Arizona Cardinals: Things to Address This Offseason
The Arizona Cardinals got off to a very disappointing 1-6 start to begin this past season, but improved dramatically during the second half of the season by going 7-2 in the final nine games.
The offense was up and down all season long in large part due to inconsistent quarterback play, but the Cards' young defense got significantly better as the year wore on and players got accumulated with defensive coordinator Ray Horton's new system.
After closing out the season on a high note, Arizona's front office will be looking to improve the Cardinals roster through free agency and the draft in April. The Cardinals will have the 13th overall pick in this year's draft.
Here are the things that the front office will look to improve upon this offseason if the Cardinals want to make a return trip to the playoffs.
No. 6: Quarterbacks Coach
Just a week after the regular season ended, Ken Whisenhunt shook up his staff by firing quarterbacks coach Chris Miller. The 46-year-old Miller was the Cardinals QB coach for the past three seasons after Jeff Rutledge held the position during Whisenhunt's first two years.
Ever since Kurt Warner retired at the end of the 2009 season, Arizona has had problems replacing the future Hall of Famer. Derek Anderson was a complete disaster in 2010 and newcomer Kevin Kolb battled injuries and inconsistent play this season. The poor play from the guys under center probably had a lot to do with Miller being axed.
Whisenhunt has remained busy this offseason in the pursuit of replacing Miller. The majority of the talk has centered on former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but having spent the past year-and-a-half as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs more than likely means Haley will be looking for an OC job elsewhere.
Early this week, Whisenhunt interviewed former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson for the job. Like Haley though, he will probably be looking for an offensive coordinator position given his background.
Look for Whiz to bring in a couple more names before he makes a final decision in the coming weeks on the only open spot on his staff. My pick would be Jackson, but we will have to wait and see.
No. 5: Secondary Depth
In the first couple of weeks of the 2011 campaign, Arizona's secondary was a mess. Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson was struggling learning a new scheme, Kerry Rhodes was banged up and the Cardinals two young corners, A.J. Jefferson and Patrick Peterson, were learning on the fly in coverage.
As the season drew to a close, the Cardinals back four was one of the biggest strengths of the entire defense. Wilson returned to his Pro Bowl level, Rhodes got healthy and played in two games down the stretch and Jefferson and Peterson improved in coverage. Peterson was also electric returning punts.
There are still questions that linger in the Cards' secondary heading into 2012.
Will Horton decide to use Wilson in more of a outside linebacker role like he did for stretches during this season? If so, could Arizona take a safety early on in the draft? Where does Jefferson fit in on the depth chart with Greg Toler returning from injury? Will the organization have the money to bring back Richard Marshall, who was great both at corner and at safety?
These questions will need to be answered if this defense is going to continue taking that next step.
No. 4: Additional Linebacking Help
Like the rest of the defense, the Cardinals linebackers got off to a poor start in the first seven games of the season, but they were a totally different unit in the final nine.
In only his second season in the league, Daryl Washington became one of the main leaders of the defense. His 106 tackles led the entire team and he also had a pair of interceptions. At 25 years old, D-Wash is on the verge of becoming one of the best young linebackers in the league.
Alongside Washington will be Paris Lenon, who will return for his third straight season unless something strange happens during the offseason. The veteran was second in the team in tackles behind Washington. Behind both players will be Stewart Bradley, who was signed to a big contract last summer, but saw little action on defense and spent most of his time on special teams.
If the Cardinals decide to cut him, they could be in store for a younger option at the inside 'backer spot to go alongside Washington. Many draft boards have Arizona taking Luke Kuechly out of Boston College at No. 13. If he is available, he might be too hard to pass up even if the Cards decide to hold onto Bradley.
Whisenhunt has proven that he is willing to take the best available talent on the board the past couple of drafts.
Arizona could be looking to add another body on the outside as well. Sam Acho is all but locked in for one of the spots. Playing very little in the first six weeks of the season, the former Longhorn had seven sacks in the final 11 weeks.
There are still questions on the other side though. O'Brien Schofield is a youngster that the staff loves, but they might not be quite ready to give him the starter's job. Longtime Cardinal Clark Haggans is a free agent. He played well in the final few weeks, but at 35, the organization might be looking for a younger option either through the draft or free agency.
No. 3: A No. 2 Receiver
After the Cardinals lost Steve Breaston to the Kansas City Chiefs last offseason, the No. 2 receiver spot was a concern heading into the season. Now that the regular season is over, it still remains a big question mark.
It seemed as though Early Doucet and Andre Roberts switched off taking turns throughout the season. Doucet started off and after the middle portion of the schedule, Roberts closed out the rest of the year.
Arizona will have a decision to make on Doucet as the former LSU product will be a free agent this offseason. Doucet's return will largely hinge on what the Cards do in the draft. If Arizona takes say Michael Floyd with their first pick, Doucet would be a long shot to return. If they don't add a guy through the draft or free agency, Doucet is almost to be back in Cardinal red.
I hope that doesn't end up being the case. I like both Doucet and Roberts, but I think they are No. 3 options in this league. If the Cardinals can get a legit No. 2 either in the draft or by signing someone, it would take the pressure off Larry Fitzgerald and whoever is starting under center.
No. 2: Reshaping the Offensive Line
For too many years now, the Cardinals have neglected improving their offensive line, but if this team wants to improve on the offensive of the football and return once again to the playoffs, the unit needs to be drastically revamped.
It starts with getting a cornerstone left tackle. It isn't fair to say Levi Brown has been a bust, but he is not a left tackle in this league. Brown will count about $18 million against next year's cap, which means he will be a long shot to return for the 2012 season. There is always a chance that the team could restructure Brown's deal and place him on the right side, but that is unlikely to happen.
With the talent in free agency so thin, the Cardinals will have to address the LT spot through the draft and there could be two top options available when Arizona will be on the clock. Iowa's Riley Reiff and Stanford's Jonathan Martin are the two names that come to mind, but both could be gone by the time the Cardinals pick. There is still good enough depth in this draft to get a starter later on if both players aren't available.
Daryn Colledge and Lyle Sendlein are locked in at LG and C respectively, but the right side is wide open. Rex Hadnot's play was up and down so he isn't guaranteed to return despite being under contract for 2012. Both Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges had significant playing time at RT, but neither really stood out when they were healthy and they can be easily upgraded upon.
Look for the Cardinals to take at least two offensive lineman, preferably tackles, in the upcoming draft. It is clearly the biggest need on the roster.
No. 1: Bringing Back Calais Campbell
This one really goes without saying and should be the club's biggest priority this offseason as Campbell will become a free agent on March 13. If the two sides can't come to a long-term agreement, Campbell has said that he remains open to having the franchise tag being placed on him. If he does get tagged, he will earn about $10.6 million in salary for the 2012 season.
For whatever reason, the former Miami product did not make the Pro Bowl this past season, but he quietly had a brilliant year and was arguably the Cardinals best defensive player in 2011.
The 25-year-old set a career highs in both sacks (eight) and pass deflections (10). His highest total coming into this year was five PDs, which was set during his second season in the league. Campbell's biggest presence came in blocking kicks on special teams. He had three on the season with a pair of them helping Arizona win ball games.
With no one behind Campbell on the depth chat, the Cards can't afford to lose him as he heads into his prime seasons at defensive end.
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