Arizona Cardinals' Biggest Offseason Priorities
The 2013 offseason for the Arizona Cardinals is going to be one of the most important ones in recent history. The Cardinals have 13 new coaches and a new general manager starting this season so changes in the way things are done and lines of thinking could very well happen.
The rest of the NFC West has vastly improved and Arizona needs to take several key steps to keep up with the division and avoid another poor season like the 2012 campaign.
The team has a lot of question marks in front of it and has to make some big decisions about player personnel in the free-agency period, which opens in a few weeks.
Start the slideshow and see what the biggest offseason priorities are for the Cardinals to make 2013 a successful season.
1. Be Prepared to Make a Splash in Free Agency
The Cardinals made waves in the offseason last year by being one of the final suitors in the chase for Peyton Manning. While Arizona didn't get him, it sent a message to the rest of the league that the Cardinals are trying to land big-name free agents.
The biggest priority for the team at this part of the calendar year is to find a way to entice free agents to join the Arizona Cardinals and make a huge splash in free agency. For some the pitch might be playing time, while others may just love the weather. Regardless of how they do it, Arizona needs to be able to go after the bigger names on the market.
If the Cardinals made offers to, say, Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and Greg Jennings, but none of them agreed, then it might be the approach. No one could expect to land all three of those free-agent wide receivers but the Cardinals need to try. Trying keeps the fans encouraged; signing a big free agent makes the fan base excited.
The downside is—with as many holes at the team has, how can they prioritize what they want to do in terms of what positions to fill up first?
2. Make Critical Roster Decisions
One of the biggest roster decisions to be made not involving a quarterback is who will be running the ball in 2013.
Beanie Wells' season was marred by turf toe that caused him to have a stint on the designated-to-return injured reserve. Ryan Williams' campaign ended in Week 5 against St. Louis with a shoulder injury. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a free agent as well so the top three running backs for Arizona are all in a state of flux.
Of course, there are decisions to be made at quarterback as well. Kevin Kolb ended the season on injured reserve after taking a brutal hit in Week 6 against Buffalo. Backups John Skelton and Ryan Lindley were largely ineffective and Brian Hoyer wound up starting the season finale against San Francisco.
Kolb is the biggest question mark of all of them. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com wrote when Kolb went on IR that his season, and likely career in Arizona, both ended with that move. If he is cut from the team to avoid paying him $11 million in 2013, who will be the quarterback?
That's a huge question, and it needs an answer that could change the direction of the franchise for the next few years.
Regardless of the position, Bruce Arians and the new coaching regime will have to reevaluate everyone and make some tough decisions about the roster for 2013.
3. Be Prepared for the NFL Draft
There is little doubt that the Cardinals need to have a strong draft to address team needs. Arizona has gaping holes on the offensive line, question marks at quarterback and a running game that has limped along for far too long.
Various mock drafts have the Cardinals all over the board. Some of them have Arizona drafting a quarterback like Matt Barkley or Mike Glennon in the first round. Others have the Cardinals going for an offensive lineman like Chance Warmack of Alabama or Eric Fisher from Central Michigan.
While the mocks have Arizona doing any number of things, it's clear the Cardinals need to basically win the draft in order to try and improve in 2013. This is even more critical if the team fizzles in free agency.
Also, don't rule out the possibility of moving down via trade in the later rounds to acquire more draft picks and potentially get more players for the team. It's not likely to happen but is still something to keep in the back of the mind.
The other, more hidden, part of the draft is being able to evaluate and sign key undrafted free agents. Some of the biggest names in the league were never drafted. Arian Foster of the Texans and Wes Welker are just a couple of players that nobody took in the draft, yet both are household names in football.
4. Revamp the Offensive Playbook to Fit the Team
With the draft and free agency behind them, Arizona needs to take some time and look at the playbook based on what their roster looks like at that point in time.
The Cardinals need to play to their strengths but not have a majority of pass plays going to Fitzgerald. The team can't keep having runs going up the middle for the same back over and over either.
While the league has evolved into a pass-happy aerial assault, there's nothing wrong with trying to be a team that has its strength in the run and will try to grind out wins from the first snap to the last.
Will the Cardinals have to incorporate more passes with three-step drops and quick releases to mitigate the number of sacks the offensive line allows? Would that be a good fit given who is on the roster?
It remains to be seen what Arizona will look like in 2013, but the team has to be able to have an offense that matches with its strong suits. Failure to do that could result in another lost season as the rest of the NFC West pulls away from the Cardinals in terms of results. Remember that the division had two playoff teams and a third one a tie away from finishing at the break-even point of 8-8.
5. Assess Whether or Not It's a Wise Move to Change the Defense
When Bruce Arians was hired, Todd Bowles quickly followed and became the defensive coordinator for the team. Bowles finished the season in Philadelphia after Juan Castro was fired from that role during the Eagles' bye week.
Arizona has been a 3-4 team but could a change to the 4-3 be in order? Out of the top ten scoring defenses, seven of them use the 4-3. The ones using the 3-4 in the top ten are Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Houston.
Could bringing a fourth man to the line on a full-time basis also help with the weakness in the run game?
Logically, yes, but the Cardinals are in no position to make that kind of a change over the next seven months. It would require a series of huge changes which would be tough for any team to swallow. It's even tougher for a team that is having problems on offense as well and leaves the defense little to no margin for error.
It won't matter if it's the Wide 9 variation on the 4-3 defense or a bigger shift to, say, a 4-4 defense. Improvements need to be made defensively but totally changing the scheme under a new coordinator could be a huge mistake for this season.
The biggest question is: how will a team that's used to running a 3-4 defense function with a coordinator who primarily called 4-3 defenses?
6. Figure out Who the Starting Quarterback Will Be Before Camp
The Arizona Cardinals' quarterback carousel spun seemingly every week in 2012. Whether it was due to injuries or poor play, it seemed like no starter made it more than four games in a row last season.
It also didn't help that it took five preseason games and all of training camp before a starter was finally named in John Skelton.
It's much too early to try and name the starting quarterback but it's something the team needs to do to give itself more stability heading into the season.
The key thing to think about here is that Arizona needs to find a starter, regardless of who it is, and make sure the team knows who it is. This way the starter can get more reps with the first team and get that rapport and trust built up on the field with the receiving corps in August so things go smoother in December.
7. Arizona Needs to Develop Backs and Tight Ends in the Passing Game
The Cardinals are sorely lacking two-dimensional players at the tight end and running back position and it's slowing down the team's offense.
The running backs, as a group, averaged 3.4 yards per carry this past season and contributed a total of 25 receptions. This makes them much easier to defend since defenses know they will be running a bulk majority of the time.
Getting a back out into the flat or maybe up the sidelines on a wheel route could wreak havoc for the defense and buy the quarterback time to throw. It could also be useful as a safety valve when the opposition calls a blitz and the Arizona offensive line wilts under the heat.
The tight ends aren't much better. They've accounted for 11 touchdowns in the last five seasons, combined. New England's Rob Gronkowski had that same number this season despite missing four games with a broken arm. With the deficiencies in the offensive line, tight ends have been used as blockers first and pass-catchers second.
The Cardinals have to find enough confidence in the offensive line to allow for them to go out and run routes, causing matchup issues on the field.