Virtually from the moment they fell to the Carolina Panthers 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game, the Arizona Cardinals’ single goal has been to improve.
Coming off a historic season that saw them win 13 regular season games and the NFC West before reaching the conference title game, in reality, one could surmise there wasn’t really all that much GM Steve Keim needed to work on.
ESPN NFL writer Mike Sando, with help from analysts Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Mark Dominik and Field Yates, put together grades for every NFL team’s offseason. The Cardinals are given an A- in the Insider piece.
The move that earned the most praise was the team’s acquisition of linebacker Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots in exchange for guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick. Couple that with the fact that every one of the team’s offensive skill players is returning and you have a team that should take a step forward, not back.
“You feel they are better defensively, and that is where they had to get better,” Dominik said.
Riddick loved the Cardinals’ decision to use a fourth-round choice for Missouri center Evan Boehm as a likely replacement for longtime starter Lyle Sendlein.
“This was a sneaky good draft pick,” Riddick said. “When you pick up guys like this in the middle rounds — I call them foundation picks — it shows Steve Keim and Bruce Arians are on the same page. I just like a lot of what they did to address the issues they had. Their first-round pick, Nkemdiche, can be a big plus as far as inside pass rush to help out Calais Campbell and get Chandler Jones going on the outside.”
Polian downplayed first-year expectations for Nkemdiche and most rookies throughout the league, but as he put it, the Cardinals didn’t need to do much this offseason.
“They added Jones, who probably adds a great deal to their defense if he can keep his nose clean,” Polian said.
Jones notched 12.5 sacks for the Patriots last season, and has tallied 36 in 55 career games. Arizona struggled to get after the quarterback in 2015, with the Cardinals’ 36 sacks placing them in a tie for 20th in the NFL.
After the pass rush, there were not really any areas the Cardinals needed to improve, though it would not hurt them to get better on the offensive line and a little faster in the secondary. They hope to have accomplished both of those goals by bringing in veteran Evan Mathis to play right guard and safety Tyvon Branch to replace Rashad Johnson, who left in free agency.
Whether or not the changes add up to a better Cardinals is anyone’s guess, but for what it’s worth, the Seattle Seahawks were given a B-, the Los Angeles Rams a C+ and the San Francisco 49ers a C for their offseason performances. The Panthers, whom the Cardinals are in theory chasing in the NFC, earned a C+.