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NFL AM: Cardinals Gear Up For Big Season With Extensions For Palmer and Fitzgerald

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The Arizona Cardinals are getting set to begin one of the most important seasons in the history of their franchise and on the eve of the start of the preseason they worked out extensions for two of their most important pieces.

Quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald both signed one-year extensions with Arizona that should keep them both in red and white through at least the 2017 season. It’s a power move for the Cardinals, who have made locking up their core players a priority over the past couple seasons. Last week they also signed safety Tyrann Mathieu to a long-term extension.

“Clearly these are two core members of our team who have played major roles in our success,” Arizona GM Steve Keim said in a statement. “Each of them had contracts that were due to expire in the next year or two so these extensions provide a measure of certainty and clarity for the players and organization, both now and in the years ahead. It also reaffirms our long-stated intention that when the time comes, these two great players end their stellar careers as Cardinals.”

It is a bit of a surprising move on one hand, because just a few weeks ago, Fitzgerald, who turns 33 this month, was flirting with the idea of 2016 being his last season. But the nine-time Pro Bowler still seems to have plenty left in the tank after a renaissance 2015 season that saw him catch a career-high 109 passes for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns while making the transition from the outside to the slot.

If the Cardinals accomplish their goal of winning a Super Bowl, there’s still a decent chance Fitzgerald might ride off into the sunset after 2016. But for now the wideout has tied his future to that of Palmer, the team’s best quarterback since Fitzgerald’s early years when Kurt Warner led Arizona to the Super Bowl. Getting back to that position, and finishing the job this time is the goal from top to bottom in the Arizona organization. With Friday’s extension they’ve further entrusted Palmer with being the guy to get them there.

The 36-year old put up gaudy numbers in 2015, his 12th NFL season. He completed 63.7 percent of his passes for a career-best 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns, the most he’s thrown in a season. He was also intercepted just 11 times and posted the league’s best QBR, placing among the NFL’s elite once again.

But on an Arizona team that’s built to contend for a championship, Palmer’s job now isn’t merely to put up numbers in the regular season, it’s to lead them to big things in the postseason as well. The 2015 season marked just Palmer’s third career playoff appearance, and first with Arizona. In leading the Cardinals to victory over Green Bay in the divisional round, Palmer notched just his first playoff win. However, one week later with an appearance in the Super Bowl on the line, Palmer was dreadful. The Carolina defense picked him apart, as he went 23-of-40 for 235 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions in a 49-15 drubbing that sent the Panthers to the Super Bowl and the Cardinals home.

Given Palmer’s history of playoff success, or lack thereof, putting so much faith in him might seem a risky choice. But what other options does Arizona have? They lived through several years of the likes of Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Derek Anderson and John Skelton at quarterback after Warner retired before Palmer arrived. There is not other savior walking through that door. Palmer figuring it out is their best chance to win a championship. With the pieces they’ve put around him and the core they’ve assembled, he’s never had a better chance to do that. They’re the favorites in the NFC West for the first time in a while and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Now it’s time to get the job done.

“If you’re part of this organization and you’re on the inside, you see how great it is,” Palmer said this week. “More importantly, you’ve been elsewhere, and you see how it is. You understand how special this place is from the top down. I think everybody in this locker room gets why they’re here.”

RAMS SET TO START KEENUM IN PRESEASON OPENER

From one team built on stability, we move down the NFC West ranks to one in a state of transition.

The Rams begin their new Los Angeles era a week from tonight when the host the Dallas Cowboys in an exhibition game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but they won’t have their new franchise quarterback under center for the soft opener.

The team announced on Friday that Case Keenum, not first overall draft pick Jared Goff will start next Saturday’s game against the Cowboys. Coach Jeff Fisher said the move was to be expected and went as far as to refer to Keenum the “starting quarterback” in his comments to the media.

“It’s nothing unusual. You know what you want to do. You play your starting quarterback with your starters and then you start subbing and then Jared comes in,” Fisher said. “He will get to play, probably quite a bit. He will probably play a half, but we’ll discuss that.”

How long Keenum is known as the team’s starting quarterback remains to be seen. So far in training camp all reports have Keenum ahead of Goff in the competition, but that too is to be expected this early, with Keenum holding the supreme advantage of a year under his belt in the Rams’ system while Goff is raw and fresh out of college.

“I’m getting a lot more reps,””Keenum said of being his team’s starter in training camp for the first time in his four-year NFL career. “My wife came the other day to watch, and usually I’d get three or four passes and she would have 5-10 minutes between reps. She’s like, ‘I can’t even go to the bathroom now. I have to keep watching.’ So it’s fun, and I feel like I’m getting better.”

However, the ultimate goal in Los Angeles is for Goff, not Keenum, to be the one who gets better and eventually usurps the incumbent for the job. After all, the Rams didn’t mortgage part of their future by trading six draft picks to move up to No. 1 just so they could pick Goff to sit him. Sooner or later the Rams will be Goff’s team. That won’t be the case for the preseason opener next Saturday, but with a month still to go until the regular season, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who believes that won’t change by the time the Los Angeles Rams take the field for real on Monday, Sept. 12 in San Francisco.

49ERS QB SITUATION REMAINS UNRESOLVED

As for the host team for that Monday night game on Sept. 12, the final game of Week 1 of the 2016 season, the 49ers are also no closer to having a starting quarterback in place as the preseason gets set to begin.

The competition for that spot, between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert is hot and heavy at Niners camp with no clear favorite having emerged just yet. In his Friday press conference, new 49ers coach Chip Kelly characterized Kaepernick’s performance as “impressive” due to his progress despite being mostly absent from the team’s offseason program. Kelly also reiterated that the team is high on Gabbert due to the strides he took in the offense during that offseason program. He was mum on who will start next Sunday’s preseason opener against the Houston Texans.

“We haven’t talked about [who is going to start the preseason opener]. We’ll practice next Friday with Houston and then we’ll sit down, see who is available for the game and talk about how we’re going to divvy up the reps in terms of who is who and what’s what,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a really healthy competition and as I’ve said before I think it’s a good situation. I’ve believe you need to have at least two quarterbacks in this league just because of the physicality that goes on at that position. You better have some depth cause very rarely does one guy make it through an entire season.”

After shaking off some rust to start camp, Kaepernick has reportedly looked better in the team’s new offense under Kelly in recent days while Gabbert has remained steady. Like Kelly, new offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins has liked what he’s from Kaepernick in particular.

“Kap’s done a good job. He was very visible in the spring, he was around here, doing all he could do,” Modkins said. “He’s done all we’ve asked him to do so far. The competition is really just getting started. I’ve seen [Kaepernick] from afar for a long time. He’s a good player. And I think he’s right on track.”

But while many believe Kelly’s offense may be geared to suit a player of Kaeperick’s skillset as opposed to that of Gabbert, Modkins believes that both players have the tools to fit right in as the starter.

“I think naturally every quarterback’s skillsets are a little different,” Modkins said on Thursday. “What’s great is both of their skillsets are really great for our offense. We’ll get to see more of their skillsets once we get further along in this camp. And when we get into the preseason games, they’ll be able to show more.”

So far the competition is being handicapped for Kaepernick, at least in Las Vegas, but those preseason games, including next Sunday’s opener, will likely go a lot further toward determining the starter than anything either player does in practice. That makes this situation something to keep an eye on as the preseason begins.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys