No team highlights the importance of a quality starting quarterback more than the Arizona Cardinals.
They went from a future hall of famer in Kurt Warner to a guy who will get no closer to Canton than a visitors ticket. With Warner's departure, the Cardinals record plummeted. Without Warner's steady hand and rocket arm, the Cardinals flaws were exposed as the wheels came flying off the wagon.
Ominous signs of the pending disaster began to emerge last summer when several veteran leaders bolted in free agency signing with contenders and leaving Arizona in the desert dust. Aquan Boldin left for Baltimore, Antrel Rolle took off to New York, Karlos Dansby set sail for Miami, Byrant Mcfadden returned to Pittsburgh, Travis Laboy packed for San Francisco and of course, Kurt Warner headed to the golf course.
Arizona tried to stem the tide of departures by signing and trading for a few key free agents. Arizona essentially swapped Karlos Dansby for Joey Porter and Kerry Rhodes for for Antrel Rolle. They also brought in pro bowl left guard Alan Faneca. Such prudent moves showed a fairly astute front office. Where they unsuccessful however, was in replacing Kurt Warner. Knowing he was not coming back, the cardinals failed to make a move in the draft. Worse, in a real head scratching moment, Arizona cut Matt Leinart before the preseason.
Insert Derek Anderson.
Arizona fans cringe at the memory. They knew what was coming and it wasn't pretty. Anderson threw 7 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions and only managed to complete about 52 percent of his passes. It would be easy to say Derek Anderson was terrible. He certainly wasn't very good, but such a statement seems overly simplistic. He was never given a chance. He isn't starter material and didn't have a ground game to bail him out or an offensive line to protect him (the guard positions anchored by Deuce Lutui and Alan Faneca actually preformed quite well).
The Cardinals stuck with Derek Anderson until a 7 game losing streak finally popped a hole in their life rafts. As the team sunk, so too did their confidence in Derek Anderson who was eventually replaced by John Skeleton.
What started as a dubious season ended with little doubt. The Cardinals were terrible. Unless they find their quarterback of the future, they will remain that way for many years to come.
Season in Review:
As hard as it is to imagine, the Cardinals were still in the playoff race until a week 15 loss to the Carolina Panthers finally shut the door. To repeat: at 4-9 they were still in the playoffs. Simply astonishing but hey welcome to the NFC West. A strong start not withstanding (strong being a relative term for the NFC West), the Cardinals were an all around bad football team.
31rst in passing yards, 32 in rushing yards, 23rd in opponents passing yards and 30th in opponent rushing yards ranked them a net last overall for all the major statistical categories combined.
A fluke 3-2 start gave Arizona fans hope and provided the team cover from the onslaught of criticism as no matter how poorly they played or how long their losing streak continued, they seemingly could not be eliminated from playoff contention.
Heading into their week 6 bye, the Cardinals were 3-2 coming off a huge upset victory over the super bowl Saints. Spirits were high and Rookie quarterback Max Hall had the appearance of taking command of the offense. Something must have happened over the bye because after the week off, the Cardinals never looked the same.
Starting in week 7 Arizona went into a tailspin. Max Hall lost the favor of the coaching staff and musical chairs at the position ensued. Without a clear leader and stable quarterback play the offense lost any momentum. The defense failed to do its part being pushed around by very mediocre offenses.
A week 14 victory over the Denver Broncos rescued their dying playoff hopes for one more week before they were finally crushed a week later.
5-11 was no doubt a disappointing season given their recent success the past few years, but with the quarterback situation in such a state of flux it was unfair to expect much more.
Season Highlights: The suspense of being in the playoff hunt until week 15
Its hard to find season highlights when the offense ranked dead last and the defense wasn't much better. Larry Fitzgerald was amazingly consistent considering the chaos at quarterback, but even his 6 touchdowns tied his lowest output of his career.
Otherwise, it was an ugly season that Cardinal fans hope to put behind them. The only thing that made the season somewhat palpable and exciting was the fact that the NFC West so was weak that the Cardinals had a playoff pulse until the very end. Even so, saying that is a highlight is like being proud of your kid for getting a D and passing. You can try to spin it anyway you want, but its still a D.
Offseason Momentum: Slim to none and slim just left the building
Rumors are swirling that the upcoming season will be Larry Fitzgerald's last in the desert. Such a possibility is a devastating reality that will hang over the team as they struggle to find their quarterback of the future.
For a while, Rookie Max Hall seemed the answer. After leading the Cardinals to a shocking comeback win over the Saints the desert was buzzing about his promise and potential. A few weeks after the bye week, Coach Whisenhunt pulled the plug on the excitement and benched Max Hall in favor of a second go with Derek Anderson. His return lasted only 4 games before another replacement was called in. Rookie John Skelton was the next in line to have a shot before he was pulled for Richard Bartel from Tarleton State. Who? Where?
