Commentary

Kevin Kolb worth the risk for Cardinals

Price will be high, but QB-needy Arizona can't afford to let trade opportunity pass

Originally Published: May 25, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Kevin KolbJoe Robbins/Getty Images The Cardinals are expected to make a strong push to acquire Kevin Kolb, a career 60.9 percent passer.

Last offseason, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt studied two early quarterback options to replace the retiring Kurt Warner.

Even though Marc Bulger was in the back of his mind, Whisenhunt focused on whether to sign Charlie Whitehurst to a restricted free-agent offer sheet or sign Derek Anderson. At the time, no one was sure whether Bulger was going to play in 2010. Once Whisenhunt found out Bulger was indeed available, the Cardinals' checkbook was closed and he wasn't allowed to make an offer.

As much as Whisenhunt was leaning toward giving up a third-round choice for Whitehurst, the Arizona coach sensed Anderson was the right choice when Whitehurst called Whisenhunt and said he preferred the Seahawks' opportunity and their two-year, $8 million deal. The Cardinals saved the draft choice and lost the season, going 5-11 with Anderson.

That's why the Cardinals will end up moving boldly to acquire Kevin Kolb of the Philadelphia Eagles. If they can't get him, they will trade a little less to get Kyle Orton from the Denver Broncos. Whisenhunt has to come up with somebody, and either option would work.

Sure, there isn't a guarantee Kolb will become a success. He has only seven starts to his credit. Eagles coach Andy Reid is a master at developing quarterbacks, but the last two he traded -- A.J. Feeley and Donovan McNabb -- turned into first-year failures with their new teams.

The risk of acquiring Kolb is doubled by the reality that he'll end up asking for and getting a $60 million or $70 million contract. He is in the last year of his contract, and no team giving up a first-round pick or two second-rounders is going to trade for him and then let him walk in free agency.

History shows, though, a Kolb trade would be a short-term success. The debate is more the degree of the success. In the past four seasons, teams have traded for quarterbacks with moderate success.

• In 2007, the Houston Texans dropped from No. 8 in the first round to No. 10 and gave up two second-round choices for Matt Schaub, a trade considered to be the most comparable to a pending Kolb deal. Like Kolb, Schaub was 26 and ready to hit his prime. He was taking over a Texans offense that averaged only 16.7 points a game. Despite injuries that cost him five games, Schaub vaulted the Texans' scoring to 23.7 points a game and improved Houston by two games, to 8-8. Now he's a consistent 4,000-yard thrower and at the bottom of the elite list of quarterbacks.

• In 2008, the Jets traded a second-rounder for Brett Favre, and the deal worked until Favre's arm wore out. The Jets went from an offense that averaged 16.4 points to one that averaged 25.4.

• In 2009, the Chiefs gave up a second-rounder for quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel. Because the Chiefs lacked yards-after-the-catch ability and playmakers, Cassel added only 0.2 points a game to Kansas City's offense, which averaged 18.2 points a game. However, in Cassel's second season, the Chiefs rose to 10-6 and he went to the Pro Bowl.

• Last year, the Raiders wagered a fourth-round pick in 2012 on Jason Campbell. Although then-coach Tom Cable struggled with whether to start Campbell or Bruce Gradkowski, Campbell took the Raiders to 8-8 and the offense averaged more than 25 points a game when he played.

Linking Kolb with the Cardinals should produce at least a spike of four or five points a game in the team's offense. The Cardinals averaged 18.2 points a game in a horrible 4-12 season. But the Cards have all the signs of a team that could make a significant jump in scoring.

They play the league's easiest schedule, a combined .441 (based on last season's records). The combination of an easy schedule and improved quarterback play is an automatic ticket for improvement. Part of Cassel's second-year success was aided by the Chiefs playing the league's easiest schedule last year. The Jets played the easy AFC West and NFC West when they had Favre in 2008.

The Cardinals play in the highly suspect NFC West. Plugging in Kolb and his 60 percent accuracy should put the Cardinals -- at the very worst -- in the middle of the league for quarterback play. Orton could probably do the same.

What makes the schedule even more conducive to first-year success is that Kolb would face only five elite quarterbacks -- Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Michael Vick. That number could grow to six if Sam Bradford takes the next step and becomes elite in his second year. The Cardinals face the Rams twice.

If Kolb eventually becomes as good as Schaub, the Cardinals' offensive problems are resolved for years. At the very least, he should be able to bring them to the middle of the pack, which justifies the trade.

His season would be more like Cassel's in his second year than Cassel's in his first. The Seahawks will get in the Kolb mix, but they could get close to the same production if they bring back Matt Hasselbeck, then make a move on a new, young, franchise quarterback next year.

Whisenhunt has the right card to play if he acquires Kolb.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer