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The Arizona Cardinals took a drastic downward spiral last season after their head coach Bruce Arians retired at the end of 2017 and first-timer Steve Wilks took over, and the resulting 3-13 record was poor enough to get Wilks quickly fired without ever getting a legitimate chance to turn things around.
Now Kliff Kingsbury, another first time NFL head coach, will take a stab at the unenviable job of turning the Cardinals around, but he’ll get to do it with a different rookie quarterback whose enviable skill set lends itself directly to the type of offense Kingsbury likes to run.
Arizona was very busy this offseason, both in free agency and with the draft, so we take a look at some of the bigger moves they’ve made as well as examine the odds and predictions of their 2019 season.
Well, some NFL franchise had to have the worst record in the league last year, and the 3-13 Arizona Cardinals were the sad team receiving that dubious honor after both starting and finishing their 2018 season with 0-4 runs.
In Steve Wilks’ first (and last) season as the Cardinals’ head coach, the team’s offense ranked 32nd with rookie Josh Rosen under center most of the year, and for the third time in a row, Arizona was forced to sit out the playoffs, this time contemplating their worst final record since 2000.
Wilks was fired immediately and in January Kliff Kingsbury, the fired coach of Texas Tech, was hired, and then in April general manager Steve Keim did what every worst team in the league gets to do during the following offseason, which is to select the first overall pick in the draft.
Keim selected Kyler Murray, the young Oklahoma quarterback that Kingsbury had called “a freak” but in a good way, and who was quoted saying, “I would take him with the first pick of the draft if I could.”
So Keim did, and now Murray, the 5-foot-9 Heisman Trophy winner originally from Texas, will get an immediate chance to see if being the AP College Football Player of the Year who threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns with only 7 picks his senior season translates to the big leagues.
The day after Murray was drafted, Rosen was traded to the Miami Dolphins for a second-round 2019 pick and a fifth-round 2020 pick where he will back up Ryan Fitzpatrick until the veteran journeyman’s FitzMagic runs out, which, as Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans found out last season, it eventually tends to do.
After the season the Cardinals had, changes obviously had to be made, but some question whether it should have been with Steve Wilks after just one year at the helm.
Especially given that Wilks was tasked with transforming the defensive front to the 4-3 scheme his system called for, but while using players he inherited who were not drafted to suit his particular defensive needs.
Some called for general manager Keims’ head instead, but team president Michael Bidwill was obviously looking for a quicker fix than that so he canned Wilks and brought in Kingsbury and drafted his Murray to see if a faster turnaround was indeed possible.
In Week 13 of the season, the Cardinals got their third and final win against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field by a tight score of 20-17, which was the first time that had happened since the AFL-NFL Merger back in 1970.
Right after that win, Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy was promptly let go after serving in that position for twelve seasons, so you could say that the Cardinals did indeed get him fired.
The last time the Cardinals beat the Packers on the road prior to that was in 1949, but the Cardinals were out of Chicago back then and were coming off two straight NFL Championship appearances, the first one in 1947 resulting in a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21.
Kingsbury and his former place of employment, Texas Tech, are both known for what’s called the Air Raid offense, a system designed out of a shotgun formation with four wide receivers and a running back.
It’s obvious by the types of speedy offensive players the Cardinals signed and drafted this offseason (see below) that their main strategy was to give Kingsbury the tool he needs to get his Air Raid offense up and running.
The other main strategy was to improve their 20th ranked defense by filling the gaps left by departing free agents and adding some depth by utilizing free agency and some of the eleven picks they had in the draft (see below).
Inside linebacker Deone Bucannon, who signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worth $1.45 million, with all of that money fully guaranteed.
Outside linebacker Markus Golden, who took a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the New York Giants, with $2.225 million of that guaranteed.
Guard Mike Iupati, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks for a year and $2.75 million, with $2.25 million of that guaranteed.
Cornerback Robert Alford, who agreed to a three-year deal worth $22.5 million, with $13.5 million of that guaranteed.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who signed a two-year, $10 million contract, with $7 million of that guaranteed.
Inside linebacker Jordan Hicks, who took a four-year, $34 million deal, with $20 million of that guaranteed.
Offense: Quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle
Defense: Interior pass rusher, cornerback
The Cardinals ended up with 11 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, and they were:
Over the last decade, the Arizona Cardinals have been to the playoffs three times, including a Divisional Round loss in 2009 to the New Orleans Saints, and a Wild Card Round loss in 2014 and an NFC Championship loss in 2015, both to the Carolina Panthers.
The Cardinals have been to one Super Bowl, and that was in 2008 when they lost Super Bowl XLIII to the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 23-27, their quarterback Kurt Warner winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year award that season.
Arizona has been to the postseason a total of eight times in its modern franchise history plus the aforementioned two NFL Championship appearances when they were based in Chicago and the one time in 1925 when they were named NFL Champions outright.
The oddsmakers obviously don’t put much faith in a rookie quarterback being coached by an all-new staff and have predicted the Arizona Cardinals will once again sit in the basement of the NFC West.
All but one NFL team have the same or better odds than the Cardinals of winning the Super Bowl, and only one NFC team has less a chance of even getting to the Big Game in the first place.
However, Murray is exceptional and the team has enough solid veteran playmakers (running back David Johnson, wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Chase Edmonds, tight end Ricky Seals-Jones) to at least get back in the hunt again.
Will the under-sized Murray be able to play with the big boys, or will he have trouble finding the gaps and avoiding painful contact?
Is Kingsbury an NFL coach, or will being in Arizona eat him alive like it did Wilks before him?
Can the Air Raid offense be implemented and learned quickly, or will changing over to that system take more than one season?
Arizona didn’t sit around twiddling its thumbs this offseason, so expect a big difference in output from last year, but it’s not often that an NFL franchise that’s undergone the type of drastic makeover the Cardinals have been through is successful right away.
Arizona Cardinals Postseason
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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