You might have heard by now: Heading into the 2018 season, the Arizona Cardinals don't have a single quarterback on their roster.
The retirement of Carson Palmer and the impending free agency of backups Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert have left the Cards with some tough decisions to make as the offseason begins. Should they sign or trade for a top-tier quarterback such as Kirk Cousins or Nick Foles, or should they find their QB of the future in the NFL Draft?
In reality, the answer to the Cards' short- and long-term QB needs is simple: Sign a veteran quarterback who could make them a playoff team as soon as next season, and select their prospective quarterback of the future with the No. 15 overall pick in this year’s draft.
That veteran QB should be a man the Cardinals selected with their third-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft: Josh McCown.
I can already hear Cardinals fans groaning. McCown, who has played for eight NFL teams during his 16-year career, isn’t exactly an elite name. And signing one 38-year-old QB to another isn’t a thrilling prospect, either.
But signing McCown and drafting the best available QB in the draft — whether it’s Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson or someone else — seems like the most practical scenario for a team without much salary-cap space to work with heading into the offseason.
Consider the benefits:
-McCown is coming off his best-ever regular season, posting career highs in passing yards and touchdowns with the New York Jets in 2017. His 94.5 passer rating was 11th-best in the NFL last season, ahead of QBs such as Cousins, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Cam Newton and, yes, Carson Palmer. In fact, McCown's passer rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio over the last five seasons are comparable to Palmer's.
- Per Spotrac.com, the Cardinals are in the bottom half of the NFL in terms of salary-cap space, and if they sign Cousins or another expensive free-agent QB, they’ll have limited options for filling other roster voids. McCown will be much more affordable than most other names on the market, allowing the Cardinals to address other glaring needs, such as at offensive line, cornerback and wide receiver.
-McCown wouldn't have to carry the team. He would have plenty of support on both sides of the ball with the return of star running back David Johnson and (likely) wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, along with the defense, which was one of the best units in the NFL toward the end of last season. (And again, the Cards would have cap space to address other needs.)
-Fitzgerald, who seems to be leaning toward playing at least one more season, is familiar with McCown. Only Palmer and Kurt Warner have thrown more career touchdowns to Fitzgerald than McCown, who connected with Fitz on 12 TD tosses between 2004-05.
-Whichever quarterback the Cards select in the draft could spend a year leaning behind one of the NFL’s most experienced active QBs — and if McCown suffers an injury or simply doesn’t play well, that QB could presumably step in right away.
No, Josh McCown isn't the sexiest option on the table, and signing him wouldn't generate much buzz heading into next season. But winning cures everything, and McCown would give the Cards a chance to win immediately while giving a rookie QB a chance to grow.
An experienced, capable quarterback like McCown could make the Cardinals instant playoff contenders, and drafting a QB could set up the Cards nicely well beyond 2018. It's a win-win proposition, and the Cards should get it done.