Look, we all know by now Santa isn’t real. But because of the unrelenting cruelty bestowed on Arizona sports fans, we can only assume that there are Football Gods out there. And maybe they’re listening. And maybe, just maybe... they’ll cut us some slack. This is our plea.
All I want is for the Cardinals to have a winning record in 2020, whether they make the playoffs or not. I do not expect GM Steve Keim to be going anywhere and HC Kliff Kingsbury has made significant improvement with his decision making over the course of the 2019 season.
Even the defense has looked good against the Browns and Seahawks. The Cardinals have some good talent in place in Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, Chandler Jones, Jordan Hicks, Budda Baker, and so much more.
But this Arizona team cannot be content or be accepting of what they currently have. They need to be better and build an even more talented roster. That means nailing free agency and the draft. I have always considered the NFL Draft as my Super Bowl. Get some promising players for the future like CeeDee Lamb and this team will have a very bright future.
1. Get Kyler a weapon outside
Too often I’ve seen Kyler look to his first reads outside and deep only to see them covered or unable to separate and when he scrambles...nothing changes. Giving him either a shifty, speedy deep threat or a big “my ball” target could change the Cards offense
2. Merry Fitzmas continues through 2020...and 2021
Don’t stop won’t stop, here’s hoping Larry makes the most of the 3rd franchise QB he’s ever played with and puts himself into a #2 all-time spot that like Jerry Rice, no one will ever be able to catch.
3. A deep ranging free safety to let Budda and Jalen be Budda and Jalen
Both safeties in Arizona are great, being the Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson of early Arians’ Cardinals teams. What they’re missing right now is a Rashad Johnson who can man the middle of the field and play ballhawk to let the other two roam and hit.
4. Matt Skura, C for Baltimore
The offensive line has been great for Arizona. It’s also a big long in the tooth on the interior and while most will glance at the outside as being an issue on the tackles....I think a sneaky good move might be to put Mason Cole at right guard for the future post-Sweezy and sign away the guy who’s been blocking for Lamar Jackson’s #1 seed run for the long-haul and let the team invest in the tackle position in the draft
5. (Bonus) You to subscribe to the Revenge of the Birds podcast!
Okay, a shameless plug but tis’ the season, thanks to all the ROTB followers out there and have a great holiday season with your loved ones!
What I most want for Christmas is a new defensive coordinator for 2020. A new GM would be nice, but I don’t think it’s happening. Strengthening both lines in the offseason would be a good gift as well. OROY for Kyler and the sack record for Chandler would be good stocking stuffers. Oh, and beating the Rams in Week 17.
1. A New General Manager
As unlikely as it may be, I still reserve hope that we may be gifted new leadership throughout the front office (and that includes General Manager Steve Keim). Arizona’s scouting department needs a definitive shakeup, both at the collegiate and pro level. Their ability to evaluate talent has taken a nosedive in recent years, specifically in the draft. Over the last decade, no one sports a worse batting average with first round selections than the Cardinals.
For Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury to take this roster to the next level, the supporting cast needs to vastly improve. The only way that’s happening is with a new eye for talent at the helm and that starts at the top with Keim.
2. Talent along the defensive line
Over roughly a five year span, Arizona went from having one of the most formidable front sevens in all of football to perhaps the least talent. We all know the ongoing issues surrounding the team’s attempt to find that elusive impact off ball linebacker (see Haason Reddick, Deone Buccanon, Kevin Minter), but that position unit isn’t entirely dire. Jordan Hicks is a capable player, and if the Cardinals can manage an adequate counterpart this off season, they’ll be OK for 2020. Chandler Jones is one of the best pass rushers in all of football, even a rotating door of mediocrity manning the other edge position for Arizona.
The defensive line, on the other hand, is very likely the weakest position unit on the roster (I’m not sure it’s close). Not only does Arizona no longer field Pro Bowl level talent ala Calais Campbell or Darnell Dockett, but outside of the 31 NT Corey Peters, are they even average?
No...they are not.
The Cardinals need to start over along their front three and that begins this off season. I expect the front office to spend big money along the LOS and with good reason. The Cardinals have been exposed in recent weeks giving up big yardage to opposing ground attacks (Gurley, Chubb etc.). They very rarely generate any kind of pressure upfront, and are more than often exposed in critical third down attempts (sound familiar?).
So who to target?
A couple division rivals come to mind in Seattle’s Jarran Reed and San Francisco Arik Armstead. While Reed has enjoyed a solid season, sporting a PFF grade in the mid 60s, Armstead will likely garner All Pro honors in a contract year. Either way, both would serve as major upgrades for an Arizona defensive line starved for talent.
