By Paul Wanecski
The Arizona Cardinals, after having a dominate 2015, followed it up with a miserable season. Losing not one major player via free agency, most pundits were riding the thought of the Cardinals going to the Super Bowl, and why not? They had basically the same returning team, had no major draft needs, and the only major concern was if Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald could hold father time off for one more season. To be honest, 2016 was looking good. Then 2016 happened. Not so good.
Head Coach: Bruce Arians
Career Record: 7-9
Offensive Coordinator (Rank): Harold Goodwin
9th YPG, 9th Pass, 18th Run
Defensive Coordinator (Rank): James Bettcher
2nd YPG, 4th Pass, 9th Rush
Head coach Bruce Arians is about as old-school as it gets. He is never a fan of giving rookie players playing time they haven't earned yet. If you are even allowed to dress for a game, you better perform when you are given the opportunity. Their is no-better a case study than last years first round pick in Robert Nkemdiche and 2015's third round pick David Johnson. Nkemdiche only snagged one tackle in five games for Arizona last season, even though he was healthy to dress all season. Johnson, on the other hand, had scored eight touchdowns before he was named the starter, something that didn't happen until veteran back Chris Johnson went down with an injury. Johnson was fantastic in 2015 and continued to be the backbone of the Cardinals offense in 2016, despite a total collapse of solid play by Quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer was having an MVP-caliber season until right before the playoffs in 2015. He has always been a gun-slinger of a Quarterback who risks turnovers for big plays, which is no mystery to anyone in the NFL. Unfortunately for Arians and the Cardinals, 2016 was a complete dumpster fire performance for the now 37 year old QB. The narrative I have heard is that he was hurt by dropped passes, which is not accurate, as the Cardinals were 20th in the league in fewest dropped passes. Considering the roster was near identical from 2015 to 2016, it was a shock to see Arizona fall apart the way they did.
Jermaine Gresham has a horrendous contract for the Cardinals. His new deal is loaded with guaranteed salary. Looking at his previous two year contract, the Cardinals ended up paying him over $120K per reception over the life of that short stint. If he is going to continue the same rate of return, his new four year, $28m contract will give him an average of 58 receptions per season. Considering he had only 55 receptions in two season, doubling his yearly production is a pretty steep request. Bruce Arians sure does love is veteran players. This contact was a mistake as Gresham will simply never live up to the all the guaranteed money.
Drew Stanton can kiss his time in Arizona goodbye. The Cardinals save about $1.5m in space by releasing him.
Calais Campbell left Arizona (who at this point would be in line for a compensatory selection) and he will definitely be missed. Jacksonville got them one solid DT.
Tony Jefferson had among the strangest stories being moved to linebacker, originally being a safety. Undersized but instinctive, Jefferson will need to try and show that he wasn't a product of a solid defensive mind like Arians.
Kevin Minter was a solid contributor for Arizona but the team didn't see the need to bring him back and rightfully so; Arians rarely struggles to find players who can adequately play at the second level in his system.
The rumors are that Arizona is looking to replace Carson Palmer. I am willing to call Shenanigans on that seeing as though Arians mentioned that he only sees one QB who is NFL ready. Truth be told, Arizona as a franchise has a recent history of depending on veteran leadership at the QB position so it is really hard to imagine them bringing in a young arm. I mean, look at who the backup quarterbacks have been the last 4 seasons.
Corey Davis (WR, Western Michigan) Larry Fitzgerald has one more year left in the tank and Arizona has recently released their next highest drafted WR when they let Floyd go after his DWI. Davis is the perfect compliment to the speed already at the position.
John Ross (WR, Washington) Washington seems to be this years hot team (outside of your typical Ohio State, Alabama, etc.). Ross brings an explosive dynamic to the fold. He doesn't have a ton of experience running routes but he could ease the use of Patrick Peterson in the return game. I don't expect him to be able to get on the same page quickly with Palmer but perhaps if you want him to learn from Fitzgerald, he could be worth the year investment on the shelf. But, then again, how valuable is investing in a WR when you are likely changing QBs next season?
Taco Charlton (DE, Michigan) This would be doubling down on the defensive end position in back to back drafts, when really they need a Defensive Tackle to offset the loss of Campbell. While Taco has tons of potential, he doesn't exactly have the mechanics to trust anywhere but on the outside of the line.
Malik McDowell (DT, Michigan St.) If Arizona drafts McDowell with the 13th pick, it will be only because of need and a total lack of trade partners. He is not the type of player that Ariwww.nfl.com/draft/2017/profiles/jonathan-allen?id=2557844ans would be involved with, as rumors of his work ethic are leaking around the scouts. Again, this would only be out of pure need and this kid doesn't sound like he wants to do anything but depend on his athletic ability to get by.
Jonathan Williams (DE/DT, Alabama) I am going to keep bringing this guy up because he can contribute all over the line. It is really as simple as that.
Jarvis Jones was a huge disappointment in the linebacker factory that is Pittsburg. He has all the skill to be an animal with the Cardinals. This was a buy-low risk and to be honest, it is my guess that next year we are going to be saying how great a signing this was for Arizona.
Will Karlos Dansby ever stop playing? Arizona is willing to give him a chance but it is hard to imagine him in any more than a specialist role.