By the Numbers: What Can the Arizona Cardinals Expect from Carson Palmer?

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterApril 2, 2013

Out with the old and in with the new. That's what the Arizona Cardinals' new motto at quarterback has been since head coach Bruce Arians took over. Both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton were shown the door and replaced since the start of free agency. 

First, it was Drew Stanton who signed with the organization on March 13 to compete for the starting quarterback job, and now Carson Palmer enters the equation as a one to two-year stopgap option for the Cards. 

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Arizona completed the trade with the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday afternoon. The trade includes the teams swapping sixth and seventh-round picks this year. The Raiders will receive a conditional seventh-round pick in 2014, and the Cardinals get Palmer at a reduced rate. 

In addition to the trading of picks, the 33-year-old quarterback agreed to a salary restructure as well. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic is reporting that Palmer's new two-year deal is worth $16 million total. He will make $10 million in 2013, and the entirety of his salary will be guaranteed:

On the surface, the trade looks like a win for both teams based on the fact Arizona basically gave Oakland a ham sandwich for the former No. 1 overall pick. Yet it has been years since Palmer has performed at a first-round level. 

In 2005 and 2006, he was considered an "elite" quarterback who was at the top of his game. He was named to two Pro Bowls during that span, he was the AFC Player of the Year in 2005 and the Pro Bowl MVP in 2006.

But really, what has he done since then?

Sure, he has a couple of 4,000-yard passing seasons under his belt and he was named the Raiders offense MVP in 2012, but how many games did he help his team win over the last six years? Prior to the 2007 season, he averaged three game-winning drives a season. 

That number fell to less than two (1.5) during the last six years of his career. Not to mention he won 25 games as a starter from 2004-2006. From 2007-2012, he only won 29 games as a starter. That averages out to be almost five (4.8) wins per year. That's a pretty hefty drop off from the eight (8.3) wins a season he averaged in years one, two and three. 

Yet his drop off in win production is only half the story. By digging deeper into his numbers, one realizes that he has become a less efficient player over the latter part of his career. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, Palmer would roughly average 239 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception per game.

From 2007-2012, Palmer saw those numbers fall off, as he roughly averaged 241 yards passing per game, one touchdown and one interception. It's also worth mentioning his quarterback rating was 90.8 from 2004-2006.

It now stands at 81.25. 

One may not think a quarterback rating that is 9.55 points lower, or one-touchdown pass less per game, would make that much of a difference, but it does. An extra touchdown pass over the course of a game could easily be the difference between a win and a loss. 

However, those two examples still don't tell the whole story. We are all well aware that Arians' style of offense includes a vertical passing game that picks up large chunks of yards all at once. Dinking and dunking his way down the field would be a last resort in his offense.

Arians evolved from the Bear Bryant coaching tree, so it comes as no surprise that he likes to air the ball out. Bryant was often viewed as an innovator of the spread offense, according to Chris Brown of Smart Football.  

Even though we can't compare Palmer's deep passing numbers from the early part of his career to the latter part of his career, we can examine everything from 2008 and beyond (Pro Football Focus' deep passing statistics began in 2008).

In 2008, Palmer only appeared in four games, so his sample size was small. Yet a 33.3 completion percentage on throws 20-plus yards downfield would have put him just slightly ahead of JaMarcus Russell. 

In 2009, things got worse for Palmer when it came to downfield throws. His numbers placed him as the 29th-best quarterback in that category. 

As the Bengals improved in 2010, so did Palmer, although his statistical jump was only good enough for the 20th-best mark on downfield throws. 

When Hue Jackson acquired Palmer, he felt he was the perfect fit for his vertical passing attack. And he was right. No. 3 attempted 50 downfield throws and completed 20 of them, good enough for 15th best in the NFL

Newly appointed head coach Dennis Allen tried to replicate Jackson's methodology from 2011, but Palmer coincidentally regressed. Injuries and consistently playing from behind could have factored into his overall regression as a downfield passer.  

Based on what we know, Palmer has the arm talent to fit in with Arians' offense. What we don't know is how well he will be protected and how well he will jell with Arizona's current set of wide receivers.

Additionally, it's obvious that he has regressed over the course of his career, but Palmer was the best quarterback option available at this point. No free agent or incoming rookie would be a better option right now.

So, kudos to the Cardinals organization for making a move and scoring the best fit for Arians' offense.  


All statistics were gathered from Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus.