by Greg DePalma, Ourlads.com contributor
2016 (7-8-1)…Did not qualify for post-season.
Owner Bill Bidwell…Sole owner since 1972; his father Charles purchased the team in 1933 (Chicago Cardinals).
President Michael Bidwell…Joined the team in 1996 as VP and became President in 2007; he’s taken over most of the day-to-day operations from his father; also Chair of the NFL Conduct Committee; very well respected around the league.
GM Steve Keim…5th-year as GM after spending previous 14 in the same organization where he began as a college scout; NC State Grad.
HC Bruce Arians…5th-year; first time hired as an NFL HC; OC under Chuck Pagano in 2012 and won 9 games as interim HC when Pagano was sick (Leukemia), the most ever for an interim; won AFC Coach of the Year Award that year too; only other HC experience was with Temple (’88-’83); with Steelers for 8-years (OC/WR) before Colts job and won SBs there in ’09 (OC) & ’06 (WR); Virginia Tech Grad.
HC/Ass. Tom Moore…5th-year; former longtime OC with SB winning Colts in ’07 who was instrumental in developing QB Peyton Manning; Iowa Grad.
OC Harold Goodwin…5th-year; former OL coach with Colts when Arians was OC; also coached with Arians in 2009 as OL coach of SB winning Steelers; Michigan Grad.
DC James Bettcher…3rd-year; LB coach here before taking over for Todd Bowles in 2015.
QB Byron Leftwich…1st-year; won SB as back-up QB with Steelers in ’09 when Arians was OC; Marshall Grad.
RB TJ Logan
OG Dorian Johnson
OT Will Holden
LB Karlos Dansby
LB Jarvis Jones
LB Haason Reddick
S Budda Baker
S Antoine Bethea
S Jonathan Ford
PK Phil Dawson
DL Calais Campbell
LB Kevin Minter
LB Alex Okafor
CB Marcus Cooper
S Tony Jefferson
S DJ Swearinger
PK Chandler Catanzaro
QB…Before last season began, Carson Palmer was 29-9 through his first 38 games with the Cardinals including a stellar 19-3 mark over his previous 22. Much of that success changed last season as Palmer never had a reasonable chance to recapture his past production after his protection broke down due to offensive line injuries and when two of his top three receivers (John Brown/Michael Floyd) underperformed. But even though he turns 38 in December, Head Coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim must be confident that Palmer will bounce back and revert to previous ’16 form thanks to a healthier supporting cast this time around. The proof lies in the fact that only two quarterbacks were added to the roster this off-season in journeyman Blaine Gabbert and rookie free agent Trevor Knight. No matter what happens this season, the organization needs to find the heir apparent to Palmer next off-season. 10-year vet Drew Stanton returns as Palmer’s primary back-up.
RB…David Johnson, a likely consensus No. 1 overall fantasy draft pick this season, was one of only two bright spots on offense for the Cards last season. But after accumulating 373 touches (293 rush/80 rec.), the third-year workhorse needs a breather so he can stay fresh and limit potential future injuries. That’s why the Cards just re-signed Chris Johnson to the roster. Johnson was brought back at age 31 because previous back-up Andre Ellington has been a disappointment since a promising rookie season four years ago. Ellington could be pushed down the depth chart by rookie TJ Logan during camp. At the very least, Logan will get an opportunity for playing time as a return specialist.
TE…It feels like the Cardinals haven’t produced a difference-maker at tight end since Jackie Smith over forty years ago. Jermain Gresham was re-signed for stability, but he’s not the answer. Instead the role could to go to injury-plagued Troy Niklas, whose fast running out of time to prove he belongs in the conversation after missing most of last season with a wrist injury and only starting seven games over his first three seasons combined. The wild-card here could be undrafted rookie free agent Ricky Seals-Jones. Jones never made the impact that was expected from him as a wide-receiver in college, but maybe the switch in positions will be the cure.
WR…Larry Fitzgerald continues to turn back the clock by playing at a high level. He’s coming off the first back-to-back 100+ receiving seasons of his career. He wasn’t the problem though last season. As we mentioned earlier, John Brown & Michael Floyd were each supposed to follow-up huge 2015 seasons. It never happened. Brown dealt with sickle cell issues that impacted his legs and then had a cyst removed from his spine following the season. He was clearly not right. Early reports sound promising that he’ll be able to flank Fitzgerald and support Palmer in the passing game once again. Floyd is long gone following poor production and a DUI in December. Third-round pick Chad Williams was chosen earlier than expected, but he’s a bit too raw to expect anything other than a redshirt season. That’s why third-year receiver JJ Nelson needs to continue his improved play after doubling his production when his playing time improved. Nelson provides big-play ability thanks to his sub 4.3 speed.
