A boom or bust offseason?
Arizona Cardinals’ president Michael Bidwill and general manager Steve Keim dramatically reversed course this offseason, following up the firing of one-year head coach Steve Wilks with the selection of quarterback Kyler Murray to replace one-year quarterback Josh Rosen.
The Cards went outside the box somewhat in hiring former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury who put together a 35-40 record as head coach in Lubbock. That record ultimately resulted in Kingsbury being shown the door, despite phenomenal offensive production. Bidwill and Keim will be hoping Kingsbury can replicate the passing game fireworks he put together with Patrick Mahomes, but has learnt enough in order to lead a winning organisation in the NFL.
Comparisons will inevitably be made with Chip Kelly when he was hired away from Oregon by the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly lit up the league in his first year but was ultimately outdone by attempting to take too much control over the front office. His critics would also argue that attempting to implicate his college system in the pro’s simply didn’t work.
Kingsbury’s Air Raid system differs from Kelly’s up-tempo attack so shouldn’t hit the same roadblocks in terms of getting veterans to buy in, but it will be interesting to see if he can lead the locker room given his age and record as a head coach in college, especially as the season ahead will be a tough one.
Keim has wasted no time in picking up players who fit Kingsbury’s offence, indicating that the franchise is all in with their new head coach. A clear example of that was the drafting of Murray with the first overall pick, leading to the trading of Rosen to the Miami Dolphins, despite the Cardinals only getting one season from the 10th overall pick of the 2018 draft.
It has been well publicised how much Kingsbury liked Murray in college and it will certainly be interesting to see how the dual threat QB adapts to the NFL. His detractors will point to the fact Murray only had one year of success at Oklahoma but his level of performance and physical skills had scouts drooling over his potential. He will need to live up to expectations given the level of competition in the NFC West.
Murray will have two upper echelon talents in versatile running back David Johnson and ageless receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona also added Hakeem Butler and Andy Isabella in the draft to go with former Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk from last year’s draft.
It will be interesting to see how Kingsbury gets all these individuals on the field given that Isabella and Kirk both fit as slot receivers, whilst Fitzgerald was rejuvenated by his move inside under former coach Bruce Arians.
In Kingsbury’s offence though, there will be a lot of four receiver sets. Other than Murray, the primary benefactor of that will be Johnson, who was ineffective in Mike McCoy and Byron Leftwich’s offences last year. Opponents won’t be able to stack the box due to the threat of Murray taking off and running, as well as the need to cover multiple receivers. The Cardinals will pass much more often than they run but Johnson will still see targets out of the backfield and when he flexes out as a wideout.
Nonetheless, the woeful offensive line’s main additions this offseason were guards Max Garcia (Broncos) and JR Sweezy (Seahawks). That should be a concern given how the pressure on Rosen prevented him from fully displaying his potential in his sole year in Glendale. Arizona may be hoping that Murray’s ability to evade pressure and Kingsbury’s offensive scheming, can reduce pressure on their rookie signal caller. Nonetheless, they only need to look within their own division to see how often Russell Wilson has had to play improvisational football due to the lack of protection from the Seahawks line.
The defence has moved back to a 3-4 scheme after a year in a 4-3 under Wilks. New coordinator Vance Joseph will probably have free rein on defence and the change in scheme will benefit pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Chandler Jones. They’re joined by key free agent addition Jordan Hicks from the Eagles and sophomore linebacker Haason Reddick who is moving inside full time.
In the secondary, the franchise added cornerback Byron Murphy in the draft who was a great value pickup and should, at last, help the Cardinals find the long-term answer opposite All Pro Patrick Peterson. They also added veterans Tramaine Brock and Robert Alford for depth via free agency.
The safety position has also been bolstered with the return of hard hitting and harder talking DJ Swearinger, who talked himself out of a job in Washington, and supplemental draft pick Jalen Thompson out of Washington State University (coincidentally led by Mike Leach who helped establish the Air Raid offense and was Kingsbury’s head coach at Texas Tech between 2000 and 2002).
Likelihood of making the playoffs: no chance
The Cardinals’ roster is younger and more talented, but it still lacks the difference makers that are evident on other rosters in NFC West.
However, building up that talent level is not going to happen after just one offseason. The Rams will be amongst Super Bowl favourites again whilst the Seahawks showed they are still a force within the NFC last season. The Niners are probably further along in their rebuild than Arizona, meaning the playoffs don’t seem to be a realistic aim this year. This season is more about making progress and building the foundations of a competitive roster that can compete within the division.