Just over four months ago, the NFL lockout ended and the free agency frenzy began.
In one of the higher-profile moves of the shortened free agency period, the Arizona Cardinals traded the Philadelphia Eagles a second-round draft pick in 2012 and their best cornerback. In return, quarterback Kevin Kolb packed up and moved to the desert.
Fans met the idea of Kevin Kolb with cautious optimism.
On the one hand, Kolb had not proved himself to be an effective quarterback over four seasons with the Eagles.
On the other hand, practically anything would be better than the string of quarterbacks that the Cardinals started in a disappointing 2010 season.
Throughout the preseason, Kolb looked OK at best. He posted decent quarterback ratings during the three games in which he had meaningful play. His completion rate was low (an average of 55 percent), but coaches excused his inaccuracy by reassuring fans that Kolb was simply adjusting to a new offense.
In the first week of the regular season, Kolb debuted with a bang. Although Cam Newton’s theatrics and Arizona’s porous defense kept the Carolina Panthers in the game, the passing game was extremely effective.
Sure, Kolb fumbled twice and lost one—but he averaged 11.4 yards per attempt and completed two thirds of his passes including a pair of touchdowns. His quarterback rating was a stunning 130.0.
Over the next four weeks the Cardinals started losing. Each week, Kolb’s quarterback rating slid a little bit further with each additional game. In Weeks 4 and 5, Kolb threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. He completed just 53.9 percent of his passes, and lost a fumble in each game.
Going into the bye week, things seemed hopeless. With a 1-4 record, it seemed clear that the trade that had seemed so promising at the beginning of the season had backfired miserably.
The only hope seemed to be that things could somehow turn around during the bye week.
Although Kolb’s play was far from perfect during those games, he seemed to have at least recovered some of his poise during the week off. In Week 7, for the first time all season, his quarterback rating was higher than the previous game.
Week 8 brought yet another disappointing performance by Kolb to extend the Cardinals’ losing streak to six in a row. The roller coaster, it seems, will continue.
At the halfway point in the season, it is clear that 2011 is already lost. Based on Kolb’s improvement after the bye week, however, perhaps there is hope for the future with Kolb at the helm.
It often gets lost in the shuffle that Kolb was brought into the Cardinals' locker room just a couple of weeks before the preseason. He didn’t have the benefit of an offseason to learn the ins and outs of the Cardinals’ offense; in fact, until July he didn’t even know where he would be playing in 2011.
In that aspect, rookie quarterbacks brought in during the 2011 draft had an advantage over Kolb—they at least knew which offense they would be playing with, and which offensive coordinator they would be working with.
Even with the lockout, those rookies with a chance at starting could study tape and familiarize themselves with the team they would be joining. They could develop chemistry with their teammates on their own time.
It should also be considered that Kolb is playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. He’s got Larry Fitzgerald plus a cast of underwhelming talent on the receiving end of his passes, and a running game that is having a rough time due to persistent injury.
The losing streak that the Cardinals face is partly due to poor play on Kolb’s part, but there is plenty of blame to spread around to the rest of the team.
Plus, Kolb is faring better as a starter than other quarterbacks who were traded or signed during this stinted free agency period. Donovan McNabb has been benched by the Minnesota Vikings, as has Rex Grossman with the Washington Redskins.
It is undeniable that the first half of Kevin Kolb’s first season in the desert has been a huge disappointment for coaches, teammates and fans. This is not where the Cardinals thought they would be going into Week 9 of the season.
A this point, though, we can start to compile some takeaway messages that will give us something to look for as we move forward with this season and look even further to the 2012 season.
We know now that Kolb shows some signs of skill that can be developed into better play in the future.
He may never evolve into the face of the Cardinals franchise, but with half a season under his belt and a somewhat more manageable second half of the season ahead of him, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.