Cardinals believe capable Kolb is Warner's replacement

by | Senior Writer

The Cardinals will likely go as far as Kevin Kolb can carry them. (AP)  
The Cardinals will likely go as far as Kevin Kolb can carry them. (AP)  

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Don't tell me the Arizona Cardinals overpaid for quarterback Kevin Kolb because it's too soon to make a judgment. All I know is that if he resuscitates their offense, provides stability at a position where there was none and makes them a playoff contender again, he's worth the money and players they sacrificed.

Granted, the jury's out on the guy, but if he's what Arizona believes then it doesn't matter what it took to acquire him. The Cards didn't have a quarterback of consequence before. They think they have one now and for the next five-to-10 years, and, yep, it's as simple as that.

Solve the most important position on the field, and you go a long way toward solving bigger problems. So don't tell me the Cards just got short-sheeted because I just don't see it.

"That position is very tough to play," said coach Ken Whisenhunt, "and if you get a guy you think can do it and who can handle that position for a number of years to come what is the value? I'd say it's pretty high."

So would I, and the Cardinals are Exhibit A. When they had Kurt Warner as their quarterback they were a playoff team for the first time in a decade and a Super Bowl participant for the first time ever. Heck, they even came within a couple of minutes of winning the Lombardi Trophy.

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Then Warner retired, and Arizona retreated. It not only missed the playoffs for the first time in three years; it finished last in the division, and you didn't have to look far for a scapegoat. It was anyone who tried to replace Warner.

There were four who played and four who failed, with none having more touchdowns than interceptions or a higher passer rating than Derek Anderson’s 65.9, which qualified for 30th in the league. Only Carolina rookie Jimmy Clausen was worse.

Yeah, I know, Steve Breaston checked in at 79.2, but he was a wide receiver -- which goes a long way toward explaining Arizona’s 5-11 collapse, Whisenhunt’s first losing season in four seasons here.

In short, his quarterbacks stunk, and so did his team -- so connect the dots, people.

"The most frustrating thing for us and the entire team is that the opportunities were there," Whisenhunt said. "We'd grown accustomed to making those plays, and when you have guys open and you have plays that are designed and ready to work … and you can't execute them … it's very frustrating."

But that's where Kolb comes in. You can continue to lose, or you can do something about it. And the Cards did something. They considered four quarterbacks -- free agents Matt Hasselbeck and Marc Bulger, Kolb and Denver's Kyle Orton -- and were close to making a deal for Orton before closing on Kolb.

The deal makes sense because Kolb has a terrific arm, won as a starter, shredded NFC powerhouse Atlanta last season and was good enough that he, not Michael Vick, was the Eagles' choice to succeed Donovan McNabb ... until, of course, Kolb was hurt in the 2010 opener.

There's also this: The guy turns 27 next week, which means everything's in front of him.

"Athletically," said Whisenhunt, "he's a good fit for what we're trying to get done in just the way he handles himself, the way he makes quick reads and the way he understands what defenses are trying to do to you. It allows you to do a number of different things from an offensive package standpoint that makes you more diverse and harder to defend.

"Mentally, he can handle what he sees and what he has to do. And then, physically, he's able to make the reads, get the ball out quickly and make the throw up the seam or to the outside. He can do all those things, and he has a quick release."

If Kolb is what the Cardinals think he is, they're division contenders again. From where I sit, I see two teams -- St. Louis and Arizona -- with quarterbacks who can win, and I expect one of them decides who wins the NFC West. All I know about the Cardinals is that they addressed a huge area of concern, and I don't care what it costs. If he stabilizes the position, the price doesn't matter.

"I have a lot to prove this year," said Kolb, who has seven career starts. "It's longevity and consistency, not only for 16 games but the tournament as well. That's something obviously I'm focused on, and I've been fortunate that, aside from that one game last year, the rest of my career I've been healthy.

"So, it's not like it weighs on my mind or anything. I know I can remain healthy. I'm just going to play the game I know how to play."

That's what the Cardinals hope. In their preseason opener against Oakland, Kolb found star receiver Larry Fitzgerald twice -- including one on a 43-yard bomb down the sideline -- and that's another reason he's here. If you have Fitzgerald you better have someone who can get him the ball. A year ago, Arizona did not. Now they do, and the rest of the division should consider that a warning.

"He gives us stability," said Fitzgerald. "For everybody else on this team, we know this is going to be the guy. He's the person this franchise is going to move forward with."

That's the idea, and it's why the Cardinals didn't blink when Philadelphia demanded cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick for Kolb. Arizona was desperate to plug a leak. It is desperate no more.

"I'm really happy to have him here," Fitzgerald said. "He's a fantastic human being, and his energy is infectious in the locker room. Guys love him and gravitate to him because (they) see how much he loves his job.

"Every day I want to go out there and show Kevin that he can trust me, he can rely on me to go make tough catches in tight coverages and he can use me as a security blanket, a safety net, so to speak."

I'm sure that's as OK with Kolb as it is with the Cardinals. Kolb's biggest obstacle will be absorbing the Cardinals' playbook, and so far, so good. As Whisenhunt said, he's a quick study. Still, Arizona plans to grow its offense slowly, allowing him to settle in and be comfortable with a huddle he took over only two-and-a-half weeks ago.

Kolb might not be Kurt Warner, but he doesn't have to be. He just can't be Derek Anderson. The Cardinals tried that for a year, and they paid -- in the standings and with Philadelphia. But they have a quarterback with a somewhat proven past and a promising future, and already that makes them better than they were a year ago.

"I think he gives our whole team more confidence," Whisenhunt said. "There's more excitement from our team. You can feel it when he makes a throw, and Larry makes a catch or when we move down the field and make a big play. It gets everybody going.

"Confidence in this game and belief in each other are big things. So is creating that team bond, and it has to start somewhere. If you have a quarterback to solidify that position, someone who has the leadership qualities [Kolb] does and has the confidence of the players on the team, it goes a long way."

Look at the Cardinals before they had Warner: They were a bad team going nowhere. Look what happened after he stepped in: They went to the Super Bowl one year and the divisional round of the playoffs the next. In both seasons, they won their division.

Kolb could have that effect, and if he does I guarantee no one will complain about what it cost to bring him to Arizona.

"I'd rather be here than any other place right now," Kolb said. "It just feels right. I trust God put me here for a reason. I mean, look at all the little things that went a certain way the last two years.

"Hey, I'm not going to fight it. I'm here. I love it here. I love our coaching staff and this team. Every day I become more and more involved with this team and like it even more. So I'm excited about our future and the things we can do … If you're afraid of having to live up to expectations or coming in after a guy who's played well [like a Warner or McNabb] then you don't need to be in this business.

"I'm not focused on that. I'm focused on getting us on the right path, and I think we're already starting in that direction. Everyone has a different sense, a different feel, and believing is half the battle. I think we're believing a lot right now."

I know it.


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