On an abysmal Tuesday of drubbings in the Phoenix sports world (12-1 loss by the Diamondbacks and 6-1 elimination of the Coyotes from the playoffs), the Arizona Cardinals quietly staged a minor coup d'etat, brightening my day.
They signed veteran offensive lineman Alan Faneca to a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
This was the sort of thing that I never experienced growing up a Cardinals fan. No good AND still productive player ever wanted to play for Arizona (Emmitt Smith, Boomer Esiason, and Edgerrin James were good, but no longer the productive players they once were).
Things have changed with Ken Whisenhunt driving the bus. He is in charge. He has a plan. He runs the team like front runners, not reacting rashly to changes. Instead of seeking flashy names to sign, the team now focuses on developing its own stars and targets value performers in free agency to provide depth and competition at all positions.
This offseason started in uneasy fashion. Many fans began to worry. I started to panic, but with one move, the panic went away. I realized again that I can trust this team, something that in my youth I just could not do.
These new Cardinals have transformed into something hip and cool. They are no longer, as described by Simeon Rice, the "armpit of the NFL" (that dubious distinction now belongs to, I believe, to either Oakland or Detroit). Look at what has transpired just in this offseason:
1. Kurt Warner retires. Matt Leinart is now the starter, but Whisenhunt made sure that there were contingency plans in place. The team signed former Pro Bowl QB Derek Anderson to step in if Leinart is not the answer and drafted QB John Skelton in the fifth round to develop long-term. (On a side note, there are those that believe that Skelton could be a steal of a pick in the fifth round.)
2. S Antrel Rolle and LB Karlos Dansby sign lucrative free agent deals with other teams, leaving two noticeable holes in the defense. The Cardinals then trade for Kerry Rhodes (an upgrade, in my opinion), who is under contract through 2013 and for much less money than Rolle. They also sign LB Paris Lenon (a downgrade, but serviceable).
3. LB Bertrand Berry retires. The Cardinals sign veteran LB Jerry Porter (another upgrade) and draft LB Daryl Washington, all this in addition to the players they drafted last year: Cody Johnson and Will Davis.
The Cardinals don't stop there. They draft Andre Roberts, which provides depth and competition in case Doucet underachieves or is injured again. It also gives them a fourth receiver and a punt returner so that Breaston only has to focus on his receiving duties.
5. Kicker Neil Rackers does not accept the team's contract offer. Arizona doesn't wait. Rackers, who has been a head case when having to kick in the clutch, loses out. The team signs Jay Feely to replace him.
6. Offensive guard Deuce Lutui has yet to sign his offer sheet with Arizona. He reportedly would like a long-term deal (so would I) and is unhappy that no offer has been made. Thinking ahead, the Cards sign guard Rex Hadnot. The more recent signing of Faneca sends Lutui the message that the team will move on if he is not going to be part of the team.
As can be seen, Arizona, under the guidance of Whisenhunt, is thinking ahead. It has an organizational plan. The team and organization is bigger than any individual. It is recognizing current and future needs, targeting players, and going and getting them.
It was unheard of before in the Big Red Nation for the team to manipulate the draft, moving up and moving down strategically to get targeted players. It now looks like Arizona is running a big-time franchise.
Now, there is one move that still leaves many wondering why. The trade of Bryant McFadden (who was very disappointing this past year) created a greater need at cornerback, for which Jorrick Calvin was drafted. However, even though McFadden was going to be a backup and was due more than $4 million, his departure creates a void in depth.
Am I worried? I'd be lying if I said I had no concern. One injury to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Greg Toler, or Michael Adams, and the defense will likely have major issues. In a division that could see improvement in all three opposing teams, it is a valid concern.
Should I be worried? I should know better than to be too worried. After all, after two division titles and a near Super Bowl victory, there is a history. Whisenhunt knows what he is doing.
So I will state it again—this (happily) trapped fan is on board the Whisenhunt bus. In my eyes, he has reached the point where he has my entire football faith (as my true faith is reserved for Another). I just can't really doubt any move he makes. That is what is so different from all my years of being a fan of the Cardinals, and it is why I love it so much more now.
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