons, and has fumbled at least six times in each complete season he's played since 2008.
Ball security is the primary factor in Palmer's success, and ultimately, the Cardinals' success. Sure, many teams including the 2015 Denver Broncos have won Super Bowls with quarterbacks who produced more turnovers than the average passer, but most of those teams had elite defenses. Do the Cardinals have the defense to withstand a two or three-interception game from Palmer in the playoffs? That could be the deciding factor in the team's performance this season.
Drew Stanton: After a largely disappointing preseason, Stanton hasn't done much to inspire confidence in the Cardinals' faithful. Regardless, his status as the team's No. 2 quarterback was never in jeopardy, even though Barkley appeared to narrow the gap as the preseason rolled along.
Stanton is entering his 10th NFL season, and fourth consecutive year with the Cardinals after moving over from Indianapolis with Arians following the 2012 season. In nine seasons to date, Stanton has recorded just 11 NFL starts, yet the Cardinals have made him one of the league's highest-paid backups for a player with his level of in-game experience. While Stanton isn't exactly making Colin Kaepernick-level money, the two-year, $6.5 million contract he signed this offseason suggests Arizona believes he's capable of taking the reins if Palmer does suffer an injury.
Stanton's most extensive experience came after Palmer tore his ACL during the 2014 season, as the Michigan State product started eight games and threw seven touchdowns compared to just five interceptions. Stanton performed reasonably well, before he too suffered an injury which left Arizona in a significantly compromised position.
Realistically speaking, it's difficult to imagine Stanton taking over and seamlessly filling in for Palmer, especially considering he struggled with accuracy issues during the preseason. But if Stanton is called upon this season, the best case scenario for the Cardinals is that Palmer is healthy for a potential playoff run and that Stanton's body of work consists of a maximum of two-to-three games. Much like other NFL teams, a serious injury to a starting quarterback would all but derail the Cardinals' title hopes.