With a revamped front office and an almost entirely different coaching staff including the reigning Coach of the Year in Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals fans have a renewed sense of hope for this upcoming season. The Cardinals made key personnel decisions early this offseason, and what has transpired since has enabled Cardinals fans to think positively.
Needless to say, the Cardinals needed quite a bit of help both on the field and off after the massively disappointing 2012 campaign. Team president Michael Bidwill quickly set the tone for the entire offseason with the firing of general manager Rod Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt. However, the organization didn’t quickly jump at the next coach or GM who walked through the door at the Tempe headquarters.
With a methodical approach that had much of the fan base quaking with anticipation, the Cardinals interviewed multiple candidates for both positions, in-house and out. Then, almost three weeks after Whisenhunt was fired, they announced they had chosen their head coach, the last man they had the chance to interview: Arians. Along with that hiring came the announcement that Steve Keim was going to become the new general manager came to fruition as well.
Free agency couldn’t come fast enough for Cardinals fans. The new hires had already proven their decisiveness and football smarts by cutting the mediocre, at best, Kevin Kolb before his massive roster bonus took effect and immediately set their sights on snatching up key position players in FA. Antoine Cason was one of those key guys. He’s had a couple of off years lately, but I believe that he is a shutdown corner when healthy. The combination of Cason and Patrick Peterson will be lethal to opposing quarterbacks.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Keim struck proverbial gold when he was able to acquire Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders for some swapped picks in the 2013 draft and a conditional 2014 pick. This is a major upgrade over the quarterback carousel that has plagued the Cardinals since Kurt Warner retired. Some stability under center will be great for the organization.
The first draft of the Keim-Arians era was nothing short of a win for the Cardinals. Nine players in seven rounds thanks to smart trade-downs that still were able to yield great players who were expected to go much higher in the draft. With the seventh overall pick, the Cards selected Jonathan Cooper, an outstanding young offensive guard from North Carolina who will immediately be plugged into the offensive line and help to keep defenders off of Palmer’s back. In the third round, the 69th overall pick, Tyrann Mathieu became a Cardinal.
This is a big risk-huge reward type of pick. On the one hand, Mathieu has had very publicized problems with drugs in the past. On the other hand though, if he can focus on football and stay away from the dark side, the Cardinals will have one of the most dynamic players in recent memory.
Arians brings a winning attitude and mentality with him in his transition to the desert. He displayed a considerable amount of wherewithal when he took the previously 2-14 Colts to the playoffs the following season. A season that leading up to, he was unaware that he would be the head coach. The man can obviously make quick, yet well thought out, football decisions, even when it wasn’t necessarily in his job description.
Something that will serve the Cardinals well this year and beyond is the fact that Arians is a bona fide quarterback guru. Whether it be Palmer or a quarterback that the organization drafts in the future, they will all raise their game as long as they play under a coach like him. He is a tough-love kind of coach, and that is exactly what a team like the Cards need right now coming off of such a disappointing season.
Keim has already proven that he can upgrade any position on the field while saving cap space. Its a lost art really. You can see that he truly has an eye on the future of the franchise by giving most of the new guys “prove it” contracts. Its also evident that he is a GM that is willing to take a little risk in order to attain a great player (i.e. Tyrann Mathieu).
The regime change that took place earlier this year has already changed the perception of the team with most Cardinals fans, although many critics will still write them off because of the arduous NFC West division. Only time will tell for sure whether or not all of the changes were worth it, but on paper, the team has certainly upgraded at almost every position, including front office.
For now though, Cardinals fans can look forward to the upcoming season with a renewed sense of hope and optimism. They may even think about a word that hasn’t been thrown around too much in Arizona since the Warner days…playoffs.