The 2016 season was a disappointment, to say the least. After systematic improvement each of the last three years, The Cardinals fell back to Earth in a 7-8-1 season which highlighted a lot of weaknesses. Add in the looming group of free-agents-to-be and retirement rumors swirling around Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer, and many assumed the small window for Arizona had closed.
But has it?
During free agency, the Cardinals filled a lot of holes with experienced veterans. Jermaine Gresham, Frostee Rucker, and AQ Shipley were resigned, while Keim added Antoine Bethea, Jarvis Jones, Phil Dawson and (the third coming) of Karlos Dansby. Chandler Jones was franchised before signing a long-term deal, securing the framework of the defense. Calais, Tony, and Swearinger were notable losses and the FO looks hopeful that the youth of the team can step into more established roles.
As for the offense- Fitzgerald and Palmer have returned. And while finding their heirs is still a work in progress, it was clearly not as large a priority as we assumed. The Cardinals FO balked at the price of moving up and stood pat at #13 in this year’s draft, watching three quarterbacks and three receivers come and go, and rather selected a versatile defender who looks to make an immediate impact in the Cardinals front seven.
Haason Reddick played safety in high school, before switching to linebacker and ultimately defensive end at Temple. So where does he play for Arizona? The question more is, where doesn’t he? I can see him taking Okafor’s spot in a Nascar formation, rushing the passer. He’s a tad undersized, but managed a team leading 10.5 sacks as a senior for Temple, and has Markus Golden and Chandler Jones drawing the majority of the attention.
I can see him taking Minter’s spot in base defensive sets- he can blitz, stay back in coverage, or be a solid run stuffer. His instincts were on point last season- his 43 solo tackles and 22 tackles for loss are a small reflection of his strength as a run defender. And lastly, I can see him being a backup for Buc in sub sets- his safety background and 4.52 forty should give him all the tools necessary. Reddick just might be a rookie impact defender. I’m not saying he’s leading the team in sacks or making a Pro Bowl, but his versatility is intriguing and I’m eager to see how Arians and Bettcher utilize him.
The Cardinals balked at a first round trade, but jumped on the opportunity to trade up in the second round, landing another versatile defender in Buddha Baker. In the total access video Seth linked earlier, Arians hints at Budda’s role- “...most dynamic secondary in the league right now. Everything you do and Ty does, we could just flip-flop you two dudes all over the field...” With a healthy Mathieu, a smart vet in Bethea, and a rangy rookie in Baker, Arians seemed genuinely excited about the ability to move each around the field like chess pieces, whether its in the nickel, free safety, or down by the line of scrimmage as a box safety. Like Reddick, Budda Baker has the opportunity to make an immediate impact.
It wasn’t until the third round did the Cardinals address wide receiver, and I’m not sure anyone is pegging Chad Williams as Larry’s heir apparent. If anything, he’s Floyd’s.
He doesn’t have the size of Floyd, but he plays big and is a nice compliment to elusive John Brown and JJ Nelson. Chad absolutely has the ability to challenge Jaron Brown for snaps, but I’m hesitant to say he’d be the kind of contributor Reddick or Baker project to be.
The same goes for fourth round pick Dorian Johnson. In a weak offensive line class, there were rumbles of Dorian sneaking into the first round. That was, until a medical check showed Johnson had a rare liver condition, where his liver produces enzymes at a rate five times higher than normal. Dorian claims he’s known about it for years and has been taking medication to keep it under control. If healthy, Dorian realistically could challenge for the starting right guard position, but Arians consistently seems hesitant about starting rookie offensive lineman, so Johnson is more likely to see limited time this year as he acclimates to Arians’s playbook and the play speed of the NFL.
Now, among all the holes that the Cardinals displayed last year, one I constantly lamented was the lack of dynamic special teams play. I’m hopeful fifth rounder TJ Logan can address that. With a blazing 4.37 forty, Logan is a solid elusive, receiving back to back up David Johnson, but hopefully provides an immediate spark on special teams, where we haven’t particularly haven’t enjoyed much success since Pat Pete’s rookie year.
Now comes the summer, where Keim undoubtedly with continue to tinker with the roster, but his intentions seem clear. In free agency, the front office targeted veterans known for their work ethic, and entered the draft showing a priority to find guys capable of making an immediate impact. It’s a win-now mentality, turning the 2017 season into a “Superbowl or Bust” scenario, or, maybe more aptly- “All or Nothing, Take 2.”