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“I see, so far, five to six really good arms,” Arians said Wednesday. “Guys with good stature and my job is to find out more and more about them. Starting here, I don’t put as much stock in them throwing at the combine as I do their tape. They’re throwing routes they may not have thrown and to (new receivers). If they do throw well, that’s a blessing. I’m just getting to know them.”
Reporters asked Arians about the position in broad strokes during his combine interview because he’s an insightful coach with an encyclopedic knowledge of quarterback play, but it was interesting to hear him discuss his personal selection process. While Carson Palmer is coming back for the 2017 season, there always exists a chance that Arians will want to have Palmer’s replacement waiting on the bench. Palmer, 37, nearly walked away from the game this offseason.
General manager Steve Keim said Wednesday that if he were to draft a young quarterback, it would be valuable to do so with Palmer still on the roster.
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“It’s a double-edged sword,” Arians said. “We want to win now because we feel like we have that window but we also have to take care of the future. If that guy is available for us — the ones we’ve liked haven’t been available. They’ve always gotten snatched when we’ve liked to have them. If he’s there and he’s the guy we want, I think we’ll pull the trigger.”
Arians riffed on his process when asked about how team success factors in to his evaluation of a quarterback.
“You have to see if they’re the reason for the team success. Or, do they have a great defense and he’s just a game manager. You look at every aspect of the quarterback. Mental aspect. Heart and head — they’re the hardest to evaluate. I can see his arm strength, I can see his speed and I can see him jump, but the two things he plays with — his brain and his heart — they’re really hard to evaluate. That’s the process that starts now.”
Despite Mathieu’s strong résumé, I believe the Cardinals should pause a bit before writing a big check. After all, he has suffered a pair of ACL tears since his arrival in the NFL, and hasn’t completed a full season as a pro, having missed eight regular-season games in three years. He might also miss the beginning of the 2016 campaign while recovering from his latest knee injury. Considering his injury history and durability concerns, the Cardinals must proceed with caution when crafting a deal that could make Mathieu one of the top-paid defenders in the NFL.
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The Cardinals also must determine Mathieu’s “true” position to put together a deal that’s on par with the league’s top secondary players. Although Mathieu is listed as a safety, his role as a hybrid frequently requires him to match up with WR2s and/or TE1s on the perimeter. The difference in money is significant enough (in 2016, the franchise tag was set at $13.95 million for cornerbacks and $10.8 million for safeties) to create a contentious debate in the negotiation room. Given the big-money deal recently inked by cornerback Josh Norman in Washington ($75 million over five years, with $50 million in guarantees), I’m sure Mathieu’s representatives are pushing for cornerback money, based on his production as a slot corner/hybrid defender.
The Cardinals, however, would certainly prefer to classify Mathieu as a safety, due to his play as a middle-of-the-field defender (center fielder, box defender and slot corner). This would allow them to work off the deal Earl Thomas signed in Seattle in 2014 ($40 million over four years, with $27.725 million in guarantees) and save a couple of coins to use on other players down the line. While Mathieu’s role in the Cardinals’ scheme is certainly more expansive, it is hard to justify paying him significantly more than the standard bearer at the position, given his injury history.
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The Cards prioritized locking down the 6-foot-5 receiving target ahead of the new league year opening on Thursday.
Gresham spent the past two seasons in Bruce Arians’ offense, compiling a modest 55 catches for 614 yards and three TDs. He did come on stronger as an outlet for Carson Palmer down the stretch last season as Arizona’s receiver corps dealt with injuries. Twenty of Gresham’s 37 catches came between Week 12 and Week 16 last season.
The 29-year-old veteran struggled as a blocker, but offers a big target for the quarterback that Arians wants in his tight ends.