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Op-Ed: Who’s Most Responsible for Cardinals’ Demise?

Arizona Cardinals Introduce Kliff Kingsbury - Press Conference Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Note: this is an article that has taken months to write. It is is an op-ed that takes into account some of the inside information I have received from a few sources that I have communicated with over the past year. Because it is an op-ed I am not going to write “in my opinion” whenever I express my points of view. I hope you will accept and appreciate that.

Ever curious about what Cardinals’ fans think, I posted this poll on Twitter yesterday:

Here are my own assessments of the first three critical mistakes the Cardinals have made since the trading deadline of last season:

With Steve Keim, it has pretty much been the same ever since, as his approach to this off-season was to re-sign a few of the team’s own free agents (while ignoring Justin Pugh’s and Rodney Hudson’s retirement rumblings to the tune of close to $19M on the cap) and electing to shun what could have been key additions of outside free agents in favor of trying to accumulate 2023 compensatory draft picks.

One caveat: Steve Keim’s efforts to sign outside free agents may have been restricted by Michael Bidwill’s budget, the team’s poor finish to the 2021 season, and all of the drama and uncertainty that circulated the national news regarding Kyler Murray’s contract situation.

Steve Keim’s message to team and fans: we are looking beyond this season and don’t feel like we can contend for the Super Bowl, even though the Super Bowl happens to be in our own stadium this year.

This was the first indication that Kyler Murray was quitting on his teammates and the Cardinals’ organization.

Think about that. If the players still believed the Cardinals had a good shot at the Super Bowl would players be thinking of retiring and electing to skip OTAs? Why was that? What were the major factors?

Biggest, most costly mistakes:

Michael Bidwill: caving in to popular opinion and the recommendations of his GM and HC (to whom Bidwill shockingly gave 5 year contract extensions) to sign Kyler Murray, despite the red flags concerning his leadership, durability and questionable investment in the organization, to an absurd 5 year $230.5M contract extension, when the team still had two years remaining on Murray’s rookie contract.

The statement that Kyler’s extension sent to a dubious locker room was a morale crusher —- with the FO and coaching staff continuing to give the red carpet treatment to a player with such conspicuous question marks and behaviors sent a loud and clear message to the team that no matter what, the team was going to put all of its eggs in Kyler’s basket.

Why did Bidwill cave?

Michael Bidwill’s biggest fault: he’s too easily swayed by the popular opinion of the fans. Problem is, when it comes to personnel, Cardinals’ fans coddle divas. So MB is eager to follow suit because he doesn’t want to be perceived a a “cheap” owner, in the way his dad was, and he wants to do what he thinks will excite and please the fans.

Cases in point of fan favorites whom Bidwill rewarded that underachieved in light of the lucrative contracts they were given :

  • Pat Peterson
  • Tyrann Mathieu
  • David Johnson
  • Terrell Suggs
  • Chandler Jones (over Haason Reddick)
  • DeAndre Hopkins (no way is he earning his contract)
  • Kyler Murray (condoning red flags and enabling continued behaviors)

Steve Keim: somehow fooling himself into believing that little to no outside help was needed in order to increase the Cardinals’ chances of contending in 2022. Plus, fooling himself into thinking that disgruntled players who leave the organization with such anger and resentment is somehow an acceptable thing.

Kliff Kingsbury: tying his wagon so blindly to Kyler Murray. While the players respect Kliff for his diligence, support and enthusiastic perseverance, they have been longing for Kliff to put Kyler Murray in his proper place, to stop bubble wrapping him and treating him with kid gloves, but Kliff simply would not do it forcefully enough.

One of the worst examples was starting Kyler in the Patriots’ game after Kyler was late to a meeting during the prep week. There’s no accountability in that. The players know it. A week later JJ Watt was asking all the players on the team, “are you a guy who is late for meetings?”

Dang, doing the right thing may have prevented Kyler’s ACL tear.

Kyler Murray: (two parts) refusing to finish the Rams playoff game, particularly in light of the Herculean effort JJ Watt made to rehab a totally ripped out shoulder in time for the playoffs, was the worst decision of his career to that point. Of course, one awful decision can lead to another, which was the case when, following the Pro Bowl, Kyler scrubbed his socials.

Kyler’s message was clear hat he was not happy in Arizona. It was sent in a timely fashion so that he could get his name out there for teams who could be interested in trading for him prior to the 2022 NFL Draft. He was expecting an outpouring of interest.

Two former teammates of Kyler’s had also scrubbed their socials,. Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones. Both had issued trade requests at one point or another. Kyler understood the precedent.

