Let’s get it out of the way, first and foremost.
Michael Bidwill’s probably not the most popular sports franchise owner in the state of Arizona right now.
Sale of the Suns by Robert Sarver to Matt Ishbia aside, Arizona’s coming off of a 4 win season that saw them in the news with a new controversy almost every week during the offseason, a plethora of injuries, suspensions and a lack of depth, brutally losing down the stretch and hitting the DEFCON-1 button for an organization-wide reset.
However, there’s a large positive that the Arizona Cardinals are undertaking that has been notably absent from the discussion.
Sure, the Pat McAfee show and NFLPA dropped these two gems onto the Cards’ offseason...poor facilities, players paying for food and 5 failing grades for the organization,
Fans have even taken to dunking on the team while renewing season tickets:
Season ticket prices, also, have gone up. Which, of course, isn’t well timed given the on-field results.
So with that all out of the way for the context and clarity, what is the biggest positive that Michael Bidwill has made in this offseason?
The answer seems to be changing directions on something that Arizona has struggled in the past:
Being penny-wise and pound foolish.
The old saying describes someone who focuses on small, extraneous decisions.
Essentially, under Michael Bidwill and former GM Steve Keim, the Cardinals organization had a habit of trying to “go cheap” in an area or two in order to save some costs, only to see that fail and the team end up having to pay a large investment to cover the deficiency anyway.
This has been a repeating pattern as long as Steve Keim was the GM of the Cardinals and was especially true in the draft and NFL free agency.
2016: The Cardinals see Mike Leach retire at long-snapper and bring in a fresh rookie free agent long snapper instead of spending a draft pick or signing a veteran, along with returning punter Drew Butler to the team.
They miss a game-winning kick not due to it being blocked but due to a bad snap and hold and the season never recovered and Arizona went on to pay a decent sized contract to punter Andy Lee.
2017: The Arizona Cardinals reportedly liked two quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes, DeShaun Watson and Temple DE Haasan Reddick (more on him later) and the team sat put at the 13th pick, allowing two teams to trade up ahead of them rather than grab a QB of the future in what turned out to be Carson Palmer’s last year.
You’ll start to notice this trend really begin to take off post-Bruce Arians...
That lack of paying the price led to what can only be seen as a disastrous season.
2018: To start the year, the Cardinals had zero quarterbacks on the roster under contract. No Palmer, no Stanton, no draft pick. They didn’t pay to extend a Stanton now while kicking the can to the future...
The desperation meant that the team went and instead of having extended Stanton the year before, ended up overpaying for Sam Bradford and traded up for QB Josh Rosen, giving up a 1st round pick on him.
The end of the season saw Michael Bidwill keep Keim and move to a new head coach. But there were still two big problems...
2019: The Cardinals, having spent a 1st on Rosen, ended up whiffing and gave up a higher investment, the #1 overall pick, on Kyler Murray. The team also had, arguably, one of the worst WR corps in the NFL coming off of the previous season and with an aging Larry Fitzgerald, they swung on 3 different receivers.
They obviously, didn’t pan out and that led to an interesting situation...
2020: The Cardinals need a receiver and go out to get DeAndre Hopkins to pair with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. They play Hopkins outside and Kirk on the other with Fitzgerald (in his last season) in the slot.
There were a lot of Cardinals fans who, looking at the team, wanted to pair Kyler Murray with CeeDee Lamb, his college teammate. The Cardinals instead seemed to be content with Hopkins/Fitzgerald and Kirk.
However, with Fitzgerald’s retirement, the team suddenly...needed another wide receiver and had Christian Kirk under contract for only one more year before he hit free agency.
Did they re-sign him a year early?
They did not.
This “pennies now, forced to overpay later” approach wasn’t just limited to the offense but also the defense.
When Chandler Jones went down, Hassan Reddick went off for 12 sacks in a season, and seemed to finally break through in the NFL, making good on his last year under contract given Arizona passed on his 5th year option.
