Arizona Cardinals: State of Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
This morning, this article speaks with one voice to the fans it represents. It is you, Arizona Cardinals fans, and heading into 2014 the state of our team's franchise is strong.
Here are the results of the team’s efforts last season: The team posted its first 10-win season for just the second time since moving to Arizona in 1988. The Cardinals had one quarterback start all 16 games for the first time since Kurt Warner. The defense was strong and the best against the run. They played well against the rest of the division and picked up a signature win defeating the world champion Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
This is why Arizona fans should believe that 2014 could be a breakthrough year for the Cardinals. After years of hard work and improved effort, the Cardinals are well-positioned to take the next step and be a consistent playoff contender.
Start the slide show below and see more specifics about the state of the Cardinals.
2013 in Review
Heading into the season, Arizona was a difficult team to predict how it would fare. They were coming off a 5-11 season that included a 4-0 start. The team fired its coach and general manager shortly after the end of the season. The defensive coordinator left town and the Cardinals were looking at another rebuilding year.
Steve Keim was brought in as general manager. In turn, he added Bruce Arians to be his head coach and Arians added Todd Bowles to be his defensive coordinator. Keim worked his way up in the organization while Arians was fresh off winning Coach of the Year honors for his work with the Indianapolis Colts. Bowles was the interim defensive coordinator for a Philadelphia Eagles squad that gave points in bunches to end the 2012 season.
The moves worked out for Arizona, and they got impressive results with a 10-6 finish.
Arizona started slowly at 3-4 heading into the team’s bye week. They had finished a rough stretch where the San Francisco 49ers beat them on a Sunday. Four days later, Seattle came to town and pounded them, and left Arizona 0-3 in the division.
Arizona ripped off seven wins in its final nine games to make a serious run at the playoffs. The only losses were a 27-24 game at Philadelphia and a 23-20 loss in the season finale to San Francisco. The Cardinals kept fighting but fell just short of the playoffs in the final week of the season. They finished with the most wins of a non-playoff team in the league.
Quarterback Carson Palmer struggled with interceptions but still managed to throw for more than 4,000 yards last season. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald led the team with 10 touchdowns, but Michael Floyd emerged as the team’s lone 1,000-yard receiver. Rookie running back Andre Ellington showed signs of an encouraging future with the team. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu had a solid rookie season until tearing knee ligaments. Karlos Dansby came back for a second stint with Arizona and was the anchor of the defensive unit. John Abraham came on strong in the middle of the season and played younger than his 35 years.
The Cardinals showed that they aren’t doormats in the NFC, and they can build on this season’s success in 2014.
All of the success comes with a price, and that is going to be a key factor in whether Arizona can continue its success in 2014.
According to figures from Spotrac.com, the Cardinals currently project to be over the salary cap by more than $3 million. That figure doesn’t include the contract of punter Dave Zastudil who signed a two-year deal last month. The team didn't release terms of the deal.
Zastudil, a 12-year veteran, is scheduled to make a minimum of $970,000 in base salary according to the new collective bargaining agreement. The figure is derived from this Pro Football Talk article in 2011 and computing the figure for 2014. Knowing that, Arizona is already $4 million over the cap. They have to get under the cap, which means higher-priced players need to get off the roster or contracts need to be restructured, or both.
Three players are scheduled to have cap hits of at least $11 million in Palmer, Fitzgerald and defensive end Calais Campbell. Defensive end Darnell Dockett ($8.75 million), guard Daryn Colledge ($7.275 million) and linebacker Daryl Washington ($6 million) are the other Cardinals scheduled to count at least $6 million against the cap in 2014.
Arizona also has to factor in slightly more than $10 million in dead money that counts against the salary cap. Two former offensive linemen count for more than 90 percent of the dead money. Adam Snyder ($3 million) and Levi Brown ($6.514 million) make up the majority of that figure.
The question for Keim and company is how are they going to get back under the salary cap before the start of the free-agency period on March 11? Arizona still needs to acquire a kicker with Jay Feely set to be a free agent.
Head to the next slide to see who all the impending free agents are.
Impending Free Agents
Arizona is going to be one of the most interesting teams to watch in free agency. The Cardinals have nearly 20 players set to be free agents on March 11. The list on Spotrac.com shows who they are, and several of them were starters last season. Zastudil can be taken off that list.
Dansby is a big name on that list. Right tackle Eric Winston is on there as well. Arizona has four tight ends on that list, and it leaves Rob Housler as the only player under contract at that position. Running back Rashard Mendenhall (above) is one of several starters who are set to be free agents.
Yeremiah Bell, Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas are set to become free agents from the defensive backfield.
The Cardinals need to find ways to replace starters who are set to become free agents. They also need to find additional depth, and that poses a challenge.
Coaching Changes/Current Staff
The Cardinals don’t have to deal with coaching changes in 2014 like several other teams do. Keim and Arians are in place in the second year of their contracts.
There was the talk of Todd Bowles possibly leaving Arizona, but that does not seem to be likely at this point. Bowles pulled his name out of consideration for the head coaching job in Cleveland and was reportedly a finalist for that same position in Minnesota.
His defense produced 47 sacks and 30 turnovers in 2013, and each stat tied for sixth in its respective category.
Arizona had one change in the front office since the end of the regular season. Terry McDonough was selected to be the vice president of player personnel for the team. The move came after Jason Licht vacated that role to become the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Darren Urban of the team’s official website.
Arizona heads into the 2014 offseason with stability in the coaching ranks, which is a much different situation than what they had this time last year.
2014 Draft Preview
When it comes to the NFL draft, Arizona will be a little short-handed. As of now, the team has six draft picks. The team’s seventh-round pick belongs to the Oakland Raiders as part of the Palmer trade from last season.
Arizona is going to pick in the 20th spot in the first round after being the best team not to make the playoffs. Depending on what happens in free agency, Arizona could look a couple of different ways at that draft.
The Cardinals could need some help at both offensive tackle positions and possibly more depth on the line. Arizona may want to pick up a tight end in the draft, which could help to stretch the field in the passing game.
Another option is looking at linebackers. The Cardinals could use some additional pass-rushing outside linebackers in the team’s 3-4 scheme. Inside linebackers could also be a point of focus if Dansby isn’t re-signed.
Washington has an April 30 trial date set on charges that he allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend. According to the Associated Press, he pled not guilty to aggravated assault and trespassing charges. His situation plays out right before the draft, so it will be interesting to see how it factors into the Arizona war room. Washington is also due a $10 million bonus in March, which complicates the decision-making process.
Arizona is set to have a tougher season when the schedule is released in April. The divisional foes will be there, including two games with the reigning champions. Add to that a run through the AFC West, and they will have contests with the NFC East as well.
They also get games with Detroit and Atlanta as they were third-place teams in their respective divisions. It could be a very tough season for the Cardinals. For now, it’s a wait-and-see game until the schedule is released.