This week, age caught up to the Arizona Cardinals. On Tuesday, quarterback Carson Palmer announced his retirement just one day after head coach Bruce Arians also decided to call it a career.
Palmer was drafted first overall by the Bengals in 2003 and two years later led Cincinnati to its first division title in 15 years. In 2011, Palmer requested a trade but was rebuffed by Bengals owner Mike Brown. Palmer threatened to retire then, but instead sat out the first month of the season until he was sent to Oakland, where he stayed for two years. He was traded to the Cardinals in 2013, and under Arians he resurrected his career. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and the same year finished in the top four in the league in passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, and yards per attempt. This year, Palmer’s age-38 season, he averaged 283 yards with one touchdown and one interception per game before breaking his left arm in Week 7. He was placed on injured reserve and hasn’t played since.
Palmer finishes 12th in NFL history in both passing yards (46,247) and passing touchdowns (294). His legacy is that of a legitimate franchise quarterback who brought the Bengals from league laughingstocks to divisional competitors, and the Cardinals from middling also-rans to contenders, but won just two playoff games with three franchises in 15 years despite being a first-overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner.
The Cardinals’ other options at quarterback are Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton, both of whom were surprisingly competent in Palmer’s absence, but are better suited to backup roles. The Cardinals have the 15th pick in April’s draft, and could be in range to land Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, or Washington State’s Luke Falk, or they could trade up in the draft for a shot at UCLA’s Josh Rosen. The team could also pursue Washington’s Kirk Cousins or Minnesota’s Case Keenum in free agency if those players hit the open market.
And Arizona may still face more changes on offense in 2018. When asked on Sunday if 2017 was his final season, Larry Fitzgerald said, “I don’t have any timetable. Go play golf tomorrow. Tuesday play golf again. Wednesday I’ll play golf. Thursday I’ll play some more golf and we’ll figure it out as we go.”
If Fitzgerald also calls it a career, it could spell the end of an era in Arizona. With Palmer off the books, general manager Steve Keim now has $14.5 million more in cap space to play with, but he might not be able to buy Arizona a new identity. Arians and Palmer are gone, and their style of play might be, too.
“I always told Carson and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald that we were like three old gunfighters looking to go out in a blaze of glory with a Super Bowl win,” Arians wrote in The Athletic announcing his decision to retire. “It pains me that I couldn’t help them accomplish our goal.”
Now, missing at least two parts of that trio, the Cardinals front office has to decide what the franchise will look like in 2018.