The Arizona Cardinals have had, by all accounts, a busy offseason.
After squandering a golden opportunity to end their five year post season drought in 2020, the Cardinals have made it a priority to bring in the necessary muscle in order to push them over the edge this year.
First it was the courting of future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt.
Next it was a slew of quality free agent additions, headlined by the trade (and eventual extension) of All Pro center Rodney Hudson.
Rodney Hudson for his career:— PFF (@PFF) March 22, 2021
♦️ 10 seasons played in the NFL
♦️ 10 sacks allowed pic.twitter.com/95LYMgREGV
Both Pro Bowl acquisitions were aimed to offset the “soft” mentality the Cardinals rightfully earned down the stretch of last season. The team was too often pushed around by lesser opponents (New England, Miami) while also suffering humiliating, nationally televised defeats to C.J. Beathard and John Wolford.
The back to back in-division losses to end the year no doubt put Team President Michael Bidwill into “all in” mode for 2021.
After a free agent frenzy that also saw the team secure former Pro Bowl standouts Malcom Butler and AJ Green, the team pivoted toward the NFL Draft.
Rather than trading down for additional draft capital, the Cardinals stood pat and took two high end talents which they claim will contribute early and often this season.
Early draft picks have not always made a quick impact for the Cardinals. LB Zaven Collins and WR Rondale Moore will be expected to do so.— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) May 2, 2021
"Steve (Keim) made that crystal clear: those first two picks need to play, and play early, and play a lot."https://t.co/lX7SI97dTO
Both picks signify the sense of urgency facing this team. Rather than watch another dismal season from incumbents Jordan Hicks and Andy Isabella, the front office knew they needed upgrades in order to contend in the dreaded NFC West.
Zaven Collins and Rondale Moore are impact talents that could very well change the dynamic of how opponents prepare for the Cardinals. Collins immediately forms a standout tandem with 2020 first round pick Isaiah Simmons that could be unmatched in the NFL moving forward. No roster sports the pedigree of two first round inside linebackers that each eclipse 6’4 and run sub 4.67 40 times.
Collins high intensity, killer mindset is exatcly what the doctor ordered for the Cardinals.
In Week 16 of last season, in a must win game for the Cardinals, Jeff Wilson of the 49ers went for 183 on the ground averaging 8.3 ypc.— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) April 30, 2021
The team's two starting ILB grades that day?
Jordan Hicks: 30
De'Vondre Campbell: 25.7
The Cardinals lost and missed the playoffs as a result.
Moore, meanwhile, possesses the ever-elusive YAC ability the Cardinal receiving core has been so desperately searching for to compliment All Pro DeAndre Hopkins. His insertion into the Cardinal offense could be vital in solidifying their spot as a top five unit in all of football.
Lets also not forget the quality running back combo of Chase Edmonds and newcomer James Conner. Edmonds has shown glimpses of a franchise rusher, while Conner is the added power sorely needed in short yardage. Both possess a tremendous ability to break tackles in the open field and should be aided by the presence of Rodney Hudson.
The Cardinal roster isn’t perfect, but after three seasons of rebuilding, it now stands among the NFL’s elite in terms of top tier talent. You are historically thought of as a true contender when your roster can sport 10-11 Pro Bowlers (five on each side of the ball). If that is the measuring stick, then it’s time to prepare for January football in the desert.
Proven Pro Bowl talent:
Potential Pro Bowl talent:
Combine this with the fact that QB Kyler Murray, entering year three, is currently saddled with top 10 MVP odds (yet again) and the Cardinals should theoretically be a post season lock in 2021.
2021 NFL MVP odds— BetOnline.ag (@betonline_ag) April 15, 2021
Patrick Mahomes: +500
Aaron Rodgers: +900
Josh Allen: +1000
Lamar Jackson: +1400
Matthew Stafford: +1400
Kyler Murray: +1600
Tom Brady: +1600
Dak Prescott: +1800
Yet, even with all of the supporting evidence in their favor, no one outside of the Valley is taking this team seriously.
At the writing of this article, 12 different online betting sites have the Cardinals firmly seated to finish fourth in the NFC West.
Not just miss the postseason for the sixth consecutive year, but finish dead last in their own division.
Why is that you ask?
Until people begin to take Kliff Kingsbury seriously, no one will take the Arizona Cardinals seriously.— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) May 7, 2021
It doesn’t matter what the roster looks like.
While I do think Kliff Kingsbury is capable in a lot of aspects, the odds of him succeeding may just be too great. While things are always subject to change, entering this season, the NFC West could sport the greatest collection of talent (both in personnel and coaching) seen by the league in decades.
All three of the Cardinals’ NFC West counterparts have secured post season victories in the last 16 months. Each head coach has appeared in at least one Super Bowl.
The Arizona Cardinals have never beaten LA Rams head coach Sean McVay. McVay, since taking over in 2017, has been in the post season all but one year. He has never had a losing season.
To make matters worse, the team has upgraded their quarterback position with the arrival of Matthew Stafford.
Since entering the league in 2012, the combination of head coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson have combined for zero losing seasons in Seattle. They have missed the post season only once during that span and have upgraded their line play with guard Gabe Jackson.
The San Francisco 49ers, meanwhile, were the NFC representatives in the Super Bowl just one year ago. Even with grossly below average QB play this past season, the team still managed to keep the Cardinals out of post season contention following their week 16 match up.
The team famously traded up to pick number three to select QB Trey Lance because they believe they’re only a quarterback away from consistent contention. Even with the likelihood of a transition year with Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo taking snaps, the Niners are still viewed as a better bet to win the West than Arizona.
No one takes the Cardinals seriously and, fair or not, it’s because of their head coach. Perhaps if Kliff was leading the charge in the marginal NFC East, things would be different. He is, by all accounts, well liked and respected amongst players and team executives.
He’s also improved the team’s record during each of his first two seasons, making the Cardinals watchable in the process.
Given where this team was in 2018, that alone should be commended.
But patience is running thin in a division that could be the most aggressive ever seen in the NFL. Every offseason, the NFC West seemingly welcomes another superstar player into the fold. From Jamal Adams, to Jalen Ramsey, DeAndre Hopkins, Matthew Stafford, JJ Watt, Dee Ford, Trent Williams and more; it’s a ridiculous collection of players.
The list is absurd because the arms race never stops. The NFC West is like a heavyweight fight and when the personnel is equal, it comes down to who’s running the show from the sidelines.
And until proven otherwise, that's where the Cardinals finish last.