2016 in review: Drew Stanton, Zac Dysert

The Arizona Cardinals were forced to turn to Drew Stanton against the San Francisco 49ers on the road this season and the backup signal-caller delivered a victory.

Arizona Cardinals' backup quarterback Drew Stanton made appearances in five different games this season, but the team's backup signal-caller only earned truly meaningful minutes twice this season.

In week four, Cardinals' starter Carson Palmer suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter of a home contest against the Los Angeles Rams, pressing Stanton into action in the waning minutes of a close contest. After a preseason in which Stanton was plagued with accuracy issues, there were questions regarding his effectiveness leading up to his appearance late in an important divisional matchup.

In the closing minutes of that game, Stanton twice had an opportunity to lead the Cardinals past the Rams, but challenges reading Los Angeles' defense cost Arizona a shot at a victory, as Stanton tossed a pair of interceptions including one in the end zone on the team's final drive of the game.

Coming off the sidelines cold in the fourth quarter is a difficult task for any quarterback, and it's not often a team can count on its backup to deliver a game-winning drive in such a scenario, but a win over Los Angeles could have changed the direction of Arizona's season and given the Cardinals more breathing room in their quest for a playoff berth.

While Stanton was able to rebound with a win over San Francisco on the road the following week in his lone start of the season, his inability to step in and lead the Cardinals past the Rams in week four is a loss that stung Arizona, and should easily be considered the team's worst loss of the year.

Stanton, Dysert in 2016

For the fourth straight season, Stanton served as the backup to Palmer after signing a two-year extension in the offseason that is scheduled to keep him in Arizona through 2017. Though there was some speculation that Stanton was biding his time to eventually replace Palmer when he retired, the 32-year-old, 10th year veteran doesn't possess the skill set necessary to be a full-time starting quarterback in the future. 

In limited action, Stanton showed a propensity to be too turnover-prone, and throughout the preseason and in his limited stints in the regular season, Stanton never demonstrated consistent accuracy. Though he's probably among the league's most capable backup quarterbacks, he's very much a stopgap for the Cardinals if Palmer gets hurt. 

Dysert, on the other hand, is an intriguing player who may have a future with the Cardinals as the backup to Palmer's heir apparent when Stanton's contract does expire at the end of 2017. In all likelihood, the Cardinals are hoping that they can keep Dysert in a practice squad, third-team role through next season before electing to continue on with him as a backup or pursue other options.

At the end of the year, Arizona actually made a roster move to elevate Dysert from the practice squad to the active roster, because the Cardinals feared another team, likely Miami, wanted to sign Dysert away from the organization. Though Dysert never took a snap with the Cardinals this season, that decision has to serve as a vote of confidence in his abilities. 

Stanton, Dysert in 2017

If Stanton wants a shot at starting in the NFL, it's hard to imagine him passing up an opportunity to hit the free agent market after the 2017 season. In the meantime, he may continue to back up Palmer, who has missed significant portions of multiple seasons due to injuries in his career and is coming off a season in which he took a beating behind a patchwork offensive line. If Arizona doesn't commit more resources to adding depth along its offensive line this offseason, the odds of Stanton or another backup quarterback needing to play meaningful minutes spike for the Cardinals next season.

In Dysert's case, the Cardinals may have to make a decision whether he can challenge for the backup job prior to the start of the 2017 season. If Arizona drafts a quarterback, Stanton's days as the No. 2 may be over, and the Cardinals could save a bit of cap room by cutting him prior to the start of the year. In that scenario, the Cardinals may hold onto Dysert for insurance as a No. 3/practice squad option, or they may cut ties with him and allow him to pursue a more meaningful opportunity elsewhere. 

Much of the fate of both Stanton and Dysert depends on if and when the Cardinals select a quarterback in the 2017 draft. If the Cardinals go with a signal-caller in the first two rounds, both of the team's backups' days with the franchise may be numbered. If Arizona waits until the late rounds to draft a quarterback or follows the same model of signing a player through undrafted free agency that the team pursued last year, then both Stanton and Dysert can expect their roles to remain relatively unchanged from 2016. 


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