After missing out on the playoffs for a second straight year, the Arizona Cardinals entered the offseason with a honey-do list regarding their roster that stretched about as long as the playing surface at University of Phoenix Stadium.
For starters, they were in search of a quarterback seeing as how they didn’t have a single one under contract. They also needed to fill holes across the field, such as finding starting help and backup depth along the offensive line, at wide receiver and tight end, not to mention the cornerback, safety and linebacker spots.
It was a tall order for team president Michael Bidwill, general manager Steve Keim and new head coach Steve Wilks. Suffice is to say, they are still working hard at it because in reality, the Cardinals’ brain trust has only managed to plug some of those holes without adding any real big-name talent or salaries conducive to top-echelon players.
Thus far, it’s been mostly an underwhelming band-aid approach with their signings of quarterbacks Sam Bradford (Vikings) and Mike Glennon (Bears), veteran offensive linemen Justin Pugh and Andre Smith and two pairs of castoffs from the Cowboys in cornerback Bene Benwikere and wide receiver Bruce Butler.
Arizona did manage to sign a handful of its own free agents and somehow was able to convince star receiver Larry Fitzgerald to return for a 15th season, but the Cardinals lost two capable wideouts in free agents John Brown and Jaron Brown and two decent defensive backs in Tramon Williams and Justin Bethel, they released ball-hawking safety Tyrann Mathieu and traded away tackle Jared Veldheer.
Clearly, there is still much work left to do.
Here is a closer look at where the Cardinals are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2017 finish: 3rd NFC West (8-8)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 314.1 (22nd)
RUSHING: 86.6 (30th)
PASSING: 227.5 (15th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 310.9 (6th)
RUSHING: 89.6 (6th)
PASSING: 221.3 (14th)
- Quarterback: Given Bradford’s injury history and Glennon’s almost immediate failure in Chicago, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to think the Cardinals are capable of even replicating an 8-8 finish again let alone expect to make the playoffs. As bad as Bradford’s knees are, he might not even make it out of training camp or the preseason. Glennon, meanwhile, can’t seriously be considered any type of a long-term solution. That means Arizona has to turn its attention to the draft and either bite the bullet to move up from the 15th overall pick to get one of the top four quarterback prospects or roll the dice that a franchise-type quarterback will be there at 15. However it happens, the Cardinals know they have to address this position in a serious and swift tone. They need a young quarterback they finally can build around and everyone knows it.
- Cornerback: As good as the Cardinals’ defense has been over the past four or five seasons, it’s always going to be exploited on one side of the field until the team finds a suitable starter at cornerback to play opposite Patrick Peterson. They have tried every year to find a suitable one on the cheap and have had moments of both success and failure. But they haven’t been able to identify and sign a capable corner for the long haul, which is only hurting Peterson, who is in his prime. Even if they think Benwikere might be the answer, and that’s doubtful, the Cardinals need to address the position in this year’s draft and likely do it with one of their first two picks.
- Wide receiver: When a 35-year-old is your only real threat, you know you’re behind the 8-ball, even if the soon-to-be, 35-year-old is named Larry Fitzgerald. Though the veteran has had his three most productive NFL seasons in each of the last three years, it’s difficult to call him a No. 1 receiver when he plays mostly out of the slot and is no longer a deep threat. Arizona doesn’t even have a legitimate No. 2 man here. They have a handful of No. 3s and No. 4s, maybe, and even that can be put up for debate. In a perfect world, the Cardinals are able to find a target with some size that can also gain separation to split safeties and make game-changing plays. They will either have to be incredibly lucky to find one or end up using one of their top picks to do it, which would take away from their top priorities.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
–LS Aaron Brewer: Potential UFA; $4.15M/4 yrs, $620K guaranteed/$275K SB.
–ILB Josh Bynes: Potential UFA; $5.575M/3 yrs, $1.25M guaranteed/$1M SB.
–QB Sam Bradford: UFA Vikings: $40M/2 yrs, $15M fully guaranteed/$10M SB/$5M total in per-game (46-man) RBs. 2019 option year; if exercised $7.5M base/$10M RB guaranteed.
–CB Bene Benwikere: UFA Cowboys; $790K/1 yr.
–WR Brice Butler: UFA Cowboys; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
–QB Mike Glennon: FA Bears; $8M/2 yrs, $4M SB (final two years worth $10M voids at end of 2019 league year).
–T/G Justin Pugh: UFA Giants; $45.025M/5 yrs, $15.75M guaranteed/$10M SB.
–T Andre Smith: UFA Bengals; $8M/2 yrs, $2.585M SB.
–QB Matt Barkley: UFA Bengals; $3.35M/2 yrs, $500K SB.
–CB Justin Bethel: UFA Falcons; $1.75M/1 yr, $400K SB.
–WR Jaron Brown: UFA Seahawks; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2.75M guaranteed/$1.95M SB.
–WR John Brown: UFA Ravens; $5M/1 yr, $4M SB.
–QB Blaine Gabbert: UFA Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–TE Troy Niklas: UFA Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–OLB Kareem Martin: UFA Giants; $15M/3 yrs, $7.25M guaranteed/$3M SB/$500K RB.
–S Tyrann Mathieu (released).
–DT Josh Mauro (released).
–RB Adrian Peterson (released).
–QB Drew Stanton: UFA Browns; $6.5M/2 yrs, $4.15M guaranteed.
–T Jared Veldheer (traded Broncos).
–G Earl Watford: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–CB Tramon Williams: UFA Packers; $10M/2 yrs, $4.75M guaranteed/$3.25M SB.
–DT Xavier Williams: RFA tendered at $1.907M with no compensation); Chiefs executed offer sheet not matched by Cardinals; $5.057M/2 yr, $3.455M guaranteed ($1M injury only at signing, $1.75M SB.
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 15 overall)
Rob Rang (April 5 mock draft):
–Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. From a style perspective, Jackson could not be more different than Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, the two cement-footed veteran signal-callers the Cardinals signed in the offseason. That is all the more reason why Jackson might make sense in Arizona, especially given that new head coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy come with a lot of experience working with athletic quarterbacks.
Dane Brugler (April 6 mock draft):
–Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Sam Bradford is a stop-gap quarterback and Arizona will be quarterback-hunting in the draft. Jackson might not be a fit for every offense, but if the Cardinals open the playbook, this pick could end up being a steal.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks and ratings at NFLDraftScout.com.