32-n-32 Part 1: Arizona Cardinals

The sun isn’t the only thing rising in the valley, as questions and concerns grow louder for a Cardinals franchise desperate to prove last season’s hot start was no fluke.

Following a 7-0 start that had the league buzzing, Arizona crash landed back to Earth with a 4-7 finish to the season. This including a 34-11 playoff loss to the division rival Rams that left everyone searching for answers.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t make it a game and come out and play the football we know we are capable of playing, that’s really the most disappointing part,” said quarterback Kyler Murray.

With a quarterback expressing concerns about matters both on and off the field, general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury have all hands on deck heading into the season. One tasked with building a roster capable of contending in an NFC that seems to be up for grabs; the other on a mission to figure out what’s behind his team’s constant late-season collapses.

Despite coaching a team that has seen improvement in each of the last three seasons, with a 24-24 regular season record over that time, it’s a bit concerning that Kingsbury’s offenses tend to flame out towards the end of seasons and the fourth-year signal-caller has yet to adjust.

As for Keim, who has been with the franchise for 23 years — nine of which as the general manager? It seems as if he is essentially tied to the success/or lack thereof from Kingsbury and Murray.

With all parties set to be in Arizona until at minimum, 2027, find out how the Cardinals approached an off-season that could play a massive role in the direction of the team going forward.

This is the first installment of our #32n32 series. Where we do a deep dive off-season review and season preview of all 32 franchises. Our own Mar’Quell Fripp-Owens, with the help of a few friends takes you on this journey.

2021 RECORD:

11-6

2022 SCHEDULE:

Week 1: vs. ChiefsWeek 2: @ RaidersWeek 3: vs. RamsWeek 4: @ PanthersWeek 5: vs. EaglesWeek 6: @ Seahawks
Week 7: vs. SaintsWeek 8: @ VikingsWeek 9: vs. SeahawksWeek 10: @ RamsWeek 11: vs. 49ersWeek 12: vs. Chargers
Week 13: Bye WeekWeek 14: vs. PatriotsWeek 15: @ BroncosWeek 16: vs. BuccaneersWeek 17: @ FalconsWeek 18: @ 49ers

2022 Draft class:

Grade:

C

Overview:

There are two ways you can look at the Cardinals draft class — one is counting the Marquise Brown trade as a part of the draft haul or you could look at the group as is.

Either way you put it, the Cardinals are one strange conundrum. See, here’s the thing, the Cardinals drafted a lot of good football players — and my draft motto is as follows: the good players are the best players.

With that being said their process was very questionable.

The Cards shocked everyone on draft night by trading the 23rd overall pick for ‘Hollywood’ Brown and reuniting Kyler with his top college target, also receiving a third round pick. That had Arizona pulling off another surprise and selecting top tight end prospect Trey McBride at 55th overall 

Bo Brack of PHNX Sports via The Philly Blitz

I love the acquisition of Marquise Brown. To get Kyler Murray HIS GUY after an off-season filled with turmoil and to add a much-needed field stretcher after a few failed swings (Free Andy Isabella!) is ideal, but with the 23rd overall pick in the draft? A bit too rich for me, especially for a player who:

A.) wasn’t even a first-round pick, to begin with

and

B.) never quite offered anywhere near first-round value to a Baltimore team in desperate need of a WR1

Fine, no Marquise Brown? Well, you spent your first selection of the night on a tight end who offers the versatility value but essentially has to be a focal point of the gameplan in order to make an impact based on his current place on the depth chart.

“It was wild with the team resigning Ertz,” Brack said. “But McBride was the Mountain West Player of the Year and had over 1,100 yards receiving last year at Colorado State. He’s the most ready to make an impact on Sundays.“ However, the question remains how his Group of 5 success translates to this Kliff Kingsbury offense.

The next two picks were used on two guys who are hoped to be potential Chandler Jones replacements and beef up a pass rush that lost 10.5 sacks worth of production with the departure of Jones, but that’s throwing paint at the wall in terms of the amount of production lost compared to what these prospects will give in year one.

Honestly, the main pick that serves of true value is Keontay Ingram, who when you take into account the loss of Chase Edmonds and James Conner’s injury concerns, the only real threat to allocated touches seems to be Eno Benjamin. With that in mind, it’s possible Arizona may have a prospect with the chance to carve out a prominent role on the offense at some point in the season.

Still, this draft while decent in its own right, provided no clarity for a franchise seemingly treading water. It’s possible this could be the effects of a general manager, head coach, and quarterback feeling the heat being turned up a bit. Yet either way, Arizona’s draft didn’t do much to move the needle for a franchise playing catch up to many possible NFC contenders.

