In a loss Sunday to the Rams, Arizona lost Carson Palmer, its starting quarterback since 2013, to a broken left arm. The three-time Pro Bowler is hoping to be back in four to six weeks, but he could also be out for the rest of the season, and at age 37, it is not out of the question that his career is effectively over.
Backup Drew Stanton replaced Palmer, and after the game, Arians told reporters that he would keep Stanton on as the starter, rather than promote third-stringer Blaine Gabbert. “I’ll stick with Drew,” the coach said, “because he’s our number two. I don’t skip two to get to three.”
With Palmer likely headed to injured reserve, Arians was asked Monday about bringing in Kaepernick as a third quarterback. However, the coach claimed that the norm for his team was to only keep two quarterbacks on its active roster, so it would revert to that practice in Palmer’s absence.
“We’ve never had more than two on our roster since I’ve been here,” Arians said (via ABC 15), adding that the Cardinals might add a quarterback to their practice squad. “We liked Blaine Gabbert so much that we kept him this year, so we’re really where we always are, and not looking [for another quarterback].”
While it is far from unusual for NFL teams to go with just two quarterbacks, there are a couple of questionable aspects to Arians’s claim. For one thing, as For the Win pointed out Monday, the coach’s Arizona squads have frequently had three signal-callers listed on their depth charts, even before this season.
A Week 16 depth chart last year listed the Cardinals quarterbacks as Palmer, Stanton and Zac Dysert. A Week 6 depth chart from 2015 had Matt Barkley joining the top duo.
In 2014, the Cardinals had Palmer, Stanton and rookie Logan Thomas on their quarterback depth chart. When Palmer went down with a knee injury, the team re-signed Ryan Lindley, who had been the third quarterback in 2013, and after Stanton also got hurt, Lindley went to to start for the Cardinals in the playoffs.
For Arians, who has coached Arizona since 2013, the constants have been Palmer and Stanton, but another quarterback has frequently made for a trio. As the Lindley episode showed, the team has felt the need to bolster the quarterback position in the past when Palmer has gotten injured, and with good reason.
Stanton may have the confidence of Arians, or else he would not have stuck around this long, but he has been a statistically poor player throughout his nine-year career (and again on Sunday, when he completed just 5 of 14 passes for 62 yards, no touchdowns and an interception). While playing sporadically, the Michigan State product has never had a season in which he posted a completion percentage higher than 58, which is below average for the NFL, and he has a career passer rating of 65.0, to go with totals of 14 touchdown passes against 20 interceptions.
For his part, Gabbert has scarcely been better, posting a career completion percentage of 56.0 (Stanton’s is 52.7) to go with 38 touchdown passes and 37 interceptions. By comparison, Kaepernick has completed 59.8 percent of his passes over his six-year career, with 72 touchdowns passes and just 30 interceptions.
In fact, Kaepernick’s interception rate of 1.8 percent is tied for second-best all-time in NFL annals among quarterbacks with a minimum of 1,500 attempts. In first place is Packers star Aaron Rodgers (1.5), whose broken collarbone was the source of McCarthy’s ill-tempered moment, and the Patriots’ Tom Brady also is in second at 1.8.
Then there’s Kaepernick’s ability to run with the ball, which has made him an unusually dangerous weapon throughout his career. But the Cardinals presumably knew about all that in May, when they passed on Kaepernick in favor of Gabbert, despite the fact that the former posted noticeably better numbers than the latter last season, when they both played for the 49ers.
That decision led to speculation that the Cardinals were taking into factors beyond on-field performance, and many have come to believe that Kaepernick has essentially been shunned by the NFL for starting the protests during national anthem last year. The quarterback himself is alleging just that in a grievance he recently filed against the league.
Some NFL owners, such as the Giants’ John Mara and the Ravens’ Steve Bisciotti, have publicly cited concerns about fan backlash as reasons they shied away from signing Kaepernick. Arians was not necessarily under any obligation to make similar comments Monday, but the reason he did provide for staying away from the ex-49ers quarterback does not appear to stand up to scrutiny.
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