OL…Injuries exposed Arizona’s offensive line depth last season which caused poor chemistry and pass protection. Keim has added two linemen in each of the past two draft’s to help with the issue and they should be better prepared this time around. Evan Boehm, who appears to have the inside track at the open right guard spot opposite Mike Iupati, and Cole Toner, a college tackle who was drafted to play guard and performed well in the pre-season last year, were both taken in the 2016 draft and will be counted on to impact the unit for seasons to come. Toner is now learning how to play center with AQ Shipley on the mend from a core muscle injury. Toner is being counted on to provide versatility the team needs up-front. Keim also addressed the line when guard Dorian Johnson (4th-round) and tackle Will Holden (5th-round) were added to the roster in April. Both players are projected as future starters no later than next season. Veterans Iupati and tackle Jared Veldheer are above average players while 2015 first-round pick DJ Humphries made huge strides in his first season and is now expected to man the left tackle spot for years to come. It appears Humphries has finally dogged his underachieving label from college. Shipley meanwhile, continues to defy low expectations as a former seventh-round draft choice back in 2009.
DL…Keim failed to address the loss of star Calais Campbell to free agency (Jacksonville) which means Robert Nkemdiche will be counted on to emerge in his absence following a poor rookie season. Arians called out the former Ole Miss stand-out early last season for a lack of maturity and work ethic – which was more than apparent to anyone who paid attention to his draft profile – that limited the 2016 first-round draft pick to 82 snaps. The coaching staff was encouraged though by his improved dedication as the season wore on and there’s hope he’ll ultimately fulfill his immense promise. The interior run defense was excellent last season led by Corey Peters, but he’s just a year removed from a season-ending Achilles injury and if anything happens to him there’s no youthful talent to back-up him up.
LB…Keim did a much better job replacing Kevin Minter and Alex Okafor by drafting Haason Reddick and adding 35-year-old free agent Karlos Dansby as well as former Steelers first-round pick Jarvis Jones. Dansby is in his third go-around with the organization that drafted him in 2004 while Jones was signed to add depth, hoping a new team can help jump-start his career. The future looks bright along this unit with Reddick joining Deone Bucannon inside and the Chandler Jones/Markus Golden duo – that combined for 23 ½ sacks last season – handling matters on the outside. This is a team strength. Bucannon might start the season on the PUP list after undergoing surgery in May following a Week 14 ankle injury that cost him the final three games last season.
DB…The Cardinals will have a lot of new faces here after losing both starting safeties (Tony Jefferson and DJ Swearinger) and one of their starting corners (Marcus Cooper) to free agency. The safety spots were addressed by adding free agent Antoine Bethea and second-round pick Budda Baker. Bethea will be asked to provide veteran stability in the backend while Baker will be counted on to play meaningful snaps right away. Incumbent Tyrann Mathieu is a dynamic player that just needs to stay on the field. Mathieu has already dealt with two ACL injuries over his four-year career and a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final six games last season. Patrick Peterson gives the Cardinals a shutdown type talent at one corner spot, but the other side might be the major question for the entire team as last year’s 3rd-round pick Brandon Williams will have to take a major step-up in play after spending last season learning a position he only started playing during his final season in college. With no proven depth besides Justin Bethel, this is where the coaching staff will be spending countless hours agonizing over. Also keep an eye during camp on rookie sleeper and sixth-round pick Jonathan Ford.
PK…Reliable 42-year-old Phil Dawson replaces Chandler Catanzaro who was wildly inconsistent last season.
P… The Cardinals have averaged between 29th and 32nd in the league in punting since Arians became coach here and it appears there are even more questions this season. As reliable as Dawson’s been over his career the Cards will have no such luxury since neither Matt Wile nor Richie Leone have ever been full-time NFL pro’s. Leone’s a two-time CFL all-star and Wile has just 12 career NFL punts to his credit.
This could be your typical quick NFL turnaround team if the offense remains healthier and two of last year’s draft picks (Nkemdiche& B Williams) make steady progress. I do expect this team to resemble more like the first three (34-14) of the Keim/Arians regime rather than last season’s (7-8-1) lone failure.