Should they bring him back now on a slightly larger deal? Or let him walk to keep a player on a cheaper deal?
You might have guessed by now...
2021: The Cardinals don’t re-sign Reddick and he walks for one year to Carolina on a $8 million deal while Arizona gets an older Markus Golden for 2 years and $10 million (until they boosted his pay entering 2022) and Reddick was dominant in Carolina.
I felt as though Arizona had the opportunity to look to the future and have Reddick as a young potential replacement for Chandler Jones if Arizona was able to go a 2nd year. Maybe he wanted out but...it shows how Arizona was devoid of veteran pass rushers this past season.
So, the Cardinals don’t re-sign Reddick and he walks for one year to Carolina on a $8 million deal while Arizona gets an older Markus Golden. Meanwhile, on offense, Arizona’s investment in Rondale Moore (injured) and watching Christian Kirk walk means that they AGAIN need a threat opposite DeAndre Hopkins.
The Cardinals then traded a 1st for Hollywood Brown and a 3rd when, arguably, they should have just paid Christian Kirk a few years earlier at a lower price coming off of the 2020 season.
You can even look at Rondale Moore and the need for a receiver coming off of taking Isaiah Simmons over CeeDee Lamb as one of the reasons Arizona didn’t wind up with Creed Humphrey as a center in the league. Fast-forward to this past season...
2022: Arizona’s receiver investment and the trade for Rodney Hudson reduces them into a strange place.
They need a center and a wide receiver and end up with Tyler Linderbaum on the board and...they instead chose their “all-in” move to be to trade for Brown and then add a center round 2.
What’s crazy is that...many knew the Eagles had interest in Jergens, and if Arizona was truly all in, a paid cost now to move up for their guy surely wouldn’t have been as disastrous as what they did in neglecting the line and it saw Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim canned.
You can even look at watching Zach Allen and Byron Murphy walk after their past seasons and realize “yeah maybe they could have been extended for cheaper or at least had more corners under contract than Marco Wilson” but they didn’t.
Instead they ended up now being in a place with such little talent that a rebuild is the only way out versus a young, growing team with talent retained before ever hitting free agency.
Haasan Reddick, after all, was pursued by Arizona per AZSports John Gambadoro and signed a $16 million a year deal, of which was out of Arizona’s budget.
Penny-wise and pound foolish.
These are all bad decisions, right?
Let’s take a look at how Arizona is trending up, though:
2022: Michael Bidwill extends his quarterback Kyler Murray along with Keim and Kliff, despite having two more years’ control. This put Kyler Murray at a cap hit of around 42 million a year, a deal which has since been closer to $38 million a year given he was extended with 2 years left on his rookie deal.
His deal was passed up by Russell Wilson and even Daniel Jones made closer to that amount per season (on a shorter deal) but Arizona, if Murray lives up to expectations, will have saved $ in the long run by signing their QB sooner with the cap going up.
2023: Michael Bidwill chooses to clean house, paying the cost of the Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim contracts and bringing in a new GM and new head coach.
He could have simply rolled with the head coach in a down year to give another year to justify the deal and instead he paid the price now, for what might have been a costlier one in the future. For example, a Kliff Kingsbury “lame duck” year might have seen Arizona take TWO years to get back to winning versus eating the lumps in 2023 to position well for the future.
And that’s the change that Michael Bidwill has made, one which he deserves credit and praise.
He’s taking his lumps NOW with the idea of long-term future success. This approach hadn’t existed for a long time in Arizona. He’s taken the lumps this year but rather than “doubling down” and paying a more expensive price long-term.
It would be like instead of waiting to do your laundry until the end of the week and doing it all at once, you do a little bit of it each day.
It’s an entire change in mentality should this continue, and amidst a heavily criticized offseason, it’s something that Cardinals fans should admit they need to credit as it takes one of the biggest failures of Arizona and is turning it around instead.