Updated Jan 31, 2014 - 1:33 pm
The Five: Biggest 'what ifs' in Arizona Cardinals history
It was March 2012, and there were stories of billboards popping up in Arizona, the Cardinals being in the QB's top four or or five. "Manning Watch" was in full force for a little while, with one columnist…cough…me…cough…even going so far as to write that simply being in the conversation showed how far the Cardinals had come as an organization.
Of course, the Cardinals bowed out of the sweepstakes with Kevin Kolb's roster bonus looming, Manning ended up choosing the Broncos, and the Cardinals were left trying to sort through the mess that was their quarterback situation without the advantage of having one of the game's all-time greats on the roster.
The disappointment along with what has happened since -- for Manning, the Broncos and the Cardinals -- got me to thinking: What are some of the other big "what ifs" in Cardinals history? In this edition of "The Five," I break down some of the biggest.
The season before the Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Arizona, quarterback Neil Lomax had thrown for 3,387 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowler, and just 28 years old.
Not once before becoming a full time starter did Lomax throw more interceptions than touchdown passes, and when the team moved to the Valley, it was believed they brought a franchise quarterback with them.
That first year in Arizona, Lomax completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 3,395 yards with 20 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions in 14 starts. The Cardinals were 7-4 at one point, but Lomax was injured in a Week 11 victory over the New York Giants, causing him to miss the next two games. He wasn't nearly the same passer in his three games following the injury, and never played in the regular season again.
Lomax hurt his knee that day against the Giants but it was a hip issue that was his undoing, forcing him retire from football at the age of 30 after just one season in Arizona and leaving the team with Gary Hogeboom, Tom Tupa and Timm Rosenbach at quarterback.
Hogeboom wasn't any good, Tupa was a better punter than he was passer and Rosenbach, who had the most potential and earned the starting job in 1990, missed the entire 1991 season due to a knee injury suffered in training camp and decided to call it quits after suffering various ailments in 1992.
The Cardinals had a new coaching staff that believed the need to rebuild the offensive line was paramount over all others. Besides, the Cardinals had just signed Edgerrin James to a big contract the offseason before, so of course it made sense to take Penn State tackle Levi Brown instead of Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson at No. 5 in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Peterson has rushed for 10,115 yards in seven seasons, including a ridiculous 2,097 in 2012 after coming back from a devastating knee injury. He's scored 86 rushing touchdowns and been arguably the best running back in football since the Vikings took him seventh overall.
Levi Brown, on the other hand, has been Levi Brown.
A right tackle for his first three seasons -- including the year Arizona went to the Super Bowl -- Brown was moved to the left side in 2010 and struggled to become the player the team thought it was getting when he was chosen in 2007. A solid run blocker who struggled against the league's best pass rushers, he never developed into the player the coaching staff thought he'd become. Brown became a regular whipping boy for Cardinals fans everywhere.
Sometimes, bad, sometimes good and never spectacular, Brown's inconsistent Cardinals career came to a close four games into the 2013 season when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a late-round draft pick.
There is no doubt the Cardinals would have liked to have signed Manning, who although was coming off a serious injury, was every bit worth the risk. However, the Cardinals had a dilemma with regards to their incumbent quarterback, Kevin Kolb.
Though his first season with the team was plagued by injuries and inconsistency, the Cardinals made a big investment in the QB and had seen enough to think he could be a viable option at the position. He had a $7 million roster bonus due during the time Manning was choosing a team, and the Cards had to decide whether or not to keep him and pay the bonus or cut Kolb and hope to land Manning.
Whether or not the Cardinals would have actually finished ahead of the Broncos had they stayed in the race is anyone's guess (and probably doubtful), but the team's decision not to risk losing Kolb while missing out on Manning proved to be the wrong one.
After all, Kolb ended up failing to win the starting QB job in training camp and then, after regaining it due to an injury to John Skelton, was lost for the season six games into the campaign. The Cardinals went on to win just five games, leading the team to fire GM Rod Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Oh, and Kolb has yet to throw a pass in a regular season game since.
