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Dan Bickley

Three Cardinals to watch as Arizona looks to right the ship

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Cardinals are on notice. They will have as many targets in 2019 as they did victories in 2018.

You’ll find them on the backs of Kliff Kingsbury, Steve Keim and whoever emerges as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.

Start with Kingsbury, who will turn 40 in August; has no professional coaching experience; was promoted to the top of the NFL after getting fired at Texas Tech; represents a trend gone wild, a glorified play-caller handed one of the 32 toughest jobs in America, shaking the old-boy network to its core.

Kingsbury will be expected to roll out an offense with sizzle, one that puts opposing coordinators on notice and NFL defenses on their heels. He must resemble the success of Sean McVay, a 33-year old head coach who has already been to the Super Bowl. If Kingsbury fails, the bottom will fall out of the tub. It won’t be pretty.

That’s because Kingsbury is the antithesis of a guy like Bruce Arians, who waited until age 60 for his first head coaching job. There are grizzled NFL types who would love to see these whippersnappers exposed and expunged. Like Saints coach Sean Payton, who once crossed the picket line to make it to the NFL, who said he looked forward to matching wits with some of these copycat hires.

The Saints will host the Cardinals in 2019.

The second target will be worn by their franchise quarterback. If the Cardinals stick with Josh Rosen, he will be under great pressure to ascend. The odds are in his favor. Research shows that quarterbacks taken with first round picks from 2014-2017 improved by 57 wins and 161 touchdown passes collectively in their second season. In other words, a taste of experience can work wonders for smart quarterbacks like Rosen.

But his mission would change dramatically if he retains the job in Arizona. He entered the league hell-bent on disproving teams that selected quarterbacks ahead of him. In 2019, he might have to prove the Cardinals were right in sticking by him, that he’s a better NFL quarterback than Murray, regardless of system.

By contrast, if the Cardinals select Murray, the diminutive quarterback will have to prove himself to a tough crowd. David Johnson has already stated his preference for the incumbent, saying “I like Josh.” Rosen cultivated great respect from his comportment in 2018, dispelling the myths of aloofness and entitlement. He took the heat, the hits and never threw his teammates under a bus.

NFL players aren’t easily impressed, but this is where Rosen moved the meter in 2018. He didn’t have a lot of success on the field, but he won the room. Former Cardinals’ defender Markus Golden signed to play with the Giants and had no reason to chime in on the current situation, but he went out of his way to call Rosen a “great guy and player.”

It’s clear that Murray might inherit a skeptical audience, a group that believes their former quarterback was jobbed out of a job.

It’s nothing Murray can’t overcome, but the air might be thicker than anticipated.

Finally, Keim.

The GM was never in danger of losing his job after a 3-13 season. His relationship with Michael Bidwill is too strong. He’s did too many good things during his partnership with Arians. He wears his heart on his sleeve and has worked his way up from the ground floor.

But as of now, Keim is officially on the clock. If Kingsbury doesn’t have the voice or chops to command and compel a small army of men, day after day, without fail, for six months, this could get ugly. If his handpicked assistants lose faith in their rookie leader, the scene might be an insult to dumpster fires. And for all of that danger, Kingsbury is the least of Keim’s concerns.

To wit:

If Keim makes the wrong choice at quarterback, and the one he discards rises to instant stardom elsewhere, he could do more than wound the franchise for a decade. Keim could ruin his legacy in Arizona forever.

That would be a cruel twist. And it’s why the game can be terrifying at its highest level, especially for GM’s with weak stomachs.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier