So often in the NFL, teams with a roster built to compete for the playoffs are derailed by quarterback play, as the league doesn't have enough top-tier quarterbacks able to maintain consistency against professional defenses.
Though Arizona Cardinals' signal-caller Carson Palmer took much of the blame for the team's 2016 struggles, the franchise's failure to earn a playoff bid wasn't a result of Palmer's individual failures.
Instead, the Cardinals were practically a rare case in today's NFL, a team that probably wouldn't have been in playoff contention at all if not for the way Palmer rallied an offense derailed by injuries for most of the season.
While the 14th-year veteran isn't known for his mobility, Palmer's ability to escape the pocket was critical for the Cardinals this season, as Palmer was under siege thanks to a porous offensive line that started eight different combinations in 16 games and five different players at right guard.
Palmer didn't produce eye-popping stats in 2016, but without consistent receiving threats behind his top target Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson, his 4,233 passing yards and 26 touchdowns revealed an impressive ability to handle adversity and play on even when hope of a potential playoff berth was essentially lost.
Palmer in 2016
For the fourth time in five seasons, Palmer racked up more than 4,000 passing yards, over 1,000 of which went to Fitzgerald, his fellow elder statesman on the Cardinals' roster. The chemistry the pair has developed since Palmer arrived in Arizona in 2013 is undeniable, and if Fitzgerald retires this offseason, it's hard to imagine Palmer won't give retirement serious consideration a year from now.
Nevertheless, the 37-year-old played fairly well for a quarterback in the latter stages of his career, despite throwing 14 interceptions and putting the ball on the ground with fumbles on 14 occasions. If not for a tendency to be more turnover-prone than some of his counterparts, Palmer's arm strength and game management skills would likely help him rank among the league's elite at the position, even this late in his career.
Still, the Cardinals did struggle because of Palmer's turnovers, especially on the road, where he lost his first five starts this season. At home, Palmer demonstrated much greater consistency, as his 11:3 touchdown to interception ratio inside the University of Phoenix Stadium this season showcases.
For much of the year, Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians said the team was fortunate to have Palmer leading the team's offense, as his stability kept the unit in check while players like Michael Floyd and John Brown struggled with consistency and others like Chris Johnson and Jaron Brown succumbed to injury.
Ultimately, Palmer finished with the ninth-most passing yards of any NFL quarterback, but because he was constantly under pressure and took the second most sacks in his career (40), his completion percentage (61 percent) and passer rating (87.0) ranked among the bottom half of starting quarterbacks in the league.
Palmer in 2017
While there's been speculation about Palmer's potential retirement, all signs point to the Cardinals' signal-caller returning for at least one more season with the franchise. The NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003, Palmer is set to earn $15.5 million guaranteed in 2017 and has a roster bonus of $2 million set to kick in on March 13.
In 2018, Palmer's cap hit drops significantly off of what he's set to make in 2017, yet it's still a larger sum than the $18.375 million he collected this season. Quarterbacks cost a pretty penny in the NFL, and to lock Palmer up for the long-term, Arizona had no choice but to commit those type of resources to their starter.
Even though Palmer is under contract for 2018, it's reasonable to believe 2017 will be his final season in the league, especially if Fitzgerald retires this offseason or opts to play just one more year. By the middle of next offseason, Arizona should have Palmer's successor in place, which could end up expediting Palmer's retirement process.
Though Palmer obviously wants to collect a Super Bowl ring before his career comes to an end, it's likely that 2017 will be his final shot with the Cardinals, given his age, contract situation, and durability.