The Cardinals were 60 minutes from their second Super Bowl appearance in team history. We all know what happened in those 60 minutes, and while we were all upset at the outcome, we held hope for our 2016 team.
The 2016 season turned out to be a bust. A mixture of poor play, untimely mistakes, and injuries sent the once promising season into the toilet. Once the 2017 offseason rolled around, Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer were mulling retirement. Both have thankfully returned as the team makes one more desperate push for Larry Fitzgeralds final Super Bowl.
A rough Free Agency period for the fans saw favorites like Tony Jefferson and Calais Campbell ultimately walk. Both earned their new paychecks, but left fans with a bitter taste in their mouth. In their stead, the Cardinals replaced both players with aging Veterans like Antoine Bethea or Karlos Dansby. For the Cardinals apparent “lack” of effort, analysts league wide gave the Cardinals anywhere from a C average, to a failing grade.
This has lead many to speculate what the Cardinals gameplan is. In a recent article done by Cover32, they believe the Cardinals to be closer to a rebuild team, than one who is ready to compete in the Playoffs. Their claim is that the Cardinals are aging at key positions, and can only fill so many holes in the upcoming draft. While they are correct on both points, are the Cardinals truly this close to a rebuild?
Lets look past 2017. In 2018 the Cardinals would have 22 players under contract. That includes Carson Palmer who is no sure bet to stay past this season. 47 players are projected FA’s. Not all 47 will be with the team this season, so that number will shrink a little.
There are plenty of key names on that list. Guys like, Drew Stanton, Larry Fitzgerald, Deone Bucannon, John and Jaron Brown, Karlos Dansby.
Bucannon and Dansby are currently the teams starting middle backers. Most don’t expect Dansby back after this season, but losing Bucannon is also in the cards. That would leave the Cardinals with two holes in the middle of the Defense, that they currently have no one to fill.
Losing John and Jaron Brown, on top of a possible Fitzgerald retirement would leave the Cardinals wide receiving corps, very dry and devoid of much talent. Re-signing both John and Jaron would be a big need.
The loss of Stanton, while not hurtful from a talent standpoint, would leave Arizona with only Carson Palmer under contract if they do not take a QB in the upcoming draft. With Palmer an unknown to stay past 2017, the Cardinals could very possibly be without a Quarteback heading into the 2018 Draft.
Right there alone, thats three positions to address, with multiple players needing to be added to all three roles.
Now lets factor in age.
Two starters on the offensive line will turn 31 before the start of the 2018 season. One will be 32. Jared Veldheer has shifted from the left tackle role, to right. He turns 30 in June. Mike Iupati turns 30 in May, and had a rough 2016 season. The third, is the Cardinals starting Center. AQ Shipley will turn 31 in May, and is signed through the 2018 season.
Three of the Cardinals five starters will be on the wrong side of 30. The Cardinals do have DJ Humphries manning the left side, and Evan Boehm, the Center turned Right Guard. The 2017 Draft has some talented prospects early, but most will be taken in the first two rounds. The Cardinals will have to start to plan to fill those holes that are coming up. They don’t have the young depth to feel comfortable after the 2017 season.
The team has David Johnson as their starter in the backfield, so all they have to do is find a capable backup to step in during his rare breathers.
We addressed the Quarterback situation, so the Cardinals need to address this position quickly.
The Tight End position is “stable”. The team currently has Jermaine Gresham locked up for the impending future. Behind him, the Cardinals lack anyone with real experience in the NFL. Troy Niklas is one of my players I doubt makes the opening day roster. Ifyeani Momah has talent, but has missed the last two seasons. Hakeem Valles was active for a handful of games in 2016. This is definitely the Cardinals weakest position.
Offensively, they are old at the key spots. They are running the risk of losing key layers at the receiver spot. Their offensive line is going to be among the oldest in the NFL in a year. Most importantly, the Cardinals do not have their replacement for Carson Palmer.
Defensively, the Cardinals have a few more questions.
At safety, the have Antoine Bethea starting. Bethea received a three year deal from the Cardinals at 32 years old. The Cardinals will have Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch, and Harlan Miller all in the mix to play along side him in 2017, but the future of the position isn’t too big of a worry. Once Bethea departs, the Cardinals will have Mathieu and Miller in the wings, and could address the position with a rookie in a very deep and talented secondary class.
At linebacker, the Cardinals will have two holes to fill in 2018. Deone Bucannon is an impending Free Agent. The general consensus is the Cardinals will use his fifth-year option, which is due by May 3rd. When they do, the Cardinals buy themselves an extra season. He’s projected to cost roughly eight million in 2018.
Opposite of Deone is the three time Cardinal, Karlos Dansby. Dansby signed another one-year deal at age 35. It seems very unlikely, whether because of age or money, that Dansby stays with Arizona past 2017. Once that happens who do the Cardinals turn to? There is a number of talented linebackers via the draft, guys like Reuben Foster, Haason Reddick, and Jarrad Davis. Do the Cardinals view one of those three guys as someone who they can build the defense with?
Luckily the Cardinals are set with the edge rushers. Chandler Jones is locked up for five more seasons. Markus Golden has two years left on his deal, but the Cardinals could look to extend him after this season.
The cornerbacks are young, with only Justin Bethel hitting the market after 2017. Patrick Peterson is with Arizona for the foreseeable future. Tyrann Mathieu is capable of playing corner as well as his safety role. The team is still confident in Brandon Wiliams potential. The Cardinals could address the position with guys like Gareon Conley, Tre’Davious White, and Kevin King sitting around their picks.
The Cardinals have addressed their defensive line a lot under Keim and Arians. That, however, means little after this season. Corey Peters, Ed Stinson, Olsen Pierre, Xavier Williams, and Frostee Rucker are all Free Agents after 2017. If the Cardinals do not address the position via the Draft, or re-sign any of these names, the Cardinals will head into the 2018 Offseason with only three linemen on the roster.
Peters and Rucker are the only contributors from that list. Both are aging players, and Rucker has been on the fence about retirement in recent years. Stinson has had his moments, but has done little to inspire confidence. Pierre is a guy the Cardinals love. He spent 2016 with the teams Practice Squad, and signed a tender this past offseason. Williams can only play one position, and doesn’t offer much versatility. The defensive line will need some attention soon.
Between contracts and age, the Cardinals are running out of time. While the team can avoid a “rebuild”, they will have to make each of their picks in their next two drafts count. The Cardinals are lucky enough to be in line for a plethora of picks in 2018, which makes me think that under Arians and Keim, the Cardinals could become a contender after another “re-tooling” phase. Something similar to when they took control in 2013.
What say you? Are the Cardinals inching towards a re-build? Or do you think Keim and Arians will keep Arizona in contention?