The Arizona Cardinals were one of the worst teams in the league last season, struggling to a 4-13 record that keyed the firing of general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury. With franchise quarterback Kyler Murray potentially missing the first month of the season as he continues to recover from a late-season ACL tear (although he maintains that he’ll be ready to go for Week 1) and the rebuild in full effect with players like Deandre Hopkins cut, they aren’t expected to be much better in 2023… but they are laying the foundations for a successful future.
Here’s a look at how new general manager Monti Ossenfort looks to rebuild the Cardinals franchise.
Draft, Draft, and More Draft
When it comes to rebuilding a team from the ground up, the Cardinals think they’ve done the hard part already. While the 2023 roster is still pretty barren, they have who they think is their quarterback of the future in Murray, so the focus shifts to keeping him upright and building the team around him.
The Cardinals picked up nine players in this year’s draft, starting with offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., a 6-foot-6, 313-pound behemoth who can keep Murray off the ground. Going down the rest of the offensive draft picks, the Cardinals selected 6-foot-2 receiver Michael Wilson in the third round, offensive lineman Jon Gaines II (who can play at both guard and tackle) in the fourth and added a fifth-round quarterback as insurance in case it takes Murray some time to recover this season: Clayton Tune.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals selected edge rusher BJ Ojulari in the second round, a physical beast who could stand to gain some consistency at the young age of 21, and cornerback Garrett Williams, a technically proficient defender who can get beaten over the top at times in the third.
Other picks include linebacker Owen Pappoe, cornerback Kei’Trel Clark (who has the makings of a late-round steal), and NFL heir Dante Stills, whose father, Gary, played for in the NFL for 10 years.
After the influx of talented new players that come with earning a high draft slot, perhaps the biggest move the Cardinals made this season was the hiring of first-time head coach Jonathan Gannon. It’s early yet, but veterans of the team during the Kingsbury era have already praised Gannon for the focused, disciplined attitude he demands of his players.
It goes without saying that the best coaches (or even the basically competent ones, which many agree Kingsbury was not) can get more out of their roster than a bad coach can, raising their team’s floor through discipline and leadership.
Unless the Cardinals go on a surprise run to a championship like the 1999 St. Louis Rams, it’s still going to be tough going in Year 1 of the Gannon era: check the odds Arizona has (and the bonuses you can take advantage of) with the BetMGM Arizona app.
Prove It To Me
When it comes to this year’s free agent class, Ossenfort and the Cardinals went for quantity over quality, signing over a dozen players to cheap one-year contracts. Part of that is out of necessity, with nearly half of last year’s roster hitting free agency when the new league year began: the Cardinals needed warm bodies badly, so they went out and signed as many players as they could to fill out the roster. With largely unproven commodities like career backups or average to below average starters to date in their careers, though, many of these players have a low ceiling.
By signing them to one-year deals, the Cardinals filled an immediate need: they also didn’t saddle themselves with a long-term commitment if they don’t do much of anything. Similarly, if they find a diamond or two in the rough who can turn into a consistent starter (or even a star), they’ll have the financial flexibility next season to lock them up long-term with a decent chunk of the roster spots unaccounted for once again.
It’s a low-risk, low-reward strategy, but finding one or two success stories more than makes up for failures in what is expected to be a lost season from the start.