Arizona Cardinals' 7 Biggest Offseason Decisions

Andrew Nordmeier@@AndrewNordmeierContributor IIIDecember 28, 2012

Arizona Cardinals' 7 Biggest Offseason Decisions

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    The upcoming offseason looks to be one of the most critical ones in the history of the franchise. A great start gave way to an epic losing streak of historic proportions. 

    Arizona became the first team to start 4-0 and finish with double-digit losses in the history of the NFL
    There are a lot of big decisions to be made this offseason and they will all go to shape the future of the franchise for better or for worse. 

    There are at least a half-dozen decisions that will shape the franchise for 2013 and years to come. 

    Start the slideshow and see what decisions need to be made. 

1. Will the Arizona Cardinals Keep Kevin Kolb?

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    Kolb got hurt October 14th against Buffalo this season and didn't play in another game, ending up on IR with three weeks to go in the season. 

    Kolb's contract is going to make the decision a quick one for Arizona. Kolb is due a salary of $9 million with a $2 million bonus and another $3.9 million of other bonuses. This year's figure of $14.9 million would be the biggest cap hit of his contract and tie up a significant part of the Arizona cap in him. The 2013 salary cap is tentatively expected to be around $121 million. 

    Add to that his overall history of injuries and Kolb could very well be cut loose. Kolb has played in 15 out of 32 possible games in his two seasons in Arizona. 

    It doesn't make much sense to invest that much money in a half-broken quarterback. 

2. Who Will the Cardinals Pick for Their New Starting Quarterback?

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    Ryan Lindley and John Skelton were ineffective this season, to put it nicely. Both have performed well enough that neither will start Sunday's finale against San Francisco. Instead Brian Hoyer will make his first career start against the 49ers

    Yes, injuries forced Arizona's hand at the quarterback position early in the season, but the results weren't there either. Consider that Arizona hasn't had a passing touchdown since Week 9 at Green Bay and has a total of 10 of them on the season.

    Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, considered the weakest of the first-round quarterbacks (Luck, Griffin III, Weeden), has 12 touchdown passes himself and almost as many passing yards as the Cardinals. 

    The Arizona Republic has identified up to a dozen possible quarterbacks for the Cardinals to target in free agency. It may be that any of them could be better than the mess the Cardinals have had to contend with in 2012. 

    Regardless if they go through free agency or the draft, this will be a key area of focus for the Cardinals this offseason. 

3. Who Will Be the Cardinals' Running Back?

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    Beanie Wells was drafted at the tail end of the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft and could have been the Arizona running back of the future. Instead of running towards the end zone, he's more interested in running away from the Cardinals.

    Wells, like Kolb, has also been injury-plagued during his time in Arizona. His results haven't been that great either as he's averaged four yards per carry over his first four seasons. He's only broken the 800-yard and eight-touchdown barrier once. 

    This season hasn't been stellar for him with 234 yards in eight games and five touchdowns. Add to that a stint on the designated-to-return injured reserve list and Wells may also be a casualty in a couple months' time. 

    LaRod Stephens-Howling leads the team with 358 yards on 110 carries this season. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. His intentions are unknown and likely won't be until Wells' situation gets sorted out. 

    The Cardinals' rushing numbers look reminiscent of Detroit's last season as the Cardinals were futile running the ball. The difference was that Detroit's Matthew Stafford threw for more than 5,000 yards last season. The Lions finished 10-6 and made the playoffs despite a lack of a running game. 

    Arizona has consistently been in the bottom third of the league in rushing over the last decade and has a pressing need to find an identity at this position. Arizona is last in the league at rushing with just 76.6 yards per game in 2012. Teams have finished last in rushing and made it to the Super Bowl (NY Giants, Colts), but Arizona doesn't have the arm to mask this weakness. 

4. Will the Cardinals Keep Ken Whisenhunt as Head Coach?

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    Whisenhunt led the Cardinals to a Super Bowl XLIII berth and within a minute of a world championship. That has to feel like an eternity ago for Arizona, especially after this season. 

    The Cardinals opened up winning four in a row and 11 of their last 13 games dating back to last year. Then we all know the Cardinals flew south for the season and dropped 10 of their last 11 games heading into this week's finale. 

    The roller coaster of highs and lows leaves Whisenhunt with a sub-.500 record for his six seasons in Arizona. He's 45-50 at the helm since 2007 and has recorded seasons with double-digit losses in two of the last three seasons. 

    He's due $5.5 million in the final year of his contract in 2013. 

    If they keep him, he'll be the longest-tenured coach in the history of the franchise. If they don't, defensive coordinator Ray Horton might get moved up to the head coaching role. If Horton chooses to go to another team, this decision becomes all that much more critical. 

5. Will Arizona Do Enough to Keep Larry Fitzgerald Interested in Staying?

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    It's no secret Larry Fitzgerald is the face of the franchise and arguably the best player on the team. 

    It's also no secret that he's been locked in the throes of his worst season as a professional in 2012 with 69 receptions for 785 yards and four touchdowns. He's only broken the 100-yard barrier twice this season. 

    This will be his worst season since 2006 when he caught 69 passes for 946 yards and six touchdowns—in only 13 games. 

    Fitzgerald has a contract through 2018 with a no-trade clause. For the upcoming season he counts as $9.25 million against the cap but will then be at least a $17-million hit in each of the remaining four years on his current deal.

    The big question is, would he want to stick around on a team that may get a new coach, has holes at quarterback and running back, starts three rookies on the offensive line and has no complementary wide receiver to take some of the coverage off of him? 

    The way Arizona answers the first few questions on this slideshow could play a big role in this question. It would be one of the most-watched stories of the offseason if Fitzgerald were to say he wanted out. And it would be certain that there would be exactly 31 other teams who would be very interested if he did. 

6. How Active Will Arizona Be in Free Agency?

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    We saw the Cardinals take a big step last season in the free agent market when they pursued Peyton Manning. They may have to take bigger leaps if they want to try and solve some of their issues that the team is facing. 

    Arizona has plenty of needs on the offensive side of the ball and there figure to be plenty of big-name free agents on the market this year. 

    The top of the draft doesn't seem to have much in the way of help at skill positions for the Cardinals. Free agency could be the better way for Arizona to try and fill in those pieces to the puzzle. The free agent period opens March 12th.

    The question is, can the Cardinals' organization woo those free agents and will they have the cap space to do so?

7. What Needs Will Arizona Decide to Look for in the 2013 Draft?

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    Arizona will have its full complement of draft picks and an as-of-yet undisclosed pick (or picks) from the deal that sent cornerback A.J. Jefferson to Minnesota.

    Expect the pick/s from the trade to be lower-round ones, but Arizona will have a chance to get more players. 

    The 2013 NFL Draft isn't shaping up to be particularly strong for offensive skill players like last season was. This could be another year where Arizona goes for support on the offensive line first and foremost. It may not matter who the quarterback and running back are if the line can't block. Perhaps Arizona goes OL-OL-OL on its first three picks depending on how free agency works out. 

    With a defensive core firmly in place for 2013, Arizona's draft focus could be exclusively on the offense. The Cardinals will have to do their homework for those middle-round picks to try to find more help for needs that didn't get filled early in free agency.