Cardinals acquisition of Carson Palmer further complicates NFL's toughest division: aka "Awww shucks!"

Christian Petersen

Don't overlook the trade that Arizona made just because Palmer isn't what he used to be. He's a lot better than what the 2012 quarterbacks currently are.

There was a time when news of Carson Palmer heading to the Cardinals would have swept the nation. In this case, it just sort of dusted around the edges and threw it's dirty laundry into a corner of the room you couldn't see. It's like my mother used to say after I had spent two hours cleaning my room: "It's a good start."

Palmer had 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 101.1... back in 2005. He was teammates with Tory James. Deltha O'Neal had ten interceptions. Rudi Johnson ran for almost 1,500 yards. The only thing that still remains true from 2005 is that the Seahawks are Super Bowl contenders. As I've been saying more and more often recently, a capable quarterback is not something you dare let get away in this league and so it's telling that Palmer has been traded twice in two years. Even if the Bengals had their hands forced, they wouldn't have had any issue with paying Palmer if they were confident in his abilities to still do what he did in 2005 and 2006, in the same way that the Ravens gave Joe Flacco their entire salary cap and hired scabs to play the rest of the positions or that the Cowboys locked up Tony Romo despite nobody realizing that they had any immediate inclination to do so. "You gave Romo how much? I didn't even realize he was a free agent. He wasn't?!?!"

So of course that must mean that if two teams have traded away Palmer, he must be crappier than John Skelton plus Matt Cassel plus Jimmy Clausen plus the Blob plus Charlie Brown, right? No, not really.

I think that our perception of Palmer is based on a comparison to the Palmer of old, rather than an unbiased look at the Palmer of current. Strictly speaking, how much worse is he than Eli Manning? If at all? Except that Manning has almost always put up the same numbers throughout his career, and his stats are comparable to Palmer, doing a little better in some areas and a little worse in other areas. If they had traded places, either one of them could have been Eddie Murphy or Dan Aykroyd. They were back-to-back number one picks, that have underwhelmed statistically, but one of them just happens to have a couple Super Bowl rings.

But during his "downfall" of the last four years, Palmer has completed 61.1% of his passes for an average of 3,459 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions per season with 7.1 yards per attempt, including one season where he was thrown into the fire in Oakland without a bucket of water. He's coming off of a season in which he threw for over 4,000 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Darrius Heyward-Bey played some of his best football with Palmer. The last time that Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens were productive, it was with Palmer. Now he gets to run with Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, and Michael Floyd. Imagine if you will, a scenario in which the Cardinals manage to draft Eric Fisher.

Not cool.

The most important thing about Arizona acquiring Palmer however, is this: He ain't John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer. At worst, he is Kevin Kolb. So what? There might be a little bit of doo-doo stains in my shorts when I remember that the Cardinals started 4-0 under Kolb last season, beginning with him taking over for Skelton in the middle of our Week 1 game against Arizona and likely could have gone to 5-1, but Kolb was re-injured in a game against Buffalo and Skelton was 2-of-10 in relief as the Cards lost in overtime.

The 2012 Arizona Cardinals with a good quarterback arguably compete for the playoffs.

Skelton played in seven games, and was worth -1 AV according to the Pro Football Reference stat that tries to measure Adjusted Value. It is very rare to be worth a negative AV, especially at quarterback where they are much more generous towards how valuable it is just to be able to say "hike" and "10-17, 10-17. Hut! Hut!" Lindley played in seven games with four starts. He was worth -4 AV.

So Kolb played in six games and was worth 3 AV, while Hoyer made one start and managed to contribute 1 AV all on his own. In total, the Cards quarterbacks combined for -1 AV and Palmer put up 10 AV for the 4-12 Raiders, which is just about his average per season since 2009. So it's not so much about even what Palmer can do, as much as it is, look at what he probably won't do. Skelton and Lindley made ten combined starts and threw 2 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. (!!!!!!!!) And yet Arizona only lost by seven to the Vikings in Minnesota, hung with the Packers into the second half in Green Bay, lost by four to the Falcons in Atlanta, lost 7-6 to the Jets in New York, destroyed the Lions 38-10, and made it interesting in the season finale against the 49ers with Hoyer starting like "Okay, what are your names again?"

The Cardinals ranked 32nd in offensive DVOA, but 6th on defense and 11th on special teams. Many people will point me to the fact that Arizona lost defensive coordinator Ray Horton (thanks guys, I know a little bit about the goings on in the NFC West) and to that I say, "Prove how much that matters." Horton has spent one entire season as anything other than an assistant in the NFL. He's being replaced by Todd Bowles, the guy that replaced Juan Castillo in Philadelphia last year, so he doesn't even have one full season as a defensive coordinator. Is it fair to say that there's a significant drop-off from Horton to Bowles already? Or dismiss that Bruce Arians replaces Ken Whisenhunt?

Arizona didn't lose Patrick Peterson. They didn't lose Daryl Washington. They still have Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and Sam Acho. They still pick seventh in the draft in less than a month and now they won't necessarily have to use that pick on a quarterback. In my Un-Power Rankings from March 22nd, I ranked the Cardinals as the 3rd best-worst team in the NFL. The acquisition of Palmer has given me a re-evaluation of the Cardinals and my immediate move is to bump them down to the 8th best-worst team in football. To me, it's that significant.

Not even just because of who Palmer is, but because of who he isn't.

Welcome to the NFC Test, bitches.

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