The Arizona Cardinals’ offseason has hinged either directly or indirectly on the whims of quarterback Kyler Murray, realizing that their overall success quite simply relies on Murray’s success this season.
Murray has held both ownership and the front office’s feet to the fire for months. They acquired (and likely overpaid) Marquise “Hollywood” Brown via trade in order to reunite Murray with his former college teammate. The hope there was that it would continue to sway their franchise quarterback to signing a long-term deal with the team — something that was necessary given the slim quarterback pickings around the league.
Essentially, the Cardinals were backed into a corner. Murray had all the leverage he needed and Arizona ponied up. And with that long-term deal getting done and expectations now through the roof for Murray to deliver, Arizona finds itself under even more pressure for immediate success. They wouldn’t have included an entire clause in his new $230 million contract that stipulates he must watch film if they didn’t understand that. Why they even awarded him that contract if they don’t trust him to do his job up to their standards is another discussion entirely.
The bottom line is the Cardinals need to make a deep run in the postseason this year. There’s no way around it. You finally got Murray locked in (and hopefully logged off of those video games he plays so much of) and you’ve built a talented team around him. The question remains if Arizona can figure out what to do with that talent.
If you look to the other side of the ball, you’ll see a few position-fluid players with unique skill sets that could serve a very creative defensive coordinator well. But of all the changes the Cardinals have made, bringing in a more progressive coach to navigate the resources available to him on defense wasn’t one of them.
Vance Joseph remains in charge of Arizona’s defense. A defense that has yet to figure out how to properly utilize a guy like Isaiah Simmons or perhaps Zaven Collins. There are some exciting newcomers in rookies Myjai Sanders and Jesse Luketa in that outside linebacker role. You’ve got vets up front and J.J. Watt is still leading the way even after Chandler Jones’ departure. Budda Baker remains one of the game’s most dynamic safeties. The tools are there. The Cardinals just need to know what to do with them.
Back on offense will be DeAndre Hopkins, once he serves his six-game suspension handed down this offseason. Things might be a little dicey until then but isn’t that why Brown was brought in? A James Conner-led backfield should suffice if Conner can return to form and Arizona snatched this year’s best tight end prospect in Trey McBride during the draft. The offensive line will again be a question mark, but with Murray’s off-script ability and means to evade pressure with his legs, that shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance.
The NFC is also ripe with opportunity – at least compared to the AFC. Yes, the Cardinals have the defending Super Bowl Champions in their division, but looking at their schedule, they have a pretty clear path to the playoffs. And though they are ranked 24th in strength of schedule by Sharp Football Analysis, the Cardinals start their season with a murderer’s row of matchups in their first three games when they face the Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Rams all in succession. Don’t forget they’ll be without Hopkins, too.
But from there, they have some winnable games – especially given that they’ll get the struggling intra-division Seattle Seahawks twice before Week 10. They do have to round out the league’s toughest division, playing the entire AFC West this year – which could prove problematic – but that being said, the NFC isn’t going to be the minefield it was a couple years ago. A 9-8 record could very well qualify for the wild-card and that shouldn’t be unattainable for the Cardinals. From there, it gets much more difficult.
But the Cardinals were one and done last season. They cannot have a repeat of that. In order for things not to go completely sideways in the desert, they’ll need to win at least one playoff game. That should suffice a successful season, for now.
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