Arizona Cardinals 2013 Offseason Preview
SI.com is laying out offseason road maps for all 32 teams as they start their journey for the Lombardi Trophy -- two teams per day, from the teams that need the most work to contend in 2013 to the ones that are in pretty good shape. See them all.
2012 Record: 5-11
Key Pending Free Agents: Greg Toler, CB; Kerry Rhodes, FS; Todd Heap, TE.
List of Draft Picks (pending compensatory picks): 1 (7), 2 (38), 3 (71), 4 (102), 5 (135), 6 (166), 7 (199)
Available Cap Space: $723,000-plus
GM/Coaching Moves: Hired GM Steve Keim; head coach Bruce Arians; offensive coordinator Tom Moore; defensive coordinator Todd Bowles
The Cardinals' season certainly started off with a bang, didn't it? There was the late red-zone stand that preserved a four-point win in the opener against Seattle. The following week against New England, the Arizona D stiffened again and escaped Foxboro with a two-point win. Two weeks later against Miami, the offense rallied the Cards to victory in overtime.
A month into the season, the Cardinals stood at an improbable 4-0, prompting more than a few to ask why they had harshly, but fairly, prejudged a team that has averaged six wins since Kurt Warner hung up his cleats. But once September turned into October, the Cardinals became -- to borrow a line from a man who once ran them -- who we thought they were: a team without an answer at quarterback.
That's not to say that they've been ignoring the question. It's just that answers continue to elude them. Last spring, Arizona was one of a few teams to host Peyton Manning for an official visit during his historic free agency tour; they were legitimately in the sweepstakes. The year before that, the Cardinals traded for Eagles backup Kevin Kolb. His battle to stay healthy waged on in '12; his training-table fate was sealed when tackle Levi Brown went down with a year-ending triceps tear in the preseason.
Once Kolb followed suit -- a rib injury against Buffalo pretty much ended his season in Week 6 -- there was no sparing the Cardinals from a nine-game losing streak, their longest since 1944. A 58-0 drubbing by a vengeful Seahawks team on Dec. 9 would go down as the worst of these defeats. Come New Years, Rod Graves was fired along with coach Ken Whisenhunt and most of his offensive staff. So the Cardinals ended with a bang, too.
200.8. Passing yards per game conceded by the Cardinals, better than all but four teams. This bodes well of their chances of remaining competitive in a division that leads the league in talented young passers -- not least of which is Colin Kaepernick, of the Super Bowl runner-up 49ers.
Keep throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. Sure, his 45.5 reception percentage last year ranks just seventh among receivers with at least 80 targets, but the six guys ahead of him caught balls from pretty much the same passer all season. (The Bears' Brandon Marshall, No. 3 on that list, only owes nine of his 118 catches to bird-dogging backup Jason Campbell.) Meanwhile, Fitzgerald went through four -- count 'em -- four QBs and somehow ended his season with 798 receiving yards. In some ways, that achievement is as impressive as the five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons that came before it.
22.2 percent. Early Doucet's drop rate of catchable balls, worst among receivers with at least 50 targets, per Pro Football Focus. Never was he more unreliable than in Week 9 against Green Bay, when he was targeted four times and caught nothing.
It's puzzling that an organization recognized for out-drafting its peers over the past 10 years could whiff so badly when it comes to picking up quarterbacks. Still, there are few people more uniquely qualified to address the Cards' QB problem than Arians. Not only was he instrumental in the early development of Peyton Manning (and, later, Andrew Luck) in Indianapolis and Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, but Arians has also wrung serviceable performances out of Steelers old dogs Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. Whichever approach the Cardinals take toward solving their quarterback conundrum -- be it with USC's Matt Barkley via the seventh overall draft pick; Alex Smith, assuming they can steal him in a trade/free agency; Kevin Kolb; or another option -- odds are Arians will find an answer fans can live with.
1. Fortify the offensive line. It's the overlooked factor behind the Cardinals' quarterback carousel. Instead of burning the seventh pick on someone like Barkley -- head of the worst quarterback class since the Sam Bradford class of 2010 -- Arizona would be better off investing that pick in Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, a 6-6, 310-pound tackle prospect who excels in the run game, if he's available, or Eric Fisher, the consensus No. 2-rated tackle in this draft.
2. Explore the idea of acquiring Alex Smith. If anything, Smith would probably love nothing more than to stick it to a San Francisco team that has played him like yo-yo for the past three years at least. What's more, it's not as if there isn't precedent for intradivisional QB trades. It was only two years ago that the Eagles dealt Donovan McNabb to the Redskins for two picks, the highest of which was a second rounder. Surely the asking price wouldn't be much higher for a still-in-his-prime Smith, if the Niners go against his wish to be released into the free agent market. Otherwise, the Cardinals should pursue him hard in free agency.
3. Sign a better slot receiver. Clearly Doucet isn't getting it done. With so many better options potentially available in free agency -- Danny Amendola! Brian Hartline! Wes Welker (maybe)! -- Arizona, assuming it finds a way to unload Doucet, would be foolish not to wet its beak.
By the summer, the Cardinals should look something like the Seahawks did last summer: a team with a strong defense and plenty of promising intrigue around a quarterback competition. Heck, we could be in for another offseason dominated by talk of a later-round draft choice overtaking a high-upside backup acquired in an expensive trade, with either NC State's Mike Glennon or Arkansas' Tyler Wilson playing the role of Russell Wilson to Kolb's Matt Flynn. We'll probably feel better about the Cardinals offensive line talent and move on to worrying about whether they'll mesh well together. We'll carp about the Cardinals' decision to stick with Beanie Wells, perhaps at the expense of drafting a more talented replacement later on in the draft. We'll engross ourselves in the saga of which of the Cardinals' young tight ends will fulfill the promise that Todd Heap never did. And, because we love picking nits, we'll fret over the lack of depth on the edge of the Cardinals' defensive line.
But most of all, we'll wonder whether Arians can work his magic for the second year in a row. Chuckstrong was the 2012 season's ultimate rally cry. It's hard to envision "Do More with Less" really holding a candle to that.