Over the next several months, Arizona Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort and his cohorts will be hard at work. Reinforcements must be added to a locker room that is raring to return to the playoffs. The Cards posted an ugly 4-13 record this past season, so transforming the team back into a contender will not be easy.
Obvious deficiencies do exist, but it also must be noted that Arizona's cupboard isn't completely bare. In fact, there are certain positions that could actually be considered a strength of the Redbirds when they embark on a brand new campaign next September.
One area of the roster that definitely won't need Ossenfort's attention is running back, where starter James Conner is fresh off of the first 1000-yard performance of his NFL career. The 6 foot 1, 233 pounder averaged a sparkling 5.0 yards per carry, and registered nine total touchdowns for the Cardinals offense.
Conner's backups are capable ball-carriers as well. Michael Carter, a former member of the New York Jets, averaged an eye-popping 6.8 yards per tote during his six games with the Cards. Undrafted rookie Emari Demercado contributed 284 yards and a pair of scores on the ground, and was credited with an excellent 4.9 yards per rush.
Arizona Cardinals aren't as talent-deprived as this past season's record would lead you to think
Switching to the opposite side of the ball, safety is another spot that doesn't need fixing. Budda Baker, the heart and soul of the Arizona defense, has made six Pro Bowl appearances in seven years. Jalen Thompson, a 5 foot 11,190 pounder, has totaled an impressive 309 tackles, eight interceptions and 24 passes defensed over the past three seasons for "Big Red".
As improbable as it may have seemed just a few months back, the center position could now be looked at as another strength of the Cardinals. Hjalte Froholdt, a free-agent acquisition from the Cleveland Browns, was on the field for a whopping 99% of the offensive snaps. The two-year, $4.6 million contract that the 27-year-old agreed to back in March of last year is looking like a flat-out bargain for the mauling anchor of the blocking unit.
One of the best moves that Jonathan Gannon made when he took over as the head coach of the Cards was to retain special teams coach Jeff Rodgers. The success of the unit starts with Matt Prater, the ageless placekicker. Forget the two missed field goals in the season finale, the 39-year-old remains among the best in the business.
Arizona's special teams got even better this past October when Ossenfort acquired punter Blake Gillikin. The 26-year-old positively shined for Arizona, averaging 50.6 yards on 51 punts. Greg Dortch turned in a solid performance as a punt-returner by averaging a career-best 9.5 yards on 29 opportunities.
The future also looks bright for the Cardinals at the tight end position. Trey McBride showed star potential by hauling in 81 passes for 825 yards and three touchdowns in just 12 starts. Elijah Higgins, an undrafted free agent out of Stanford University, became a key cog in the team's passing game down the stretch.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference; Salary information provided by Spotrac.com)