If you squinted hard enough, you could still see a sliver of hope for the Cardinals’ 2018 season right around halftime yesterday. Only down 3 to the Vikings, if we continued to harass Kirk Cousins, forced another turnover or two, and got some big-time play from our young quarterback, we could pull off the shocker. Then, all that would stand between us and a 3-4 record at the bye was a beatable Denver team at home. Not likely, but within the realm of possibility.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Vikes scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half and didn’t look back.
Now, at 1-5, despite what the coaches and front office might say, the 2018 season is over. Everything from here on out should be about 2019: evaluating young players and guys in their walk year, deciding who’s part of our future and who isn’t, weeding out those who don’t fit.
With that in mind, there are several things the team can and should do to prepare for next season. Some are more minor tweaks (deciding what to do with Deone Bucannon), some are inevitable (cutting ties with Phil Dawson), and some are too obvious to spend more time harping on (#firemikemccoy).
But we’re not here to talk about those kinds of moves. We’re here to talk about the more radical moves. The kinds of moves that, honestly, haven’t ever been the Cardinals’ forte—which is a big part of the reason why we’re in the state we’re in. But these are the kinds of moves the team needs to be able to make if they want to keep up in today’s NFL.
So here are three moves we should make to get a leg up on 2019, in increasing order of radicalness.
Move 1: Trade for Amari Cooper
Those of you who play fantasy football have probably drank the Amari Cooper Kool-Aid a few times over the years—and have almost always regretted it. He’s maddeningly inconsistent, as likely to catch one ball for 10 yards (usually in big games) as go off for 7/140/2 TDs (usually in inconsequential games). It’s honesty not a surprise that he’s on the trade block.
But hear me out. First, he’s only 24 years old, and he already has two 1000-yard seasons on his resume. So he’s young and talented enough to potentially be part of the Cardinals’ offensive core while Josh Rosen grows over the next few years. He also has mostly played outside, a position where the Redbirds have struggled badly this season, with dead weight like Chad Williams and J.J. Nelson letting the team down weekly. Adding an outside threat like Cooper would also allow Christian Kirk to flourish in the slot after Larry Fitzgerald likely retires.
He’s not cheap (under contract for $13 million next season), but that might make it easier to trade for him. What could we offer in return? How about something like Markus Golden and a 4th-round draft pick? (Just spitballing.) The Raiders get half a season or so to see if Golden can be a replacement for Khalil Mack and a mid-round pick to add depth to their roster. I think a deal like this would make sense for both sides. (Assuming Cooper is okay after this brutal hit yesterday. Here’s hoping.)
This trade would certainly be a game-changer. But it’s not as radical as this next potential trade.
Move 2: Trade David Johnson
When the rumors first started to fly, I thought they were ludicrous. We just signed him to an extension, and he’s only two years removed from leading the league in yards from scrimmage. Why would we trade the centerpiece of our offense, one of the best running backs in the league?
Then I thought about it. Is he really one of the best RBs in football? He certainly hasn’t looked like it this season. Even given the limitations of our offense under McCoy, DJ has still looked more timid and much less explosive than he did in 2016. You’d hope to see him flash even in limited opportunities, but he just hasn’t. He also put the ball on the ground against the Vikings, his second fumble this season (and 12th in 3+ seasons). Finally, he’s already 26 (almost 27)—realistically, he’s probably got 2-3 more seasons as a potential 300-touch back.
All of which leads me up to this: running back is perhaps the most fungible position in the modern NFL. Sure, you’ve got 1st-round picks like Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley among the league leaders in rushing, but there are also guys like Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and James Conner right up there. They’re all 3rd-rounders—just like DJ.
And we just so happen to have a similar guy ready to take over as lead back, a 4th-round pick from a small school whom the team is high on: Chase Edmonds. Look, we’re not going anywhere this year and we have plenty of roster holes—but RB doesn’t seem to be one of them, even without DJ. So what not trade him for a Day 2 pick and see what you have with Edmonds (and the mysteriously inactive T.J. Logan)?
He’s already been linked to the Eagles, which makes a lot of sense, but teams like the Buccaneers, Texans, and Colts also have massive holes at RB. Surely one of them would pony up a 2nd-rounder for a guy like DJ? That would sure help the Redbirds fill a more pressing need at CB, OL, or WR (assuming we don’t trade for Cooper).
That might be a bitter pill to swallow for many Redbirds fans, but it’s looking like a necessary remedy given how things have unfolded thus far in 2018.
Move 2.5: Do Not Trade Patrick Peterson
I’ve seen several people propose this in the RotB comment section and on Twitter. But this isn’t the kind of move the team needs to be thinking about. Cornerback isn’t nearly as replaceable a position as running back, and quick turnarounds are commonplace in the NFL. To field a competitive roster again in the next couple seasons, we’d need players like Peterson—a Hall of Fame caliber player—on it. Trading him would be too bold, Cotton.
Of course, there’s another, even bolder move the team could make instead…
Move 3: Fire Steve Wilks and Steve Keim
Burn it all down.
I’m with Walter on this—the team has no clear direction as currently constructed. We have a strange mix of aging veterans and unproven young players, a roster built to go through a window that no longer exists, coached by a staff that has proven itself unwilling, or—worse— unable to adapt its schemes to the talents of the players they have to work with. It’s a chimerical mix that’s as ugly and misshapen as the team’s 1-5 record indicates.
And it’s time to pull the plug on this science experiment.
Wilks has been overmatched at every turn, blowing multiple late-game calls and allowing a QB controversy to fester behind the scenes, and his staff has been just as bad—DC Al Holcomb is coaching the worst run defense in the league, and McCoy’s struggles have been written about ad nauseum on this site. For his part, Keim hired this ineffectual staff, and he compounded that mistake by failing to bring in players that fit the staff’s schemes. He’s also drafted poorly in recent years and has made a number of other questionable decisions (not upgrading the WR corps, consistently failing to solve the CB2 dilemma, keeping Dawson over McCrane, etc.). Not to mention his off-the-field issues. They both need to go for the good of the franchise.
It wouldn’t be an easy decision for Michael Bidwill to make, but there’s no easy way out of the mess the team is in right now.
This season is over. It’s time to start thinking about 2019. We need to upgrade our WR corps, plug several other holes on the roster, and make sure we have the right people developing our franchise QB. The above moves would help accomplish all those goals. The only question that remains is whether our leadership—specifically Michael Bidwill—is capable of making these kinds of tough decisions. Because that’s what it’s going to take to turn this team around.
So what do you think about these potential moves, Redbirds fans? Should we go after a player like Amari Cooper? Consider trading DJ (or Peterson)? Cut our losses with Wilks and Keim? Let us know what you think about these moves and any others you can think of in the comments. Let’s try to figure out how to turn this thing around. That’s about all we can do these next few months...