Last week, I outlined for you how rough things were shaping up to look in the Arizona sports scene during 2011. After a few more brutal Suns losses, the first full week of January has done nothing to dispel that notion.
Now you've probably noticed that I'm typically the type of guy who will retreat to the comfortable memories of successes gone by when the bad times present themselves. The ubiquitous rosterbating over at Bright Side of the Sun really isn't my bag. But since the Cardinals season is over, I feel okay looking at a possibility for their most glaring weakness -- the quarterback position.
Yesterday, ESPN reported that the Cardinals had opened contract extension talks with star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Though Fitz managed to catch 90 balls and go over 1,000 yards with a stable of quarterbacks that would probably cause the Las Vegas Locomotives to blush, I would assume his first question to Cardinals management is "When are you going to get me someone to throw me the ball?"
During the Cardinals' 2009 season, I made it relatively clear to anyone listening that I would like to see then-Rams QB Marc Bulger take the mantle for Arizona after Kurt Warner retired.
As I outlined in this piece during October of this season, the reason Bulger isn't currently a Cardinal is because his release from St. Louis happened 19 days after the Cards signed Derek Anderson. Nineteen days difference and we could have avoided Derek Anderson. Sliding Doors, right?
Bulger went on to sign with Baltimore, where he's not thrown one pass as Joe Flacco's backup. The deal with Baltimore was only for a year, so once the Ravens playoff run is over, the former Pro Bowler is back on the market.
Now I know most fans have their eyes on sexier options such as Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, or someone in the Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett, Blaine Gabbert draft class, but just hear me out on this one. I still think Bulger's our guy.
First let's lay out the Bulger resume:
- Two-time Pro Bowler (2003, 2006)
- Has thrown for 22,814 yards, 122 touchdowns (with just 80 interceptions) in his 95 NFL starts
- Led the Rams to the 2003 NFC West title and another playoff berth in 2004
Now I know what you're saying, "Scott, bro, this guy was 5-30 in his final three seasons as the starter is St. Louis." And don't get me wrong, that is an absolutely brutal record, but do you remember the hideous talent on those Rams teams? I'll take my chances that he wasn't the problem.
Here are the primary reasons I'm in the Bulger camp:
(1) Previous success replacing Kurt Warner
But it's not just previous success replacing Warner -- he's had success stepping into the same offense that Warner thrived in when the two were in St. Louis. With the same weapons Warner led to two Super Bowls and another playoff appearance, Bulger went 6-1 in his first experience as a starter in 2002 and led the next two Rams teams to the playoffs.
There was a time last offseason when I bought into the idea that Ken Whisenhunt wanted to shift the Cardinals to a run-first team. Then I watched Derek Anderson, Max Hall, and John Skelton throw on first down regularly all season long.
It was that type of offense that indicated to me that Whisenhunt was still looking for someone who can do the things Warner did. Bulger is the type of guy who can do that, which brings me to my next point.
(2) Skill set
Anyone that watched Kurt Warner play for the Cardinals knows that his success was predicated on a deadly mix of accuracy, a quick release, and an ability to hold the ball until the very last second possible before finding an open receiver. These are all things Bulger is capable of.
Google pretty much any scouting report of Bulger and you'll see that he's got the quick release and taking brutal hits in the Rams offense indicates that he was willing to hold the ball and take hits in order to find an open receiver. But how about that accuracy?
A look at the NFL leaderboard indicates that Bulger ranks 16th in league history in career completion percentage at 62.1% (Warner is second all-time at 65.5%). For comparison's sake, everyone's All-American Donovan McNabb is 48th, while last year's disaster, Derek Anderson, is 161st. I don't know about you, but after watching DA for a year, I value completion percentage now more than ever.
Remember when open receiver meant complete pass instead of "ball that sails 10 feet over someone's head?" Those were the days.
If you take into account just the first five seasons of Bulger's career where his teams didn't suck, he was a 64.4% passer, including two seasons over 66%. Putting him behind an even average offensive line and with a guy like Larry Fitzgerald to throw the ball to and he can get back there.
(3) Chip on his shoulder
For a guy who enjoyed as much success as Bulger during the first five years of his career, I can't imagine 2007-2010 have been fulfilling.
In both 2007 and 2009, Bulger suffered from injury problems and the entire time, he really didn't have much to throw to. Torry Holt was still pretty decent in 2007, but the second option was a 35-year-old Isaac Bruce. By 2008, Holt took a major step back and the number two wideout was rookie Donnie Avery. In 2009, the leading pass catcher for the Rams was Stephen Jackson -- that's not a good thing.
Having been beaten into submission, Bulger couldn't even land a starting job heading into the 2010 season. You think that doesn't piss him off?
If Bulger is the competitor that I'd thought him to be between 2002-2006, I doubt watching his former backup take a team to the Super Bowl while he scuffled with a 2-14 team was something that didn't stick with him.
With ample rest time, I'll bet that Bulger is ready to prove to people that he's not finished.
(4) He's a veteran, but he's not ancient
Provided there is no lockout, on the first day of the 2011 season, Marc Bulger will be 34 years old. This is -- you guessed it -- the same age Kurt Warner was when he arrived in Arizona for the 2005 season. So he's not going to die on the field or anything.
I think the biggest question about Bulger is whether his poor final three seasons were a product of the players around him in St. Louis or whether he's actually just not that good anymore. Maybe it's just the bias I've built up in my mind over the last couple years, but I believe it's the former.
Around the time the Cardinals were making their run to the Super Bowl, Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post visited Bill Simmons' podcast and offered a compelling theory as to why Kurt Warner was experiencing a career renaissance. The basic outline of the argument was that spending years in Mike Martz's offense filled with empty backfield sets requiring the QB to hold the ball until the last second and take major hits affected his eye level.
Thus when Warner should have been looking downfield to open wide receivers he was instead looking out for pass rushers who were about to run him directly into the ground. So when you're not trying to find open receivers and not paying that much attention to the defense, you tend to start sucking.
Yet, given time to heal his body from all the blows -- which would be the period where Warner made 31 starts over five seasons -- his eye level rose again and, with that, his career prospects.
Well, Bulger spent significant time in the same Mike Martz offensive schemes and, following Martz's departure, hung out behind some terrible offensive lines. I think it's entirely possible that Bulger's struggles could be attributed to the same beatings Warner took and now that he's spent a year healing his body in Baltimore behind Flacco, he could possibly get back to where he was in 2006.
I won't sit here and pretend that I think Bulger will replicate all the Kurt Warner success. I'm simply suggesting that an accurate, veteran QB with a history of success could revive his career in Arizona. That story sounds a bit familiar, does it not?
Perhaps Bulger really is done. Maybe he's taken so many beatings that his body can't reasonably recover from the beatings. Frankly, I can't know for sure.
I've been saying it for two years and I'll say it until I'm proven wrong ... I think Marc Bulger still has plenty of mileage left in his arm. I'll take the chance he's worth it. Is he going to be Aaron Rodgers? No. But he doesn't need to be. Bulger is a very workable solution that could put this team back in playoff contention.