INDIANAPOLIS -- It's always an odd situation when a backup plays as well as a starter, especially at the quarterback position, and especially after a team has invested a great deal in the starter without yet getting returns on that investment. That was the case for the Arizona Cardinals in 2011. In the offseason, they traded cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick for ex-Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, and gave Kolb a six-year, $65 million contract (with some interesting backdoor clauses) and set him about a new position as the face of a franchise.
It didn't really work out. Kolb was limited to just nine games due to injury, and threw as many touchdowns as games started. His interception total of eight raised further red flags, and people started to wonder if Kolb was the product of a greased-up Philly offense in which most any quarterback could succeed.
When second-year quarterback John Skelton -- a fifth-round pick -- replaced Kolb and didn't do discernibly worse (11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions), people started to wonder whether Kolb was worth all the effort.
At the scouting combine on Thursday, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt made it very clear -- in Year 2 of the Kolb experiment, nothing will be set in stone -- and Skelton will get an equal shot at the starting job through the preseason.
"Of course there will be a fair competition," Whisenhunt said. "Obviously, I think John did a tremendous job for us over the second half of the season, when he was forced to play because of Kevin's injury. And that's what you want. He did the job that we asked him to do. The thing I like about this year is that we get the chance to spend some time in the offseason with John, which we did not get a chance to do before. Plus, he gets time in minicamps, and he'll get a little more time in training camp this year. Couple that with the fact that he showed improvement as the season went on, and we're excited about his prospects as a quarterback.
"That said, we didn't see a lot of Kevin this year, because of the injuries. In the snapshots of time we did see him, we were excited with what we saw. I think John's eared the right to be given consideration for the position -- just because of what he did and his record and the way he played. But we also have a lot invested in Kevin, as well. So, there's nothing wrong with competition -- I think it makes all players better. We have that at all our positions. If we get somebody who could beat Larry Fitzgerald out, that guy would be a pretty good football player."
In retrospect, did Whisenhunt now worry about Kolb being injury-prone? "I can't say that at this point. I certainly didn't before the season. The turf toe thing is something that happens, and you can't ever tell about the severity of those injuries. In our league now, as quarterback, to think you're going to make it through a full season? That just doesn't happen that much. I think that I would have liked to get a better look at Kevin, but that's the way things work sometimes."
The coach was also asked if he'd be open to the possible acquisition of a certain free-agent quarterback, whose name was not mentioned, but a guy who had done quite a few impressive things in Indianapolis in recent years. "I'm not going to get into those scenarios," Whisenhunt said with a laugh, "but I think that Rod Graves, our general manager, said it best -- 'We're always looking for opportunities with players.' I don't think that's any different from any team in the league. We're very pleased with the players we have on our team now, but we're always looking to get better, and that's why we're in Indianapolis."
At least, that's the primary reason.