Every offseason, a sports organization finds themselves in a particular place.
For the Arizona Cardinals, that place is...probably 4-13 (never say never, though!) and in last place in the NFC West.
There’s a good chance that they will be looking or called a “rebuild” by many, but are they REALLY a rebuild?
Is it more of a retool, or something else?
Back when Steve Wilks was hired as the head coach, both he AND Owner Michael Bidwill avoided calling the Cardinals a “rebuild”. In fact, it was a selling point from Day one:
In the end...the Cardinals went 3-13 and ended up being IN a full-blown rebuild. So what are the proper ideas and what these phases are? Here’s my take on it, and get ready for some synergy with all these “re” terms:
- Rebuild: Starting over from scratch: new coach, new QB, no roster talent, 2 years away
- Reload: Like reloading a shotgun, take out the old shells, put new ones into the same framework, maybe new coach, GM and/or Quarterback, moving on from star players or planning to in the future, some roster talent, a year away
- Retool/rework: Pieces are good and intact but some major flaws. Keep Coach/GM/QB but maybe a star player goes or a new shift in identity is needed, can compete soon or now.
- Remake: a remake would be doing the same thing as before, but with an eye for improvement. Ready to win a Super Bowl NOW.
If you look at the Cardinals and where this structure of organizing a team (or even a business) in accordance with these ideas there are two themes that are present:
How long it takes to compete
Constant need to improve
There’s not a single one of these categories where you can say that you need to “run it back” or have the exact same team as the year before.
Every NFL team faces change and overturn. Even the Brady/Belichick Patriots saw it due to how players would sign big contracts and leave to go elsewhere. You can’t just run it back.
A bit more detail on each category is below:
-Rebuild: think 2017 Arizona Cardinals heading into the offseason, 2022 Giants
Cardinals saw Palmer retire as well as Bruce Arians and needed a coach and a quarterback, but also had seen most of their defensive talent deplete little by little with needs to upgrade or replace Calais Campbell and members of their offensive line
Reload: think 2021-2022 Chiefs
-The Chiefs won the 2019 Super Bowl and Patrick Mahomes...got blasted in the 2020 Super Bowl by the Bucs’ defense with no running game and a poor OL, and it carried over into the next season. The Chiefs went from winning games to losing game after game and minimal offensive output.
What happened? Teams took away Tyreek Hill’s speed and pushed Travis Kelce around and Kansas City ended up not able to pick up plays given that Mahomes wouldn’t just dink and dunk down the field. What did they do?
They drafted a large amount of young offensive linemen and ended up trading Tyreek Hill in order to bolster their defense, and also signed multiple veteran WR’s to the team.
The Chiefs suddenly were able to make a much better run game and forced a safety to come into the box...which allowed Mahomes to hit the intermediate parts of the field and Kansas City has looked like they could land the #1 seed again as a result. But it took risk and they got the reward
Retool/Rework: Think about a team that was decent but really needed ONE or two missing pieces. A great example of this is the 2022 Philadelphia Eagles.
Eagles had Davonta Smith but weren’t expected to be as good as they were, as it did take some work from Jalen Hurts to improve and their offense, but it really came down to them adding some key talent. Trading for AJ Brown. Getting a Jordan Davis DL. And a quality safety from the Saints.
This took them from good to GREAT and they are the winningest team in the league thus far.
Remake: Same as before...but better?
I like to look at the 2022 Bengals and Bills for this example.
Did either team change much or make a HUGE splash? Not really.
Buffalo maybe you could argue Von Miller, or the Bengals’ signing of La’El Collins but really those teams were looking to keep competent offenses and defenses back and make another run of it.
The thing is that you will always be in one of these four phases as a team and need to know which you are and also which you are NOT.
A great example would be the 2011 Eagles “Dream Team” or the 2016 Cardinals and maybe I’d argue this year’s as well.
They each felt they were close and they went to go get a BIG splash and ultimately didn’t end up even making the playoffs.
So with the Cardinals?
It stands to reason that one of their biggest issues has been...misidentifying what stage they are in.
In 2015, they were in a win now phase but lost too much talent on offense and special teams and needed truly to reload vs. a retool.
In 2018 they were in a rebuild, not a retool...clearly. But they never bought that.
In 2021 they looked to be in a retool/rework and entering this year...it looked just like 2016. They needed to reload a bit, and fell back down into a rebuild.
Whew! So then...that begs the question.
Will the Cardinals under Michael Bidwill truly see themselves as needing a reload, even if it costs them veteran players and a chance to compete in a year? Are they in a rebuild and Kyler Murray is on his way out?
The issue has been, honestly, that Michael Bidwill will either get time to look and build a team and will then go all in on a remake when...they might need a few more players. OR he has higher expectations than the Cardinals are capable of.
I think this HAS to change moving forward otherwise the same cycle will repeat itself: rebuild, reload, retool and then hesitate and remake only to stumble again.
Will those expectations finally change heading into 2023?
Or will expectations continue to be in the wrong phase of football? I guess we will have to wait to find out that answer, huh?