The Arizona Cardinals have been close before.
Even though the team hasn't exactly had a pressing need to commit to a quarterback of the future prior to this offseason in recent years, Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians said that in each of the last two offseasons, Arizona has come close to selecting a signal-caller.
"Every year, you would like to draft a quarterback," Arians said. "We've had two with the name on the card and ready to roll and they've gone like a pick or three picks ahead of us the last two years. But you don't want to reach, you've got them set on your board where you'd like to take that quarterback and if he falls to you, take him. If you've got one in the fourth round, don't take him in the third round."
The last time Arizona drafted a quarterback, the Cardinals selected Virginia Tech passer Logan Thomas in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. While Thomas didn't wind up having the skill set to cut it as an NFL quarterback, the Cardinals were fortunate Palmer remained healthy in 2015 and 2016, and has opted to return for the 2017 season.
While Palmer is now set to enter his 15th season, had he decided to call it quits after last season or earlier this offseason, Arizona could have been in dire straights at the quarterback position. Instead, though, Arians said the Cardinals still don't see adding a quarterback in this April's NFL Draft as a mandatory point of emphasis for the organization, but did admit it would make his and general manager Steve Keim's life easier.
"I wouldn't say so because I wouldn't say this is Carson's last year," Arians said. "Just like (Tom) Brady's now saying he wants to play five or six more years. I think Carson is going to be one of those guys where it's hard to say I'm done, and he's so healthy still. So I don't think it's mandatory this year, but it would be beneficial to all of us if we could get that out of the way."
Prior to Palmer's arrival in Arizona in 2013, the Cardinals experienced the challenges of moving on from a starting quarterback with no true backup plan. When Kurt Warner retired following the 2009 season, Arizona couldn't find a capable replacement, leaving the team in quarterback purgatory for the better part of three seasons.
The Cardinals' challenges on the offensive side of the ball, and specifically at the quarterback position, following Warner's departure played a pivotal role in the organization's decision to move on from head coach Ken Whisenhunt and replace him with Arians, and Arians said he doesn't want to accept the same fate.
"I saw what happened to Kenny (Whisenhunt) in that situation," Arians said. "I don't want that to happen to the organization again."
So what exactly will the Cardinals look for in a signal-caller in this year's draft? It's a class of quarterbacks Arians has been impressed by so far, but said it's also a group with many players that will likely need time to grow and develop.
By drafting a quarterback in 2017, the Cardinals could allow a player to serve as an understudy to Palmer while learning under Arians, and groom that player to eventually take the reins of Arizona's offense.
Arians joked Wednesday that the player the Cardinals want to draft carries the best traits and assets of some of the other quarterbacks he's worked with during his time in the NFL, but said most importantly, Arizona is looking for a player who can lead.
"You take Ben (Roethlisberger), Andrew (Luck), Peyton (Manning), and I'm going to throw Tim Couch in there too because if you roll them all and make one, then you've got a hell of a player," Arians said. "But it really starts here (points to his head) and here (points to his heart). If you've got a guy that's got grit, and he can lead, then you can probably live with his skill level. Now if he's got the skill level and those two things, you've got the world champ."