TEMPE, Ariz. -- There’s an arms race in the NFC West.
Quite literally, actually. And the Arizona Cardinals are losing it.
With the addition and success of Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers, three of the four West teams have young, talented quarterbacks who can lead their respective teams to wins now and into the future while the Cardinals have been left still looking for their quarterback of the future.
The Los Angeles Rams have Jared Goff, who they drafted first overall in 2016. The Seattle Seahawks have Russell Wilson, who they drafted in the third round in 2012. The Niners have Garoppolo, who they traded a 2018 second-round pick to the New England Patriots for in early November. In the meantime, the Cardinals have not made a move to secure their long-term answer at quarterback, like the rest of their division foes have, and it’s starting to become a glaring issue for a franchise that’s struggled offensively the past two seasons while winning 13 games thus far since the start of 2016.
Monday’s news that Blaine Gabbert will be benched after starting five games, while not scoring a touchdown in the past two-and-a-half, in favor of Drew Stanton brings the return of uncertainty to the quarterbacks’ room.
But this may be the offseason Arizona catches up to the rest of the West.
This needs to be that offseason if the Cardinals want to compete in the West.
General manager Steve Keim said Monday during an interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that it would be an “understatement” to say he will be making “big” changes to the Cardinals’ roster this offseason. And one of his blueprints will be, coincidentally, the Rams.
“I will say this: I think you have the opportunity to do what the Rams have done,” Keim said. “Look at how they have improved. I think it’s a year-to-year thing here. I never want to approach another season with the mindset that we’re building or it’s a step back. That’s not fair to your fans, it’s not fair to our organization. I think you have to do everything you can to try to improve your roster, and so-to-speak, go for it every year.”
Granted, the Rams had the No. 1 pick in 2016 when they drafted Goff. But the Seahawks found Wilson in the third round in 2012. The Cardinals could’ve traded up to get him, but didn’t under the team’s former regime led by coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves. And Arizona could’ve offered the Patriots a second-round pick for Garoppolo. But didn’t.
Instead, the Cardinals have stuck with Carson Palmer -- and rightfully so -- but haven’t drafted or signed a potential successor.
The Cardinals didn’t need to spend a draft pick or capital on a quarterback during Palmer’s first three seasons, as he went 29-9 and completed 63.4 percent of his passes while throwing 70 touchdowns to 36 interceptions from 2013-15. But, as Palmer has gotten older -- he’ll be 38 on Dec. 27 -- they still have not made a move to find a quarterback the past two seasons. Since coach Bruce Arians was hired in 2013, the Cardinals have traded for, signed or drafted 16 different quarterbacks. Five of them have played.
But Arizona has also passed on opportunities to take a chance on quarterbacks.
Heading into this season without a preordained “quarterback of the future,” Arizona signed Gabbert, who the Cardinals considered a potential option to be Palmer’s successor. He got his shot to start in Week 11 after Stanton went down, but a 2-3 record since, coupled with a stagnant offense, albeit one that was injury-riddled, led to Arians making the change at quarterback and, potentially, ending the idea of Gabbert succeeding Palmer.
But whoever the Cardinals designate as their “quarterback of the future” will be entering, perhaps, the best young quarterback division in the NFL. Wilson has won a Super Bowl and played in another. Goff has rebounded from a rocky rookie year to lead Los Angeles to a 10-4 record while throwing 24 touchdowns to seven interceptions. And all Garoppolo has done is go 3-0 in his first three starts for the 49ers.
Arizona has seen from those three teams the difference a talented, young quarterback can make.
Keim didn’t feel like the Monday morning after a loss on local radio was the time or place to go into detail on the moves he thinks the franchise needs to make.
But there’s one obvious answer. In his first mock draft of the year, ESPN NFL draft Insider Todd McShay projected three quarterbacks to go in the first five picks and four in the top 19. There’ll be a quarterback to get. Whether the Cardinals try to get one will be the question.
At some point, Arizona will need to find Palmer’s successor, and, as they’ve seen from Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco, the sooner is better -- especially if they want to stay competitive in the NFC West arms race.