TEMPE, Ariz. -- Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has seen the effects a good quarterback can have on a franchise.
In 2008, former two-time MVP Kurt Warner led the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance. Then in 2013, Carson Palmer began a run of three straight double digit-win seasons, which included two playoff berths and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game.
Keim has also seen the flip side, what not having talent, quality and stability at the position can do to a team. From the time Warner retired following the 2009 season until Palmer was traded for in 2013, Arizona went through six quarterbacks and never won more than eight games. It cost a coach and a general manager their jobs, which, subsequently made room for the franchise’s current regime of Keim and coach Bruce Arians.
With Palmer turning 38 in December, Keim has already seen the future if they don’t find a suitable replacement at quarterback. That’s why, yet again, he’s on the lookout for the Cardinals’ next starting quarterback. As recent history has proven, though, to find one is harder than it seems, and it’s something that weighs on Keim on a daily basis.
“I would like to keep my job for a while,” Keim said. “I do have four small kids. It is certainly going to be beneficial to doing, but Coach can answer it better. If you don’t have a quarterback, you are not going anywhere.”
And Arians did.
“I can’t think of, in the last three years, any playoff teams that did not have a good one,” Arians said. “Just to get to the playoffs, let alone win, you don’t have a chance. If you have the greatest defense in the world, you still have to have a hell of a quarterback to score points.”
But, as Keim has said throughout the lead-up to this week’s draft, picking a quarterback is tricky.
If he chooses the wrong one in the first round, whether he sits or not next season, it could set the franchise back a year or two. He and Arians have to balance the immediate needs of the Cardinals that could potentially help them make a playoff run against the long-term viability of the organization. Arians has already said he wants to retire with the long-term quarterback in place, a gift of sorts to the franchise.
And it’s not like the Cardinals haven’t tried before.
Arians said the team has twice had a quarterback’s name on its draft card only to see him taken a few picks ahead. One was current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. The only quarterback Arizona has actually drafted was Logan Thomas in the fourth round in 2014. He didn’t pan out and is now a tight end in Buffalo.
Trying to find a quarterback has been an annual ritual for the current Cardinals’ brain trust. History can be a brutal lesson, and neither Arians nor Keim wants to be one who causes another run of losing seasons in the post-Palmer era. The need for a quarterback can play with a general manager and coach’s emotions, but Keim has put in safeguards through the team’s top 120 draft board to prevent the Cardinals from letting their heart draft a quarterback when their head tells them not to.
“We already had those tough conversations,” Keim said. “We have talked about the difference between the ninth and the 10th player, and why we would take the ninth player. Again, it takes the emotion out of it and it really creates a calm and easy feeling in the draft room.”
The Cardinals also prevent themselves from reaching for a quarterback, something Arians has seen other teams do more of in the past five years.
“People start taking quarterbacks just because they have to have one,” Arians said. “They will take a guy that they must have had on their board in the first round and you had in the third or fourth round but he was the next best quarterback, so they took the position over the player.”
If the Cardinals reach for a fourth round-graded quarterback in the third round, that’s when the Cards’ draft board starts to unravel, Arians said. And that’s what leads to a player failing.
Even though Keim said next year’s draft won’t factor into how the Cardinals approach selecting a quarterback this year, Arians said no one knows what next year’s class will be like.
“That’s why I say don’t reach,” Arians said. “If you reach, you’re probably going to get a bust because your expectations are out of whack. You’re looking at a position now, you have a year or two to develop him so you’re looking for that type of guy. If you are a team that needs one now today, you have to trade up to get one. That’s your deal.”
That’s not the Cardinals’ deal. They don’t need one this year, so if the right quarterback isn’t available, they’ll trust their board. But the Cardinals also know there’s more of a demand for a top-tier quarterback than there’s a supply.
“We are not going to force it,” Keim said.