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It’s only June, but the Cardinals don’t seem like a playoff team

The NFL season is still months away, but this RotB writer is having a hard time seeing a return to the playoffs after a lackluster at best offseason.

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Syndication: Arizona Republic
J.J. Watt only showed flashes of his previously dominant self in an injury-shortened debut season in the desert. We’ll need him for all 17 games for this team to have a chance at making the playoffs. But can he do it at this stage in his career?
Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last season, the Arizona Cardinals got their first taste of playoff football since the 2015 season. Of course, the season ended in ugly fashion, but it was still good to get back to the postseason. After the initial feelings of shock and anger wore off, Cardinals fans started to look ahead to another potential playoff run next season.

But in the months since then, the team has made a number of questionable decisions—and has shown clear indecision on several important issues as well. Concerning for a team that has been telling its fans that it’s in “win-now” mode.

It’s almost impossible to argue that this team has improved from last season. In fact, Bill Barnwell recently ranked the Cardinals’ offseason as the third-worst in the NFL (Insider required). At least Cardinals fans can take solace in the fact that the rival Seahawks ranked dead last on that list.

But, if anything, this team seems to have gotten worse in the past few months. I hate to rain on people’s parades (although rain is always appreciated at this time of year in the Valley), but this sure doesn’t seem like a playoff team to me. Granted, the season is still three months away, but there are just too many questions surrounding this team to give me any confidence the 2022 team will be better than the (ultimately disappointing) 2021 squad. The upcoming season has an unfortunate whiff of disappointment already.

Read on to see what I mean.

Questions About the Front Office

I wrote about this at more length in the RotB article linked above, but the questions about this team start at the top. Handing out 5-year(!) extensions to GM Steve Keim and HC Kliff Kingsbury almost immediately after the playoff beatdown in L.A. was questionable at best, especially after the history of second-half collapses by this team. But then to follow it up by not extending QB Kyler Murray just makes fans wonder what this team’s plan is. Or if there even is one. This seeming indecision (or whatever else it is) likely cost the team millions of dollars since the QB market was reset this offseason. This, of course, assumes a Murray extension is in the pipeline. It pretty clearly seems to be, but if not… yikes. Even more questions would start to swirl around the front office.

And then there’s the strangely quiet offseason led by Keim. I’ll get more into this below, but the team has several roster holes that he seemingly decided to just… not address? In a “win-now” offseason? I doubt he is, but Michael Bidwill should already be regretting that extension. Ditto the one for Kingsbury, who hasn’t done enough to deserve such a rich extension in the estimation of most Cardinals fans (and many in the local and national media as well).

Questions About the Offense

I’m actually fairly confident in this group, and like most of the moves Keim made on this side of the ball. I’m a big fan of the Marquise Brown trade, and Darrel Williams should be a more than adequate replacement for Chase Edmonds. I’m glad we brought James Conner and Zach Ertz back, and I like his eventual replacement, Trey McBride. And the O-line should be solid once again.

But still… there are so many questions and this group could be closer to the ineffectiveness we saw toward the end of last season than we’d like. These questions also start at the top. Will Kingsbury be better about adjusting in-season around injuries and counter-adjustments by opposing coaches? Will there be any lingering locker room effects from the Kyler contract situation? Will we be able to effectively weather the DeAndre Hopkins suspension? Why A.J. Green, just why? Is Rondale Moore the next Andy Isabella? Will we regret overpaying for Conner and Ertz as soon as this season? Should we just have drafted a cheaper receiver instead of trading a 1st-rounder for Brown? Was making a luxury pick like McBride smart with so many holes elsewhere on the roster? Can Rodney Hudson recapture his previously elite form this season? Again: Why A.J. Green? So many questions.

Questions About the Defense

But not nearly as many as there are about the defense. When I look at the projected depth chart on ESPN, I see a shell of the unit that’s been borderline top-10 in each of the past two seasons. I’ve been a pretty vocal critic of DC Vance Joseph in the past, but he’s done a remarkable job of working magic with some fairly flawed units.

But I don’t think even Dick LeBeau or Wade Phillips could turn this group into an elite unit. We have absolutely no proven players at DT—that’s a problem in any defense, but especially a 3-4. Pass rush is a huge question mark behind J.J. “When He’s Healthy” Watt and, to a lesser extent, Markus Golden. It’s alarming that Keim has done next to nothing to address these huge holes in our front seven. And even recent 1st-round picks Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins still have a ton to prove at ILB. In the secondary, while the death of Jeff Gladney obviously transcends football, cornerback is the biggest question mark on the entire team. I can only imagine what Patrick Mahomes will do to this group in Week 1. At least we’re set at safety with Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson. But it’s easy to see this as the year when the bottom falls out and this group plummets toward the bottom of the league rankings.

Final Thoughts

Add it all up, and I have a hard time seeing this team reaching the playoffs. In fact, I’d probably take the under on the Cardinals Vegas win total of 9.5. I don’t like being so pessimistic about a team I’m a huge fan of, but the writing is on the wall after this offseason of frustration and complacency. I’ve been worried for years that the Michael Bidwill culture of minimal “progress” would come back to bite this franchise, and this season could very well be the one where that happens.

To quote a Phoenix sports legend, I may be wrong… but I doubt it.