OFF-SEASON:

Key Acquisitions:

  • Marquise Brown
  • Will Hernandez
  • Nick Vigil

Key Losses:

  • Christian Kirk
  • Chandler Jones
  • Jordan Phillips
  • Jordan Hicks
  • Chase Edmonds

Overview:

A few years back, Arizona made a business decision; albeit a controversial one to some. They banked on changing the trajectory of the franchise, so they used the first overall pick in the draft on a quarterback despite using the tenth overall selection a year prior on the same position (Josh Rosen).

The decision to select Murray and uniting; or re-uniting him to an extent with Kingsbury has turned out to be everything the Cardinals have wanted in terms of on-the-field production. Following his Pro Bowl selection this past season, Murray became the first quarterback in franchise history to be named to the Pro Bowl, twice in his first three seasons. In the process becoming the first Cardinals quarterback with back-to-back Pro Bowl selections since Jim Hart in the mid ’70s.

For a quarterback that led the entire NFL in Big Time Throw Rate and has seemingly improved in every season since entering the league, Murray is worth every dime. The bad thing however about Murray performing so well is that means that an aforementioned eventual payday looms larger and closer.

As a general manager, the greatest luxury you could be afforded is a quality quarterback on a rookie contract allowing you to shape the roster to your liking.

So what do you do if you’re Steve Keim and your quarterback has voiced his displeasure about his contract situation? And to make matters worse, you have to start this season the same way that you ended the last. Your star wide receiver is on the self for six games, this time due to a suspension for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Drug policy.

Talk about making your job tougher.

Well for starters you pay your signal caller. That route has landed Kyler Murray a five-year, $230.5 million contract locking him up through 2028. Ideal, but it’s no secret that Murray was at his most dominant when he has Hopkins at his disposal.

“A couple things happened when DeAndre Hopkins suffered a season-ending knee injury that sunk the Cards’ high-flying offense last season.” Bo Brack explained to The Philly Blitz.

“The red zone offense fell off without D-Hop, who is a monster near the goal line, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t make enough adjustments down the stretch. Opposing defenses took away running opportunities for Kyler in the red zone, forcing him to stay in the pocket and the quarterback couldn’t find success with his playmakers.”

While Arizona added a few playmakers to the offense it remains to be seen how much of the void left behind by the three-time All-Pro receiver can be filled by this unit. You can expect Rondale Moore to fit into the slot in the role formerly held by Christian Kirk, while Hollywood Brown a player Kingsbury specifically pointed out should feel right at home being utilized in a similar role as his time at Oklahoma.

Cards GM Steve Keim added Marquise Brown and Trey McBride, both of which could create mismatches against opposing defenses and help remedy the struggles through the first six games. There should be enough offensive talent, even without Nuk [Hopkins].

Bo Brack via The Philly Blitz

It’s clear that Arizona understands the importance of their investments on the offensive side of the ball. But for Vance Joseph’s defensive group on the other hand, there is a lot of work to be done.

Much of this concern begins with a pass rush unit that is in dire need of a difference maker. The return of Markus Golden and his 11 sacks are sure to help, but losing a double-digit sack pass rusher opposite of Golden on a unit that didn’t have another player with over 5 sacks is concerning.

The hope is that the return of J.J Watt will bring a bit more consistency as the two young draft picks look to find success as rotational rushers. There is hope that Isaiah Simmons can make an impact as a pass rusher with the team planning to utilize him in the STAR role, a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position which has become evermore prevalent across the game of football. It’s also a plus that Zaven Collins is ‘making faster decisions’ and ‘processing information faster’ according to those at Cardinals camp.

In the secondary, the duo of Bryon Murphy Jr. and Budda Baker will continue to be pillars of the defense while the team hopes Marco Wilson takes the next step in his development.

While there is much reason for optimism, there has to be a level of concern for a Cardinals team that just can’t seem to get out of their own way at times. The goal is to figure out whether they are closer to the team who began the season 7-0 and set the league on fire or the team that finished 4-7, becoming a shell of its former self in the process.

While there are a lot of factors at play into what could be considered a successful season for Arizona, there are some who believe the Cardinals aren’t too far off from some of their NFC peers.

‘Based on talent the Arizona Cardinals are a top seven NFC team. If Kyler Murray can stay healthy for a full season, the Cardinals should enter top 5 status in the conference, which is not as loaded as the AFC.’

Bo Brack via The Philly Blitz

Grade:

C

Record Prediction: 10-7

Cover Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/Reuters

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