Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

How Palmer's return shapes the Arizona Cardinals' offseason plans

On Thursday, Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Carson Palmer announced his decision to return to the NFL for his 15th season in the league.

As an NFL front office, you expect the unexpected.

Injuries, contract disputes and sudden changes in a player's status are all facts of life in professional football.

But quarterback Carson Palmer's decision to return to Arizona in 2017? That was expected.

On Friday, Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians said he expected Palmer to publicly announce his intent to play for Arizona during the 2017 season "real soon," and less than a week later, Palmer delivered the words Arians was looking for. 

Entering the second to last year of his contract, Palmer is set to make over $24 million in 2017, which will make him far and away the highest-paid Cardinals' player on the team's roster. Now, the Cardinals can officially count Palmer's salary against the cap, and move forward.

However, even though Palmer left the team in limbo for more than a month this offseason, Arizona was likely betting on the return of the 15th-year veteran and fifth-year Cardinals' quarterback, so his sudden declaration to play in 2017 shouldn't change Arizona's offseason game plan.

With a month remaining until free agency, the Cardinals had plenty of time to develop a contingency plan if Palmer delivered a shocker and announced his retirement this week, but instead, they can revert to their initial offseason strategy.

What does that strategy look like at the quarterback position?

If the right player falls to Arizona at the right spot in the 2017 NFL Draft, expect the Cardinals to draft Palmer's eventual successor. If Arizona isn't in love with any of the options on the draft board at the 13th overall pick, or later down in the draft, though, the Cardinals may not tie the future of their organization to a 2017 signal-caller.

Chances are, Arians will like at least one of the quarterbacks on the board this year to be willing to use the 13th overall pick on a passer, but what if that quarterback is already off the board? Will the Cardinals settle if they prefer Clemson's Deshaun Watson, but it's Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer who falls to them? With the return of Palmer, Arizona doesn't necessarily have to, and it could adopt the strategy of waiting until later in the draft to take a chance on a quarterback. 

Arians has a tendency to fall in love with big arms, and with Palmer coming back, it would allow the Cardinals to take a chance on Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, who is raw but has all the tools to develop in the right system. Maybe another Air Raid quarterback, Cal's Davis Webb, could be a middle-round option for a team looking to groom a quarterback of the future?

Essentially, the return of Palmer buys the Cardinals additional freedom, but doesn't change the need for Arizona to begin laying the groundwork for the future of the organization when Palmer does call it quits.

What Palmer's return does is takes the team out of any potential Tony Romo-Mike Glennon-Colin Kaepernick sweepstakes, and gives them the ability to focus on evaluating and drafting a quarterback it believes can undergo serious growth under Arians and Palmer and be prepared to take over in 2018, should Palmer elect to retire. 

Though the Cardinals likely weren't too concerned about Palmer's extended decision-making process this offseason considering all indications pointed to his return in 2017, the team can now rest easier, and move forward with the plan it initially crafted at the end of the 2016 campaign. 


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