The coaching carrousel got so bad that most Cardinal fans were expecting Keanu Reeves to show up.
Offseason Anxiety: QUARTERBACK!!!!!!!!
The Cardinals actually have a good mix of young players and veteran leadership spread throughout the roster. Sure there are holes but the talent level is exponentially higher than many teams, even some that finished with better records.
Speaking of records, not to disparage the Cardinals any more, but they played in the worst division possibly ever, and still only came away with 5 wins.
Anyway, back to the roster. The biggest concerns for the Cardinals is that the window of opportunity is closing fast. They have good young players at several positions, but to be successful the team will have to rely on the veterans at key positions. Such players include NFL pro-bowler Alan Faneca at guard, definitely Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, Joey Porter and Clark Haggan at linebacker, and Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wison at safeties.
If they are going to be key contributors the Cardinals need a quarterback and now. They can't wait to develop a rookie and certainly cannot put the team through the same turmoil as they did last season. Derek Anderson has been given plenty of chances - he is out. Even though he is a rookie, its pretty clear John Skelton isn't going to carry or even guide a team to the playoffs - he is out. Richard Bartel? Who? Yeah nope - he is out.
Max Hall has a chance to be good but unless he makes great strides this offseason, announcing him as your starter wont make re-upping any more appealing for Fitz and is sure to piss of Joey Porter (that actually shouldn't be a worry because he seems perpetually pissed off). Given Porter's previous histrionics its easy to imagine that not properly fluffing his scrambled eggs would set him off.
Therefore the option that gives the Cardinals the best chance of winning is wooing and signing a veteran Qb.
One name stands out among the rest screaming for acceptance. Matt Leinart!
Right USC family though. Carson Palmer would make a great fit. He was born out west, played college ball nearby and is the established veteran quarterback that would do wonders to appease Fitzergerald (although he would never admit he was upset) and return the Cardinals to their recent division prominence.
It's going to be a long offseason and even longer year unless the Cardinals can go out and get Palmer or someone
of his caliber. Waiting...waiting... anybody else out there? Nope nobody else.
Draft Desires: Tight End and Defensive pass rush
It depends on whether the Cardinals resign Steve Breaston. If they don't, and they would be stupid not to, then wide receiver becomes a HUGE need, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Fitzergerald.
If wide receiver A.J. Green is available there is no question the cardinals take him. He has a chance to be the next Fitzgerald and given all Fitzgerald has done for the Cardinals there is no way they can pass on him.
If not Green, A&M's Von Miller could be the choice. According to many sources, he was the best player at the Senior Bowl and would provide a fierce pass rush. He is also an ideal fit for the 3-4 defense. Robert Quinn, a defensive lineman from UNC is another player with significant upside who could spell Darrell Dockett and beef up the pass rush.
The Cardinals could also use a tight end to open up the middle of the field and provide their quarterback, whoever that may be a safety valve. If Palmer or another veteran quarterback is not in Cardinal Red (sorry Arizona fans - this doesn't mean Andrew Luck), then the tight end position becomes exponentially important.
Look for Arizona to target pass catching tight end and local favorite (for us Colts fans) Kyle Rudolph out of Notre Dame later in the draft.
Free Agent Farewells: Not too damaging
The Cardinals have to, have to, have to sign Breaston and guard Alan Faneca. Fullback Reagan Mauia would be nice to keep around to bolster the blocking for the running game, but without Breaston and Faneca the offense will further deteriorate.
The importance of Breaston cannot be understated. He keeps defensives from not quadruple teaming Fitzgerald.
Faneca too is irreplaceable, as he is the glue that keeps the offensive line together. All the other free agents are replaceable.
Premature Glimpse to the Future: To premature to be even remotely premature
Same headline as yesterday's preview of Cincinnati because again, the season hangs in the balance based on Carson Palmer's decision. Without Palmer in Cincinnati, the Bengals will struggle. Without Palmer (or another Qb with similar credentials) in Arizona and the word struggle doesn't even begin to describe it.
The NFL is a quarterback's league. If Arizona gets there man or another veteran signal caller, 10 wins like in 2009, is not out of the question, especially given the state of NFC West.
Using the same bunch from this year - or even throwing yet another rookie into the mix - and 3 wins would be lucky, as in Andrew Luck(y).
Threat to the Stampede: 0.
Not going to happen. No way. It's not inconceivable for Arizona to win the NFC West, especially with good qb, but the Super Bowl? Haha. (I guess everyone said that 3 years ago - but still, haha.)
Not going to happen.