Fans around the world have every right and reason to label the Arizona Cardinals’ 2023 season as a tank year.
Out of their 14 unrestricted free agent signings, 10 of them were journeymen or special teams players signed to one-year veteran minimum contracts.
Three of their top defensive playmakers of 2022 are off the team with J.J. Watt retiring, Zach Allen signing a lucrative three-year deal with the Denver Broncos, and Byron Murphy joining the Minnesota Vikings.
Now, All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins wants out of Arizona after listing the names of quarterbacks and teams he would like to play for on the I Am Athlete podcast as well as Bryant McFadden’s All Things Sports podcast on CBS Sports last month. All-Pro safety Budda Baker has skipped offseason team activities so far as he seeks either a trade, pay raise, guarantees, or a new contract.
The combination of top playmakers departing coupled with currently rostered All-Pros being no-shows to the Cardinals’ offseason sessions spells a recipe for disaster in the outlook of Arizona’s 2023 season.
With all of this in mind, pessimism for the upcoming Cardinals season is understandable. However, there are reasons to be optimistic about their future.
During this year’s NFL Draft, general manager Monti Ossenfort struck a deal with the Houston Texans that includes netting an additional 2024 first-round pick. In the process, he still managed to select his top target in Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr in a trade up from No. 12 to No. 6 while keeping both of their 2024 first-round selections.
The Cardinals also selected UCLA offensive guard Jon Gaines II, who has experience playing every offensive line position and was one of the most athletic interior offensive linemen in this year’s draft. Despite the veteran minimum contract he received, do not underestimate Elijah Wilkinson as he played well in his nine starts at guard with the Atlanta Falcons in 2022.
Under former Cardinals’ general manager Steve Keim, he had a tendency of overpaying aging veterans or average players while mortgaging the future with backloaded contracts and voidable years. Some examples include the three-year $20 million contract for Devon Kennard and three-year $30 million contract for Jordan Phillips in 2020. Both underachieved and Phillips struggled to stay healthy.
Despite the high number of less-notable additions, Ossenfort is increasing competition on the roster while fixing the cap space that Keim has mishandled. Carlos Watkins was a key rotational defensive linemen for the Cowboys last season and L.J. Collier is a former first-round pick by the Seahawks. Both signed with Arizona on minimum deals this offseason with a chance to make even more next season if they impress this year. Due to Arizona’s high number of needs and roster holes, both will have an opportunity to start in 2023.
Arizona’s roster presents a lot of intrigue as well. Running back James Conner had over 1,000 scrimmage yards last season. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was well on his way to over 1,000 receiving yards before suffering a foot injury in October. 2022 second-round pick Trey McBride impressed towards the tail end of the 2022 season and Zach Ertz was seemingly wide open in nearly every play last season. Linebacker Zaven Collins and cornerback Marco Wilson are coming off breakout years. And of course, Arizona still has franchise quarterback Kyler Murray who looks to be ahead of schedule in his ACL recovery.
From their top pick in the draft down to their last pick in West Virginia’s Dante Stills, every player Arizona selected has a chance to contribute in a big way as rookies.
The list goes on and even though the Cardinals’ roster lacks high-end talent compared to the rest of the NFL, they are not deprived of talent. Lots of opportunities for players to showcase their talents under first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon, offensive coordinator Drew Petzing and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis. Special teams coach Jeff Rodgers should be happy with the addition of special team stalwarts in Josh Woods and Kris Boyd.
As the cliche saying goes, actions speak louder than words or seeing is believing. Ossenfort and the Cardinals coaching staff need to earn their fanbase’s trust. Prioritizing Kyler Murray’s protection is the first step but they still have ways to go. Until the team starts showing growth on a week-to-week basis and begin winning more football games, fans have every reason to doubt. However, Arizona is making the necessary moves to fix their football team for the short and long-term future.
For the first time in a long time, Arizona finally has a general manager that is prioritizing the offensive line and building the roster through the draft. Along the way, their cap space management is being fixed. They are putting into motion a much-needed rebuild that the previous regime refused to do as the Cardinals hope establish a winning football culture in Arizona.
Not everyone will agree with the organizational decisions made but that is to be expected for all things. The futures of DeAndre Hopkins and Budda Baker remain uncertain after all. It might not be a smooth sailing journey to kick start the Ossenfort-Gannon era of Cardinals football but a path is being forged that is ridding the old ways of the past and starting anew the right way.