Leonard Williams is also a name to watch, should the Giants fumble their attempts to extend him (anything is possible with Gettleman).
3. A Number One Receiver
Count me in the camp that felt like Arizona could get by with what they had at receive come 2019 and beyond. Regardless of how you may feel about the unit now, you can’t argue the fact that the front office ATTEMPTED to remedy this once promising position unit on several occasions. Christian Kirk was a second round selection only a year ago, while Steve Keim then spent three draft selections (two of which in the top four rounds) on wide receivers this past April.
Alas, it appears (as of now), that Kirk is the only reliable option moving forward (and that includes the 37 year old Larry Fitzgerald). Even with Kirk’s continued development, the former Aggie projects far better as a number two receiver as opposed as the team’s primary target. Andy Isabella is now officially a “project” while other rookie receivers are flourishing for their new teams.
So where does that leave Keim and company looking this off season. Well, free agency is generally a major gamble when searching for reliable pass catchers. You’re better off finding complimentary pieces hoping to hit a home run (see Robert Woods) than overspending on the likes of David Boston or Javon Walker (flash over substance).
One name to watch is soon to be free agent receiver Robby Anderson of the New York Jets. Hampered on and off this year with injury, when healthy, Anderson has the skillset of a low end number one receiver. At 6’3, Anderson has possesses legitimate 4.4 speed that more than plays on Sunday’s in New York. Should the Jets let him test the market, do no be surprised if the Cardinals gage his agent’s asking price.
Then of course, there is next April’s NFL Draft which boosts one of the best receiver classes in recent memory. I’ve talked enough, both on this site as well as on the ROTB podcast, about the incoming collision course this franchise has with a certain Oklahoma Sooner pass catcher. I feel as strongly as ever to not enlist Santa’s services in assuring the Birdgang that should Arizona sport a top 3-5 pick and CeeDee Lamb remain on the board, he will be an Arizona Cardinal.
1. A new GM. - My ideal candidate is Ed Dodds, currently Assistant GM of the Colts. Formerly a part of the Seahawks FO. I’d also be happy with Eliot Wolf (Asst. GM of the Browns), George Paton (Asst. GM of the Vikings) or Will McClay (VP of Player Personnel, Cowboys). It’s past time we move on.
2. Anthony Castonzo/Joe Thuney - The OL is currently playing better than expected, but even then there is room for improvement. The scheme is doing some work here, and I believe to see this offense and Kyler Murray’s full potential, upgrades are of paramount importance. Castonzo is a much preferred upgrade at LT in a FA market I’m not fond of. Thuney is the best pending OL free agent. In an ideal world they get both, but it’s not, so I’d be happy with either.
3. Javon Hargrave - I’ve wanted this man on this team since his days as a draft prospect, and he’s only exceeded my expectations. The DL is in clear need of help. Slot him in next to Peters and Zach Allen and get Chandler Jones some much needed help in the passing game.
4. CeeDee Lamb and Creed Humphrey/Tyler Biadasz - The draft and ensuing evaluations are an ever changing process right up until we hear that jingle on draft day. That said, projecting things as they look today, this is how I’d like to see the first two rounds shake out. It’s doubtful Humphrey lasts to the second pick, and I’m all for a move up to upgrade center. I’d be surprised if Biadasz is there too, but a little less so. Austin Jackson is also someone I’m keeping my eye on in that range.
My Christmas wish list for the Cardinals is simple.
1. Fix the defense in FA, especially the interior of the D.
2. Get an alpha at WR anyway possible.
3. Have a plan in place for the next five years, not just the next year. I don’t care who the GM is that does it, just make sure it gets done.
1. A linebacker or safety that can cover opposing TEs. If you’ve watched a Cardinals game in 2019, this one is pretty self explanatory.
2. A wide receiver that can consistently win in matchups against opposing DBs. Too often we see Kyler Murray struggling to find an open receiver and being forced to press.
3. A young, dynamic pass rusher to play opposite of Chandler Jones. Jones can’t continue to be the only guy carrying the pass rushing load for the Cards. The team tried to bring in an aging pass rusher in Terrell Suggs for a year, but it didn’t work out. They need a young guy that can grow with the core of the defense, whether he plays defensive end in the 3-4 or OLB.
These days, I am feeling a maelstrom of inner conflict. While my brain tells me big and immediate changes need to be made if our beloved Arizona Cardinals are going to try to win a Super Bowl--my conscience keeps whispering to me that maybe keeping as much of the continuity as possible, for Kliff Kingsbury’s sake, might be the best thing for 2020. Therefore, I am hoping these last two games gives me a stronger sense of clarity, and thus a stronger, more committed idea of what the wish list should look like.
What about you, ROTB nation? What’s on your Cardinals Wish list?