The Cardinals' draft history has some fairly spotty moments, but few stick out like this one.
In 2003, the Cards held the sixth pick in the draft. Terrell Suggs, who started at Chandler Hamilton High School before doing the same at Arizona State University, was there when they were on the clock.
The 2002 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American would have not only been a great addition to their defense, but also a surefire way to help win over some fans during a time when, let's be honest, the Cardinals had trouble in that department.
So, naturally, Arizona decided to trade down with the New Orleans Saints, moving picks 6, 37 and 102 for selections 17, 18 and 54. The Saints selected Jonathan Sullivan, Jon Stinchcomb and Montrae Holland with their choices, while the Cardinals took Bryant Johnson, Calvin Pace and Anquan Boldin with theirs.
Suggs, who ended up with the Baltimore Ravens, was a first-team All-Pro in 2011, been to the Pro Bowl six times and was the NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year in both 2003 and 2011. He has 94.5 career sacks and is still going strong.
Meanwhile, Johnson caught 210 passes for 2,675 yards and 16 touchdowns during five seasons with the Cardinals and Pace tallied a whopping 14 sacks in five years before signing a big free agent contract with the Jets. If not for Boldin, who emerged as one of the game's best receivers, this trade would have been a total disaster. But wait, they could have had Suggs and Boldin…
When the Cardinals and Kurt Warner finally agreed to a new contract following their Super Bowl run, the sides had come to terms on a two-year deal for $23 million, with $19 million of it being guaranteed.
"We're ecstatic about the commitment the organization has made to us," Warner said at the time. "Now it's my job for the next two years to go fulfill my part of the deal."
He didn't finish the contract.
Warner decided to retire after a 2009 season in which he completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 3,753 yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He led the Cardinals to 10 regular season wins and followed it up with one of the greatest postseason performances in NFL history in a Wild Card round win over the Packers, but was briefly knocked out of a game in New Orleans the following week and decided he was done as a football player.
With Warner gone the Cardinals elected to trade Anquan Boldin, and the Cardinals as we had come to know them officially came to an end. The Cardinals won five games in 2010 after cutting Matt Leinart and then shuffling through a quarterback rotation of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton. Had Warner stuck around, chances are good the season would have gone just a little bit better, and perhaps the team would have been more prepared for life without Warner had he given them that one last season.
And because it's the Cardinals, it was really tough to try and narrow the list down to five. So, this is actually "The Five+1."
In 1998, the Cardinals put together what could have been a great defensive line for years to come.
"Their defensive linemen have created a lot of havoc," N.Y. Giants coach Jim Fassel said in 1998. "They make it very difficult to run the football and they can put pressure on the quarterback."
Just a year later, though, the tune had changed.
Simeon Rice, Eric Swann, Mark Smith and Andre Wadsworth were supposed to be the next "Steel Curtain," and the quartet helped lead the Cardinals to the playoffs in 1998, as they combined for 153 tackles and 28 sacks that season. However, contract holdouts and injuries led to the group's deterioration from there.
Rice was one of the game's premier sack artists, and had 34 from 1998-2000. He left for Tampa Bay in 2001, but not before once referring to Phoenix as the "armpit of the world."
Wadsworth, selected third overall in 1998 out of Florida State, lasted just three seasons in the NFL before injuries forced him to call it quits. The "next Bruce Smith" retired with 8 career sacks.
Smith, who racked up 6 sacks as a rookie in 1997 and another nine in 1998, recorded just five over the next three years. His career lasted just six seasons.
And Swann, who was simply dominant as a defensive tackle, repeatedly dealt with knee injuries that caused him to lose effectiveness. Offensive linemen knew what he could do and thus tried to take him out, and they ultimately succeeded. Swann finished with four sacks in 1998 and then again in 1999, his last season with the team.
Adam Green, Web Content Editor - ArizonaSports.com
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