There were rumblings in the 2013 offseason that the Cardinals might try to trade for Carson Palmer, and I didn’t see it happening at first. The team needed draft capital to build in the first offseason of Steve Keim and Bruce Arians. When the trade finally did happen, it was for nothing, really. Whatever Palmer might have been at the time, even if he wasn’t the same QB he once was, it was still amazing the Cards essentially got him for dropping 43 spots late in the 2013 draft and giving up a late seventh-round pick in 2014.
Such is the price for success, huh?
In a lot of ways, Palmer was Kurt Warner 2.0, arriving in the desert for a rebirth. He didn’t quite reach the heights of Warner in terms of a Super Bowl appearance, but he did get to an NFC Championship game. Palmer had 16,782 passing yards and 105 TDs with a 91.1 passer rating in 60 games with the Cards, Warner was 15,843-100-91.9 in 61 games. As good as Warner was, he was never in the MVP conversation any year with the Cards, not like Palmer deservedly was in 2015. When Palmer had time to throw — and his receiving corps was at its best — he was an excellent quarterback.
Maybe we will never know just how much his finger was bothering him in the 2015 playoffs (he insisted it wasn’t a factor, and there are reasons to think it both was and was not.) We definitely will never know how exactly how that 2014 season or 2017 would have turned out if Palmer hadn’t gotten hurt. Seeing how good the Cards were in 2015, and how well they played in 2014 even when Drew Stanton was QB, you have to think 2014 was a missed opportunity.
But two intangible things always struck me about Palmer. One was his love of the process. I still think his great 2015 season, coming off the 2014 ACL tear, was built from an offseason in which Palmer embraced wholeheartedly in large part because he simply enjoyed it. It was hard coming off a serious knee injury, but he used the time to improve other aspects of his game — leading to an MVP-type year — and legit had fun doing it.
The other was Palmer’s leadership. Quarterbacks are mostly natural leaders. It’s tough to make it to this level at that position otherwise. But if you drew up the guy who you wanted to lead your team, Palmer was all of that. The way he carried himself, the way he handled success and failure — “He was the most resilient guy I’ve ever coached,” Bruce Arians said. “Bad play, good play. Good play, next play” — the way he made teammates want to play with him and for him. He was private yet he was good talking to people like me, understanding exactly what we were looking for in a quote even when the question might not have been the best.
A couple of seasons ago, Palmer said he wouldn’t mind playing 10 more years — after Tom Brady had said the same — knowing it wasn’t going to happen. He had too many young kids that he wanted to devote more time to, and after 15 years, getting beat up every week wasn’t very attractive anymore. The Cards are without a quarterback again, and the one that is leaving was pretty good.