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Gabbert likely in Cardinals' plans for 2018

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After making his first two starts of the season in Weeks 11 and 12, it almost seemed like a virtual lock that quarterback Blaine Gabbert would have a significant role with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.

On Monday, head coach Bruce Arians didn't dispute that notion. He even revealed that the Cardinals have already started internal discussions about possibly signing the 28-year-old to a contract extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the spring.

"It could possibly happen, yeah," Arians said Monday about a new deal coming for Gabbert in the coming days or weeks.

Here's the kicker, though. Arians on Monday also let it be known that Gabbert remains in full audition mode and that should he struggle down the stretch during the final month of the season, all bets are off.

"Oh, yeah. Yeah," Arians said.

Asked specifically if Gabbert is still auditioning, Arians said, "Totally. For a lot of guys."

What happens if Gabbert plays well enough to warrant a contract extension and veteran Carson Palmer decides to come back next season and play out the final year of his deal? Would there be a full-fledged quarterback competition between Gabbert and Palmer for the starting job in 2018?

"No," Arians said. "If that was the case, it would be some competition, but to me, if Carson's coming back, he's coming back to be the starter."

Palmer, who turns 38 on Dec. 27, hasn't given any indication as to his future plans other than to say he's still hoping to be able to return this season from a broken left arm. He can return to practice while on injured reserve next week. He would only be eligible for the final two games of the season - at home against the Giants and on the road against the Seahawks.

"I would hope so," Arians said of a possible Palmer return for those two games. "That'd be a blessing because we haven't lost in Seattle, I don't think, with him playing ever."

The Cardinals think they know what they've got in Gabbert.

"He's a veteran quarterback that's learning it for the first time, and that's exactly what he is," Arians said. "He's spent one spring and three games in this offense. There were some things that were happening in the game that ... There are always things that you don't practice, that you just have to know from knowing your offense, and he's not quite there yet."

--Despite becoming the fastest receiver to 1,200 career receptions and moving ahead of Isaac Bruce and into fourth place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list on Sunday, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said the milestones don't matter much at the moment.

"Not when you lose to the Rams, a division opponent," Fitzgerald said after the Cardinals' 32-16 loss Sunday. "The season hasn't gone the way we wanted it. When I'm done and retired and I see you at Starbucks one day, we can reminisce about it. But I don't feel good right now."

--Special teams coach Amos Jones has been under scrutiny for the past two seasons because of his units' continued shaky performances. Head coach Bruce Arians has said he will never fire one of his assistants during a season. That might be out of Arians' hands, however.

General manager Steve Keim sounded as if he's reached the end of his patience when asked specifically about Jones' status.

"I'm never going to go on record or publicly and bash any of our players or one of our coaches," Keim told the team's flagship radio station, Arizona Sports 98.7-FM. "The bottom line, though, is there's no excuse. Our special teams, it's been unacceptable, point blank. It's something that needs to improve and I'll just leave it at that."

--Head coach Bruce Arians said his decision on whether to return for a sixth season in 2018 or retire won't be affected by the Cardinals' win/loss record over the final month of the schedule.

"It won't have any effect on that," he said Monday, a day after the Cardinals lost to the Rams 32-16 to drop to 5-7. "If anything, it makes me hungrier because I know what's coming back - all those guys coming off that (injured reserve) list."

Asked if his decision to continue coaching will mostly be based on his health, the 65-year-old Arians said, "Oh there will be other factors, but yeah. When and where I do it, you guys will be the first to know. Maybe the second."

Who will be the first to know?

"My wife," Arians said, smiling.

--Whether or not quarterback Carson Palmer is activated off injured reserve for the final two games of the season or not, head coach Bruce Arians made it clear that Blaine Gabbert will be his starter ahead of Drew Stanton, who is healthy now after suffering a sprained right knee during Arizona's loss to the Seahawks in Week 10.

Arians said he's already had that conversation with Stanton.

"Oh yeah. Yeah, we've talked a lot," Arians said.

How did Stanton react to the news?

"Drew's great," Arians said. "Drew's a team player."

NOTES: RB Adrian Peterson is still slowed by a neck injury, head coach Bruce Arians said, adding he can't be sure of the veteran's availability this Sunday against the visiting Titans. "We'll see," Arians said. "It's strictly up to him and the doctors." ... DT Corey Peters' emergence as a leader in the locker room was one of the biggest reasons why the Cardinals elected to sign him to a three-year contract extension last week. "Corey Peters is a player to me that is constantly under the radar," general manager Steve Keim said. "For me, he's a guy that not only leads in our locker room, but he plays an important role in our defense, whether it's playing the 1 (technique), the 3 (technique). He can bounce around. He's got some pass-rush ability from the interior." ... LS Aaron Brewer might be the only player the Cardinals end up activating off injured reserve. That could be beneficial, as new long snapper Justin Drescher got beat badly twice on Sunday, resulting in a blocked extra point and a blocked field goal against the Rams. "Aaron can come off of IR in two weeks," head coach Bruce Arians said. "It's always like, 'What is behind door No. 2?' We worked out three guys and he (Drescher) was the best one. He's just got to do his job. That's it." Is there anyone else Arians wants to activate off IR? The Cardinals can only activate two players. "David Johnson, T.J. (Logan)," Arians said. "You can't get them all, but I'd like to have them all back - (Mike) Iupati. It doesn't look, right now ... Aaron is about the only guy that looks like he's going to be able to come off in two weeks."


--PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus - Blaine Gabbert wasn't nearly as sharp as he was the previous two weeks and his two first-quarter interceptions were incredibly costly. He was far too up and down, just like the offensive line, which blocked well at times but then caved on multiple occasions. There were more dropped passes by Cardinals receivers, but many of those throws were uncatchable.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - The Cardinals went over 100 yards for a second consecutive week, but the rushing attack was silent in the second half when the game flipped in the Rams' favor. Kerwynn Williams deserves a game ball in a loss for gutting out 97 yards on the ground despite playing with two cracked ribs. Again, the line had its moments here, but not nearly enough of them.

--PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - Arizona only got to Jared Goff once and surprise, it was a sack by Chandler Jones. Other than that, there was almost zero pressure on the second-year pro, who was allowed time to track and hit his receivers without compromise. Where was the coverage on Cooper Kupp and Todd Gurley, who combined for 102 receiving yards?

--RUSH DEFENSE: C - It's been better and it's been worse, but on Sunday, it just felt average overall. The Rams had a handful of splash plays on the ground, including a 33-yard scamper by Gurley, who finished with 74 yards on 19 carries. The Rams finished with 90 yards on the ground.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: D - Phil Dawson had an extra point and a field goal blocked, the coverage teams were less than stellar, and the punt return was embarrassed during a 70-yard punt by the Rams' Johnny Hekker. Just when it seems like these units start playing well, things fall apart the next week.

--COACHING: C-minus - Bruce Arians lost a challenge on the opening kickoff. Special teams coordinator Amos Jones has more problems to solve in the kicking game, coverage and return units. Offensive line guru Harold Goodwin needs his men up front to play more like it did a week ago against the Jaguars.