Many Arizona fans have been wondering if the Cardinals are rebuilding. The question is a fair one, given the rate of roster churn since Steve Keim and Bruce Arians took over. We've had some discussion here already. Bruce Arians was asked the same thing last Wednesday. While he didn't start the conversation, he did his best to finish it.
"Never use that word. Never use that word," Arians said Wednesday morning. "We are reloading not rebuilding. We refused to use that word last year in Indianapolis and it was 37 new players on the roster. (Veteran defensive end) Robert Mathis said, ‘I ain’t got time to rebuild.’ And we were in the playoffs. There is no rebuilding going on. We are just plugging in new faces and different faces. This team is not very far off."
There you have it. Discussion over, right? Well... maybe not quite. NFL coaches are famous for leading answers and doublespeak. Even though Arians has been refreshingly direct with most of his answers to the press, it's easy to look at today's roster and wonder who's next.
Key losses stand out. A team icon in Adrian Wilson, a former first round pick in Beanie Wells, an infamous back-up quarterback, and a dozen depth players who simply weren't re-signed have all moved on from the desert.
Despite that, the Arizona Cardinals are not rebuilding. Even though they only won five games last year, many of the starters are still in place and the team has already replaced most of its losses through free agency. Not every player is a star, but if the season started today, we'd have someone ready to step in at every position. We'd have a football team.
"I ain't got time to rebuild."
Good teams just don't go into rebuild mode. Turnover is normal. Players leave, for better or worse, and the good organizations have a man ready to step up. Arians spent enough time with the Steelers to know this. The "next man up" mantra is one he seems to share with Ken Whisenhunt, who never completely stripped the team down during his tenure like a full rebuild would imply.
There are many reasons why, but Robert Mathis' portion of the earlier quote may be the most important one. Skills diminish. Jobs are lost. A player's window of opportunity to be successful in the league isn't that large, and strong organizations take advantage of that fact. They keep their core intact for as long as it's reasonable and constantly supplement the roster with lesser talents.
Bloated contracts and under-performing players are going to get dumped, and a new head coach is going to bring in some of his guys at the expense of a few incumbents. It's the normal, day-to-day business of the NFL, not a signal that the team is starting over again.
The team may have weaknesses today but Keim and Arians want to field the best squad they can every year, stay competitive, and keep improving. They want to win games, claim championships, sell tickets, and keep their jobs. They don't want to waste any more of Larry Fitzgerald's time.