First off, I would like to say I am not a Cardinals fan, but am planning on creating a post like this for every NFL team. I have been studying your team for the past week, and have really enjoyed my time at RevengeoftheBirds.com. Jess Root is an excellent writer, and I really enjoyed reading Jesse Reynolds' piece NFL Draft Strategies: Comparing two Draft Philosophies.
The Cardinals finished a respectable 10-6, but only 2-4 against the tough NFC West, where Seattle was 13-3, and the 49ers were 12-4. Although the Rams were only 7-9, they were without their starting QB for most of the season, and once again have two first round picks to build upon the youngest roster in the NFL.
Reason for optimism: The Cardinal's week 15 win at Seattle. Palmer overcame four interceptions to find Michael Floyd on a 31-yard touchdown with 2:13 left, and snapped the Seahawks' 14-game home win streak.
Reason for pessimism: Those four interceptions, the fact that was Floyd's first catch of the game, while Larry Fitzgerald was held to only three catches for 18 yards.
The offense was 12th in total offense (13th in passing and 23rd in rushing), better than all three divisional opponents.
Arizona finished the season with the top-ranked rush defense. 14th ranked pass defense, tied for 6th in sacks with 47 (9 more than in 2012), and tied for 5th in interceptions with 20.
Arizona actually had more sacks and more interceptions than the 49ers.
However, 11.5 sacks came from the aging John Abraham (will be 36 when the season begins).
Additionally, 6 1/2 of those sacks and 4 of those interceptions came from ILB Karlos Dansby, a free agent. His 6.5 sacks are the highest for an ILB, as were his two defensive touchdowns. Dansby tied for second in the NFL in solo tackles (109), top five in passes defended (22) and top 10 in sacks and interceptions (four).
Meanwhile, fellow free agent, strong saftey Yeremiah Bell was second on the team in tackles.
Complete list of Free Agents: (Noteworthy is that three corners and three tight ends are free agents): Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Andre Roberts, WR, Jake Ballard, TE, Jim Dray, TE, Jeff King, TE, Kory Sperry, TE, Eric Winston, OL, Mike Gibson, OL, Marcus Benard, DE, Frostee Rucker, DE, Matt Shaughnessy, DE, Karlos Dansby, LB, Javier Arenas, CB, Antoine Cason, CB, Bryan McCann, CB, Yeremiah Bell, S, Jay Feely, K
Although the offensive line played terrible last year (and many years before), they may not be as bad as they appear. LT Levi Brown was traded away during the season, and 2013 first round pick RG Johnathan Cooper never played a game. I was a fan of Bobbie Massie before the 2012 NFL draft, and believe the fourth rounder can put it all together in year three.
Off season needs: LT, edge rusher (OLB), SS, TE, 3rd WR, interior Oline, CB depth, possible future QB
FOX Sports 910 Phoenix hints LT Branden Albert will be the Cardinals' top target in free agency, which does not guarantee that the two teams will indeed come to an agreement, but after selecting LT with the first overall pick last year, the Chiefs are not expected to make an offer to Albert. Additionally, Jared Veldheer (Raiders), Anthony Collins (Bengals), Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher (both Ravens), and Charles Brown (Saints) are all starting quality OT (Oher has played both RT and LT, but appears better at RT). I believe Fitzgerald renegotiates his contract, and the Cards will make one big splash in free agency, securing a capable LT.
ROUND 1 Jace Amaro TE Texas Tech: An early-entrant, Amaro became a focal of the Red Raiders offence, finishing the season with 106 catches for 1352 yards. Although supremely athletic, TE Rob Housler continued to disappoint (39 catches last season) and three other tight ends are set to hit free agency. Obtaining a talented, but consistent TE should be one of Coach Arians priorities, if he wants to expand on his two-TE packages.
ROUND 2 Kyle Van Noy OLB BYU: Although not likely to be a replacement for John Abraham as a double-digit sack threat, hopefully Van Noy will help compensate for the likely loss of Dansby (whose ILB position will be filled by Kevin Minter). Similar to Dansby, Van Noy is a stat sheet stuffer, especially during his Junior season when he recorded 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, eight quarterback hurries, two interceptions, six forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two blocked kicks.
ROUND 3 Deone Bucannon SS, Washington State: The 6'1/215 pound Bucannon was a four-year starter and as a Senior, he compiled a career high 114 tackles, six interceptions, and three forced fumbles. That resume has me optimistic that he should be able to fill the void left by Bell's departure. If he is not available this late, UCLA's Dion Bailey, a converted LB could be the pick.
ROUND 4 Bruce Ellington WR, South Carolina: Yes Ellington is the cousin of Andre Ellington, and the 5'9/196 WR should make an excellent slot-WR, and thus a good replacement for Andre Roberts. Ellington was a two-sport star while at South Carolina, also starting at point guard for the GameCocks.
ROUND 5 Spencer Long Guard, Nebraska: A former walk-on, Long became a second-team All-American by his Junior season. Unfortunately, Long's Senior season ended in the Cornhusker's sixth game, after a knee injury. Prior to that, Long had started every game at RG since the start of his Sophomore year.
With last season's LG Daryn Colledge expected to be a cap casualty (but perhaps after June 1st) the Cards can wait and see if they find a capable replacement either in the draft or in free agency before deciding if they want to renegotiate, and move him to RG.
ROUND 6 Stephen Morris QB, Miami: Although coach Arians has stated he is happy with his quarterbacks, Morris' arm is going to temp someone late in the draft. Morris entered the 2013 season as a potential first round pick by some of the media, but had a disappointing season. That disappointment continued during the Senior Bowl, but the "tools" are still apparent. Morris displays nimble feet and NFL-arm strength. In fact, his best attribute is his ability to throw the deep ball.