For obvious reasons, quarterback will be the hot topic in Arizona throughout the offseason. The Cardinals are in dire need of a difference maker at the most important position on the field, but where will they find one? That proposition could prove difficult.
After Stanford QB Andrew Luck withdrew his name from this year's draft and Arizona won a handful of games down the stretch, the chance of obtaining a franchise quarterback dramatically declined.
Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert could be the product of the spread offense in the college ranks. Gabbert has size and some ability but should he be considered with the No. 5 overall pick? That's probably a stretch. Auburn's Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas will also be coveted come the draft but both have several question marks. Newton's pure passing skills are less than stellar and Mallet struggles with erratic play too often. Washington's Jake Locker falls into a similar category as Mallett.
Another option with the fifth pick might be wide receiver. Georgia WR A.J. Green was a force with the Bulldogs and appeared unstoppable at times. With the chance of All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald leaving the desert following next season, the Cardinals could begin their preparation for life after Fitz. Furthermore, Steve Breaston's future with the team has come under question and the loss of Anquan Boldin during the previous offseason still stings.
While there are few other options worthy of a top 5 pick - other than a select number of defensive lineman and cornerbacks - the Cardinals aren't in near as bad shape defensively. Additionally, the linebacking group of this year's draft class – the area Arizona needs the most help – is very underwhelming. Focusing on defense with their first pick might be a mistake.
The Cardinals best bet at this point would be to trade down, stockpile draft picks, and address several areas of need simultaneously. Trading down in this year's draft may be easier than in years past. Upon to the completion of the new CBA, a rookie salary cap is almost certainly something to be put in place. Meaning trading up for a top 5 selection won't result in obscene amounts of money for a potential trading partner.
Instead of putting such a hefty investment in Gabbert or Newton, how about tabbing players that can be had a bit later in the draft. Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi is prototypical passer that will yield excellent value in the second or third round. Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech is a dual-threat quarterback such as Newton that will also be available later on.
Meanwhile, Green is head and shoulders above almost any other receiver in this year's draft – Julio Jones is his only other rival - and passing on him would result in a significant drop in ability. The Pittsburgh Panthers connection has been good to Arizona thus far and Jonathan Baldwin might be the next Panther headed to the desert. Baldwin probably signals the final difference maker at the position, with the rest of the wide receiving group falling into a pool of more complementary players.
Regardless of how the draft board shakes out this April, the Cardinals should be out for value, rather than big names and high draft picks. Arizona has several holes to fill and will need to restock on depth at numerous positions across the depth chart heading into next season.
Furthermore, the CBA comes into play once again with the good possibility of moving to an 18-game season, which will require deeper depth charts, making extra draft picks in the later rounds that much more important. The Cardinals can get a head start this year.
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