Kyler’s first choice, obviously, was for Jerry Jones and the Cowboys to come calling. With Dak Precsott under contract, the Cowboys may not have had the wherewithal to trade for Kyler. But, Jerry Jones loves his University of Oklahoma ties and he has some of the deepest pockets in the NFL. Dak was coming off his infamous slide short of the needed first down with precious seconds ticking off the clock in the team’s home 23-17 playoff loss to the 49ers. And, two weeks earlier at home Dak had lost to Kyler 25-22, which extended Kyler’s legendary unbeaten streak at AT&T Stadium.

Of course, Kyler’s playing at the Pro Bowl with Cee Dee Lamb whom he had urged Steve Keim to draft in 2020 felt like the good ol’ days. Is it any wonder why the only photo Kyler chose to keep on his socials was one of himself with Cee Dee?

Kyler’s second choice was to be traded to the Broncos, because, as with the Cowboys, they have a top notch defense and a talented WR room.

The problem was, Steve Keim, at the NFL Combine put the kibosh on any possible trade discussions for Kyler Murray.

Despite Keim’s insistence that there was no way the Cardinals would even listen to trade proposals, the Colts and Texans made calls.

If you saw last year’s Hard Knocks In-Season with the Colts, you saw how enamored the Colts’ coaches were of Kyler’s talents.

Of course, the Texans made sense because of their need at QB and because of how popular Kyler is in the state of Texas.

Everything that Kyler was hoping for, when he expressed his disdain for the Cardinals, had a way of backfiring on him in ways that he never anticipated. The Cowboys and Broncos took Keim seriously and never called. Meanwhile, Chris Mortenson’s Report on ESPN wherein he cited from a source with inside ties to the Cardinals that the team had question marks about Kyler’s maturity and lack of leadership, created damaging PR hits for both the Cardinals and Kyler.

So, what was Kyler’s biggest mistake?

Kyler could have and should have come right out and asked to be traded. He should have informed the Cardinals that he felt as if he needed a fresh start with another team, because his interest in playing for the Cardinals had waned.

Instead, the cravenly, passive-aggressive decision to scrub his socials, created all kinds of confusion and doubt which led to the kind of national scrutiny that didn’t do the Cardinals or Kyler any favors.

But the major loser in all of this was Michael Bidwill.

Michael Bidwill:

Again, with hoards of Cardinals fans pleading with him to sign Kyler to the contract extension, Michael Bidwill wanted to deliver for the fans, despite knowing in his nagging conscience how Kyler had yet to warrant top 5 QB money, nor had he deserved a gratuitous vote of confidence from the front office just yet after Kyler’s late season nosedive as a player and leader.

But, the redundant pattern with Michael Bidwill has been to hold on to his popular players as long as he thinks it will please the fans —- even on the occasions when Bidwill knows the players no longer want to be in Arizona.

Michael Bidwill needs to start being willing to trade star players who want out. Go look at the list of star players above —- how did keeping them, some of them against their will, happen to work out for Bidwill and the team?

We know that at the trading deadline in 2019, even despite Patrick Peterson being back just a few weeks rom his 6 game PED/Coverup suspension , Bidwill turned down an offer of a 1st round pick from the Eagles and WR Nelson Agholor for Peterson.

Do you know would have been available at the Eagles’ pick, #21, in 2020?

WR Justin Jefferson, LSU —- whom Cardinals’ offensive assistant Jerry Sullivan was urging the Cardinals to take. Sullivan had coached Jefferson at LSU.

If Bidwill was willing to listen:

How about if the Cardinals were offered what the Broncos gave the Seahawks for Russell Wilson:

The Seattle Seahawks traded

  • QB Russell Wilson and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick to the Denver Broncos for:
  • a 2022 first-round pick,
  • a 2022 second-round pick,
  • a 2022 fifth-round pick,
  • a 2023 first-round pick,
  • a 2023 second-round pick,
  • TE Noah Fant, DE Shelby Harris and QB Drew Lock.

With the 3 Broncos’ 2022 picks, the Cardinals could have drafted:

  • R1: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio St.
  • R2: Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan St.
  • R5: Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA

Then in this year’s NFL Draft with Cardinals’ own:

  • R1: J.C. Stroud, QB, Ohio St.
  • R1: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
  • R2: Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah
  • R2: O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida

Imagine if the Colts had offered a similar package:

  • R1: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (74.8 in 12 starts)
  • R2: Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi St. (72.6 in 16 starts)
  • R5: Jamaree Slayer, T/G, Gorgia (67.9 in 13 starts)

This Year With Cardinals Own:

  • R1: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
  • R1: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
  • R2: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
  • R2: Sedrick Van Pran, C, Georgia

Imagine if the Texas had offered a similar package:

  • R!: Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
  • R2: Cam Jurgens, C, Nebraska
  • R5: Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA

This Year with Cardinals’ Own

  • R1: QB Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
  • R1: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
  • R2: B.J. Ojulari, EDGE, LSU
  • R2: Clark Phillips III, NCB, Utah

There were a lot of variables and moving parts here (and records could have been different), but the point is, when a team gets good value in return by trading a player who wants out, the options can often be plentiful and promising. Just ask the Seahawks.

