As with every NFL season, there's much to be gained from having a good season. Some players can get a huge payday with the stats they generate, others the first step in breaking out on their way to a Hall-of-Fame level career. But with that reward comes risk as well, as the NFL is a business.
Which Cardinals have the most to lose financially or otherwise in the 2016 season? Let's take a look:
Honorable Mention: Tyrann Mathieu
Yes, Mathieu makes this list. Although Mathieu is a bonafide superstar on the field who's set to get paid by the Cardinals (possibly any week now) he's going to have health-related questions. With 2 ACL's in three consecutive years, his durability will come into question. That said, the team has faith in him going forward, as do the fans who love seeing the Honey Badger play. He makes this list because another major injury, something Cardinals fans hope to never consider, will cast his long-term role in the team's future into doubt. That said, his future with this team seems bright but the health is a concern (as it should be for any NFL player), so he makes this list.
7. Kevin Minter
Kevin Minter might have made himself a bit of money this last season. After sitting behind Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington on the depth chart his rookie year, Minter watched as those two players departed the team only to find Larry Foote and Deone Bucannon filling the second-rounder's spot at the inside linebacker position. This past year, however, Minter stepped up, losing weight and the ability to cover ground quicker in coverage, and locked down the team's MIKE linebacker spot so well that heralded free agent signing Sean Weatherspoon rarely saw the field in comparison, and Minter's reportedly lost even MORE weight this offseason.. However, should Minter regress or show that he doesn't have the speed in coverage that the NFL needs today, he might go from seeing good starter money to seeing himself be labeled a "role player" or a "two-down only" linebacker. It's a big year for him.
6. J.J. Nelson
J.J. Nelson has been one of the bigger talks of the Cardinals' offseason in how he's grown and become a much bigger threat. The one thing, however, that is unknown whether to be bigger or not, is Nelson himself. JJ Nelson has been a very small, speedy wide receiver, which fits Arians' system, but rarely fits the NFL as a whole. Nelson needs to show that he can have an impact as more than a "deep threat and special teams only" kind of player at his size, otherwise he'll likely never make it past the 3rd or 4th spot of a team's depth chart.
It's worth noting as fellow Revenge of the Birds columnist Justin Higdon pointed out, that for Nelson to have a true impact in the NFL, it'd be a rare case:
@blakemurphy7 @RieseDraft @CarasikS only 14 50+ target seasons since 2000 by 170lb or under WRs, and Harry Douglas is 6 of those— Justin Higdon (@afc2nfc) July 1, 2016
Could Nelson break the trend and see an impact to that level of Emmanuel Sanders like the Cardinals coaches say? It's early to tell, but if he can't break this trend of very small receivers even in Arians' scheme, Nelson stands to lose quite a bit.
5. Earl Watford
In the final year of his rookie contract, Earl Watford has become an interesting case for the Cardinals since he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL draft.. He's moved from guard to swing tackle/guard combination, and has received rave reviews about his "gym rat" and hard-working mentality. He and Jonathan Cooper were supposed to be the "future" at guard for the Cardinals.
Yet, Cooper's now gone and Watford's still never managed to crack the starting lineup outside of a brief stint in which Bobbie Massie was suspended, and otherwise has been a back up for almost his entire career. Watford will most likely be competing with Evan Mathis and DJ Humphries for a starting spot. If he cannot claim a starting spot this year, teams may view Watford as a permanent backup.
4. Andre Ellington
Despite the fact that he's been with the team since 2013, it still feels like Andre Ellington has barely played for the Cardinals. Ellington's career has shown flashes of brilliance marred by injuries whenever he was handed a sizeable workload. As a result, he's now been relegated to the third-string running back as Chris Johnson and David Johnson were able to showcase far more durability.
Another injury-plagued season might not only hurt Ellington's perception as a capable running back across the league, but also his ability to play the game long-term. Ellington needs a healthy, productive season to showcase his skills and explosion, because without one, he may not get another chance.
3. Michael Floyd
Like Mathieu, Floyd seems likely about to get paid heading into this season, but how much? A great season as the Cardinals' top weapon and Floyd might start seeing #1 WR money going into an offseason where teams will want to bring him in as a top-caliber offensive weapon.
But has Floyd really demonstrated that ability so far in his career? If he finishes behind John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald in targets, catches and touchdowns and has a merely decent affect on the offense, Floyd might get labaled as a "good #2 receiver" only and miss out on millions.
2 Jermaine Gresham
Gresham wasn't expected to be back, especially when the numbers came out about the expensive contract that he was reportedly offered by another team including a great deal of guaranteed money. Instead, he returned to the Cardinals hoping for another year in Arians' system to build his free agent value. But given how little Arians uses wide receivers in the passing game, to let go of all of that guaranteed money for a 1-year deal is a huge risk on the part of Gresham. If he becomes a sparsely used target or gets hurt, he loses out big-time.
1. Carson Palmer
It seems ludicrous to say that Carson Palmer could have a lot to lose after the excellent season he had last year, but the sheer amount of pressure, and fact that he's the quarterback, say otherwise. Following a six-turnover game to the Panthers in the NFC title game, many national analysts expressed doubt that Palmer might ever be the same.
Do I think that's the case? Maybe not, but Palmer is running out of time and his legacy, and the Cardinals' Super Bowl chances, hang in the balance. If Palmer produces a lackluster season or if the team gets trounced from the playoffs and he didn't play well, the blame will ultimately fall on his shoulders, and take him from being considered one of the best in the game to someone who couldn't get it done.
Do you agree with our list? Would you have ranked it differently? Sound off below in the comments section!
You can follow Revenge Of The Birds and @blakemurphy7 on Twitter.