The Arizona Cardinals are, arguably, at a crossroads entering the 2017 season.
Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald could be entering their final seasons, Bruce Arians might be year-to-year at this point and they lost 5 of their defensive starters to free agency.
Granted, the Cardinals are still expected to have a bounce-back year led by David Johnson and a resurgent John Brown but there are always going to be “what if’s” under any regime and head coach.
So, let’s take a look at the top 5 times Cardinals fans looked at this current era from 2013-Now and said “what if?” for just what might have been:
5. What if the Cardinals had gotten what they wanted in the 2015 NFL Draft?
The Cardinals came out with a potentially game-changing haul in 2015, including their current starting left tackle D.J. Humphries, their team leader in sacks in Markus Golden and All-Pro running back David Johnson.
Now as is well-known in 2015, that wasn’t exactly what the Cardinals had wanted. They were heavily linked to pass-rusher Bud Dupree before the draft and saw the Denver Broncos trade up in front of them for Shane Ray. As a response, they took Humphries and focused on RB Ameer Abdullah in the second round.
The Lions traded up for him too, leaving them to take Markus Golden and select David Johnson in the 3rd round.
A core of Dupree, Abdullah and a round 3 offensive lineman makes up a VERY different core than the current crop, and definitely not as good. This makes up the one “positive” what if of the top five list, and the alternative of David Johnson elsewhere is something Cardinals fans are happy they don’t have to think about.
4. What if the Cardinals had gotten better special teams play in 2016?
After coming off an NFC Championship appearance and adding a pass-rusher in Chandler Jones, many Cardinals fans went “Super Bowl or Bust” only to see those hopes dashed on a botched snap and kick against the New England Patriots in week one.
That play would dog them all season long up until Arizona managed to turn it around late in the year and finish (somewhat more) respectably at 7-8-1.
But if the team hadn’t gotten off to a slow start and had snuck into the playoffs as they were heating up, perhaps it could have been another shot in the dark at the very least.
There are plenty of “what if’s” about last season, but this one is easily the most obvious.
3. What if Carson Palmer hadn’t torn his ACL in 2014?
Most fans will argue this one should be higher.
This “what if” probably still stings for Cardinals fans as Palmer’s season-ending injury basically ended a 9-1 team’s Super Bowl hopes, and despite good play from QB Drew Stanton, when he went down and the team scrambled at Quarterback only to get blown out by the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs, it was tough to watch that fall happen.
While the team’s offense was down to the bare bones at running back and offensive line, the defense had been playing well enough to be a threat, the Cards just fell flat. Now, Palmer went on to have an MVP-caliber season the next year, but the painful ending of 2014 will and this will always be a “what if” for Cardinals fans if Palmer had managed to stay healthy.
2. What if Jonathan Cooper hadn’t turned out to be a bust?
The Arizona Cardinals are entering 2017 with a new starter at Right Guard without an entrenched veteran at that position.
That’s not what you want after drafting one in the top 10 of the draft AND paying a high-ticket veteran free agent. Instead it’s been a revolving door of right guards and a painful separation with one the first pick of the Keim era being one of the biggest busts in franchise history so far.
Now, Cooper is slotted to be a starter on the All-Pro Dallas Cowboys offensive line. If he finds success there, and what he needed was time, he’ll be a big “what if” for Cardinals fans as long as he finds success.
1. What if the Badger hadn’t torn his ACL/Carson Palmer hadn’t hurt his finger?
This one was easily the #1 pick. In weeks leading up to the the 2016 NFC playoffs, Carson Palmer and Tyrann Mathieu both suffered injuries in the same game on Sunday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles that would shape the rest of the season. For Mathieu, it was his 2nd torn ACL. For Palmer, he dislocated his finger and, based on his numbers before and after the injury, just wasn’t the same for the rest of the season. His velocity dipped and turnovers rose. Mathieu had been the heart and soul of the team’s defense that season, and losing him created a mismatch in the secondary against the Panthers that next week.
Many Cardinals fans who watched the thrilling end of the Packers-Cardinals playoff game with Larry Fitzgerald racing past the Packer defense had that feeling back from 2008 of going to the Super Bowl.
And it was all dashed in the first quarter that next week in a blowout by the Panthers in which the team, and Palmer, clearly didn’t look themselves.
If, for a moment, Palmer and Mathieu had stayed healthy, would that have been enough for them to beat a soaring Panthers team on the road?
But likely not.
And with how the Denver Broncos defense smothered the Panthers the following Super Bowl, who knows if Arizona could have stood a chance.
But we’ll never truly know. And for that reason, it will always be a “what if” for the Birdgang.
What are your top “what if’s” for the Arians/Keim era?
Sound off in the comments!
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