6 Pieces the Arizona Cardinals Need to Become a True Contender
The Arizona Cardinals can be contenders again. But they need several key pieces to become a contender and, more importantly, stay as a contender for years to come.
Outside of the two complete seasons with Kurt Warner starting at quarterback, Arizona has failed to produce a winning team in the last 11 seasons.
There were a pair of 8-8 teams (2007, 2012) but you have to go all the way back to 1998 to find a non-Warner quarterbacked team that finished above the break-even point.
Start the slideshow and see what the Cardinals need to do to become a contender.
1. Get a Stable Quarterback
When Ryan Lindley started yesterday’s game against the Rams, he became the 20th different quarterback to start for the Cardinals since 1994.
Arizona has had only five seasons with the same starting quarterback for the entire season, so the flux has to stop if the Cardinals are to contend year in and year out.
Kevin Kolb was injured in Week 6 against Buffalo and has not yet returned. According to NFL.com, he might not be back this season. Even if Kolb were ready to return, it may not be a prudent—with just five games to go in the season—to bring him back with the way Arizona's offensive line has played in 2012.
The 2013 NFL draft will feature quarterbacks like Geno Smith of West Virginia and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas. Another intriguing name to watch in the draft will be Matt Barkley of USC. Barkley had a stellar season going until he got hurt two weeks ago and might catch the eye of the Cardinals.
Arizona looks to be drafting towards the top of the first round but would they consider Barkley?
The last time they took a USC quarterback in the first round was Matt Leinart in 2006 and we know how that turned out.
2. Find a Ground Game
The Cardinals have not been a running team in the last decade, and a good running game is a necessity to take pressure off of the mainly subpar quarterbacking that Arizona has received in that time frame.
The Cardinals finished dead last in rushing three times in the last 10 years and have not been better than 22nd since 2002, when the team was middle of the pack and the 15th-best team on the ground.
This has been an ongoing, glaring issue for quite a while, and it must be resolved immediately for Arizona to contend. Arizona had a golden opportunity in the 2007 draft but took offensive tackle Levi Brown fifth overall. Adrian Peterson was taken by Minnesota two picks later; Marshawn Lynch went 12th that year.
Imagine how much better the Cardinals would be if Peterson or Lynch was in the backfield.
All dreaming aside, the Cardinals need to find a healthy running back that can consistently produce to get this team’s offense more balanced and closer to being that of a contender.
3. Get Larry Fitzgerald Some Help
Larry Fitzgerald’s talent is immense and his stats show he is one of the best wide receivers in the game.
With 745 catches and 10,211 yards to go with his 77 touchdowns in nine years, he’s got the tools to succeed. What he needs is another wide receiver or perhaps a star tight end to balance out the coverage Fitzgerald sees.
Anquan Boldin did this for the Cardinals during their two playoff years, but he bolted to the Baltimore Ravens. The Cardinals haven’t utilized the tight end much due to weakness in the offensive line.
The other wide receivers on the roster don’t exactly strike fear in opposing defenses. Early Doucet, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts don’t do enough to draw coverage away from Fitzgerald so that he has more single-coverage opportunities to exploit.
Yes, the quarterbacking situation doesn't help either, but you have to think Fitzgerald deserves better playmakers around him in the Arizona passing attack.
4. Revamp the Offensive Line
This one is the easiest to say and the toughest to do. The Cardinals have been one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and have given up sacks by the boatload.
The turnover rate amongst the line itself has been problematic as have injuries. The line could be different this year if Levi Brown didn't injure his triceps in the preseason and wind up on the IR.
This will no doubt be one of the biggest hurdles to the Cardinals success going forward and go a long way to move them from pretender to contender.
5. Get a New Head Coach
The Cardinals have never had a coach survive past six full seasons in the franchise's history. With the way Arizona has spiraled downhill in 2012, Whisenhunt looks unlikely to break that trend.
He's signed to a contract through 2013 and has a team option for four more years beyond that.
With the Cardinals being the first team since the 1993 Philadelphia Eagles to drop seven in a row after starting 4-0, it's looking more like Whisenhunt might not be coming back in 2013. That '93 Eagles squad finished 8-8, so all hope of success is not completely lost.
Columnist Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic thinks not finding a successor to Warner is the key reason why Whisenhunt might not return.
The case for and against him has been debated, and this big losing streak could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.
It's becoming clear that coaches in the NFL can't ride the coattails of successful seasons gone by. Whisenhunt coached the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance four seasons ago. Coaching is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately profession and that answer for Whisenhunt is not very positive.
Arizona might not have far to search if they decide to replace Whisenhunt, as defensive coordinator Ray Horton will be a very hot name for NFL coaching vacancies.
6. Get a New General Manager
General Manager Rod Graves may also feel the pinch if the Cardinals decide to clean house after the season. Graves is ultimately responsible for drafting players, signing players, negotiating contracts and managing the salary cap.
Graves has fallen short in those areas. Think about Arizona drafting OT Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007, while a guy named Adrian Peterson was available. This was at a time in team history when the Cardinals were struggling horribly with the run but passed over one of the best backs in the NFL today.
Graves' biggest flop can be summed up in two words: Kevin Kolb. Many fans weren't happy with trading Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb. Then the Cardinals offered Kolb what ESPN's John Clayton has called one of the worst contracts in the NFL.
Even despite committing a king's ransom to Kolb ($62 million over six years), Arizona still pursued Peyton Manning this offseason. That pursuit was further complicated by a $7 million roster bonus that was owed to Kolb right before Manning made up his mind.
It's time to make this change to help the Cardinals get a fresh set of eyes to check things out.