Final Poll Results:

If Bidwill continues his policy of giving the fans what he thinks they want, he will fire Kliff Kingsbury and the coaching staff, even though Bidwill knows that Kliff is the hardest working, most resilient and classiest coach he has ever hired.

What this poll clearly suggests is that Kliff Kingsbury was the victim of a dysfunctional front office.

While many Cardinals fans are screaming like banshees to fire Kliff, what few fans will not even remotely acknowledge is how competitive Kliff has kept the team, despite losing 4 of 5 starters on the OL for the majority of the season and losing QBs, CBs and WRs off an on throughout the season.

Kudos to Kliff:

Last 7 Games:

  • 31-21 W at LAR with Colt at QB (Halftime score: 17-3 ARI)
  • 38-10 L to SF with Colt at QB (Halftime score: 17-10 SF)
  • 25-24 L to LAC with Kyler at QB (Halftime score: 17-14 ARI)
  • 27-13 L to NE with Kyler, Colt at QB (Halftime score: 13-10 ARI)
  • 24-15 L to DEN with Colt, Trace at QB (Halftime score: 6-3 ARI)
  • 19-16 L to TB with Trace at QB (Halftime score: 6-6)
  • 20-19 L to ATL with David at QB (halftime score: 14-13 ATL)

Not only was every game competitive at halftime (Cardinals ahead or tied in 5 of the 7 games, it showed marked improvement from first half of the season’s slow starts).

In 4 of the 7 games the Cardinals’ had the lead late in the 4th quarter, but last minute TDs, 2 point conversions and FGs cost the Cardinals 3 potential wins.

In light of the circumstances, while the win/loss record won’t show it, this is an impressively strong finish from Kliff, his staff and the players who have continued to play hard week after week under enormous rancor and duress.

These games also speak to how well Kliff can prepare a host of QBs.

Kliff has shown remarkable poise, resiliency and class during one of the most adverse set of circumstances a team could face through an off-season and throughout the regular season.

As for Kyler:

Here is a poll posted yesterday:

Back on June 7, 2022, in an effort to see how many Cardinals fans were pushing for the Cardinals to give Kyler his bag, here are the results of virtually the same poll:

Interestingly, the combined “not phased and/or QB1 no matter what” answers have dropped from 70.3 % last year to 54.7% this year. The “concerned and/or freaked out” answers have climbed from 29.4% to 45.4%.

It has been a rough year for dual threat QBs. While Josh Allen and Daniel Jones have held up fairly well, the same cannot be said for Tua Tagovailoa, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts.

What the Cardinals need to know is whether Kyler is fully invested in the Cardinals or whether he would prefer to get a fresh start elsewhere. Larry Fitzgerald prior to the cardinals TNF contest a few weeks ago said that he would like to see Kyler show a greater sense of investment in the team.

It would not be surprising if Kyler takes the entire 2023 season off to rehab so that he can come back extra strong in 2024. Even if he’s on the verge of being able to play some games toward the end of the season, if the team is in playoff contention, then it might want to maintain the continuity on offense, or, if the team is out of contention, they could elect to have Kyler wait until 2024 so as not to risk him incurring any other injuries.

A scenario of Kyler waiting until 2024 to play presents interesting timing in that the Cowboys have a bit of an out clause in Dak Prescott’s contract at that time..

Is there any question that Kyler playing for the Cowboys would be the ultimate motivation for him?

Does anyone really think Kyler has the same enthusiasm for playing on the Cardinals?

Kyle Shanahan is one head coach who has now adopted a philosophy of the necessity to create a QB stable, due to the longer regular season and the increasing odds that teams will need reliable backup QBs who can keep their teams competitive when starters and backups go down.

The most recent rumor is that Shanahan is interested in bringing Jimmy G. back for next season to maintain the QB stable with Trey Lance and Brock Purdy.

Therefore, with the cardinals needing a talented QB stable of their own, it would be a mistake for the Cardinals to depend on Kyler playing in 2023. They should do whatever it takes to fortify their talent at QB, especially in light of Kyler’s injury history and his post-injury struggles. As proven over the years, QBs can have tremendous trade value. Acquiring talented QBs is like buying real estate and building equity.

Who’s most responsible for the Cardinals’ demise?

Here is how I would rate the culpability:

  1. Michael Bidwill
  2. (tie) Steve Keim and Kyler Murray

4. Kliff Kingsbury

How about you?