Kevin Kolb's release no shock, but big deal

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
12:15
PM ET
Quarterback Kevin Kolb's release from the Arizona Cardinals, announced by the team Friday, lines up with expectations.

The absence of a surprise factor doesn't diminish the transaction's gravity, though.

Arizona paid $20,504,650 to Kolb for two seasons in which the quarterback ranked 33rd out of 38 qualifying players in Total QBR. The team posted a 6-8 record in games Kolb started, compared to 6-7 in games John Skelton started.

Also over that two-year span, Kolb took sacks on 11.6 percent of drop-backs, highest in the NFL for the 35 players with at least 400 pass attempts during that time. Six percent was the NFL average.

Kolb was not solely to blame for his or the team's struggles over the past two seasons. The Cardinals' offensive line wasn't good enough. Injuries hurt on the line and at running back in particular.

He also had trouble staying healthy, but he was a healthy scratch when then-coach Ken Whisenhunt named Skelton the starter over Kolb coming out of training camp last season. That decision, made even after the team paid a $7 million offseason bonus to retain Kolb, showed what Whisenhunt thought about Kolb's ability to lead the team.

It's not like Skelton was an All-Pro.

There was some sentiment that Kolb had shown meaningful improvement from 2011 to 2012 and that only the injury he suffered against Buffalo derailed him. That is a tough case to make from a statistical standpoint, as the second chart demonstrates.

An 8-3 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions for Kolb in 2012 had more impact on paper than on the field, where the Cardinals owed their 4-0 start largely to a defense that played well most of the season.

Releasing Kolb allows Arizona to make a clean break at the position under new coach Bruce Arians. That is probably best for all involved. In the short term, however, Arizona appears weaker at quarterback without him. The team might have been better off if Kolb had accepted a reduction from his scheduled $9 million salary.

There was simply no way Arizona was going to pay that money. The team had already parted with a 2011 second-round draft choice and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in acquiring Kolb from Philadelphia. That move worked out poorly for both teams and especially for Whisenhunt, who essentially bet his Arizona future on Kolb.

Kolb leaves Arizona having received a $10 million signing bonus, $3 million in base salary, a $7 million roster bonus and a $504,650 offseason workout bonus. He'll get a chance to revive his career elsewhere, perhaps under circumstances more favorable than the ones he encountered in Arizona.

The fallout from the Kolb trade goes beyond Whisenhunt's firing and the Cardinals' organizational overhaul. I suspect other teams have become less willing to acquire unproven veteran quarterbacks for the kind of draft compensation and salary Arizona shelled out. A team's desperation can override reason, however, and the Cardinals were truly desperate for quarterback help when they made the move to get Kolb. The risk was defensible at the time, I thought, but we all knew the consequences if the trade failed.

Kolb struggled adapting to the Cardinals' offense after coming up in Andy Reid's West Coast system. He held the ball too long. His footwork was a work in progress. Whisenhunt fired his quarterbacks coach after Kolb's first season with the team, but nothing seemed to work. And when injuries wiped out Kolb, both top running backs and multiple starters along the offensive line, there could be only one ending.

The Cardinals will be digging out for some time.

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