Now that the Arizona Cardinals’ season has officially ended, everyone can truly turn their attention to the 2017 season.
Unlike last year, however, when the Cardinals went into the offseason with few apparent holes to fill or issues to solve, this time around question marks abound for a team that finished a disappointing 7-8-1.
In this edition of “The 5,” we’ll take a look at some of the biggest questions facing the team as it heads into one of its murkiest offseasons in recent memory.
Will Fitz give it one more go?
There is no doubt Larry Fitzgerald can still play at a high level after he led the Cardinals with 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns. In fact, his 107 catches were the most in the entire NFL. With 13 NFL seasons under his belt, however, Fitzgerald has admitted to considering retirement, but said any decision will likely wait until at least Feb. 1, when his body is fully recovered from the season. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians says he has his fingers crossed Fitzgerald will return for season No. 14, but noted there is nothing he can do to be a part of the future Hall of Famer’s decision. As for what his gut is telling him about Fitz? “I have never been in this situation so I really don’t have a gut feeling about it,” Arians said.
Is the QBOF out there?
If your impression of the 2016 Cardinals is that they failed because of quarterback play, your impression is incorrect. Carson Palmer, while not necessarily at the level he displayed in 2015, was quite good for Arizona, throwing for 4,233 yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 15 games. He was very effective in the second half of the season, and showed that at 37 years of age he still has something left in the tank. However, at some point the team needs to find a young option for the position, and that’s something Arians said he hopes to accomplish over the next few months. “That will be one of our main objectives in the offseason is to make sure the franchise isn’t in the situation it was after Kurt (Warner), that the next guy is here and ready to roll.” With the 13th overall pick in a draft that so far appears light on franchise signal callers, that may be a tougher task than hoped.
Can special teams get better?
It would be foolish to try and point to one reason for why the Cardinals, at one time Super Bowl favorites, failed to reach the playoffs. But if you had to look somewhere, special teams would be a good place to start. Injuries robbed the group of its depth, and then missed field goals, blocked field goals, bad snaps and blocked punts contributed to the team’s disappointing campaign, and though moves were made during the season to try and address the issues (Aaron Brewer in at long snapper in place of Kameron Canaday, Matt Wile at punter over Drew Butler), it’s fair to say very little of this group enters the offseason with much certainty. Even kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who finished the season fairly strong, is no sure thing. A free agent, Arians said Catanzaro is a talented player but is unsure if he will be back. If he does come back for year four, however, the coach would like to see more consistency. “When looking at kickers, the great ones I’ve been around, Nick Lowery and Phil Dawson, all those guys, they had really struggled early,” Arians said. “Most kickers do, but then they hit a spell where it’s automatic.”
Will a solid offensive line be built?
Rare has been the season where the Cardinals had a great offensive line, though the 2016 group had potential to be. Unfortunately, injuries limited veteran guard Evan Mathis to just four games, left tackle Jared Veldheer to eight and right tackle D.J. Humphries to 13. Of the Cardinals’ linemen, only center A.Q. Shipley started all 16 games, while left guard Mike Iupati was around for 15. Due to injuries, Earl Watford, John Wetzel, Evan Boehm, Taylor Boggs and Ulrick John all saw action, with Boehm seemingly doing the most to impress. For next season, Veldheer and Humphries will be back, though who plays at which tackle spot has yet to be determined, while Iupati shouldn’t be going anywhere. Shipley and Watford are free agents, however, and of the other players, only Boehm seems to have gained an inside track on a role for next season, either at center or possibly guard.
Is Calais Campbell not yet finished in Arizona?
The Cardinals have many free agents to worry about, but none of have been with the team as long as Calais Campbell. The defensive lineman was a rookie on Arizona’s Super Bowl XLIII team, and has been a mainstay in the lineup since his second NFL season. A team leader, it was widely expected that 2016 would be his final season with the Cardinals, but an 8-sack campaign in which, down the stretch, he was one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL, may have some rethinking his value. “I thought it was very solid, one of his better ones,” Arians said of Campbell’s campaign. “Especially the last half of the season. I thought he really benefited from Chandler (Jones) and Markus (Golden).” Add in rookie Robert Nkemdiche’s struggles to make an impact, and the Cardinals may see it fit to bring No. 93 back into the fold. The question, as it always is, comes down to how much the 30-year-old is seeking for his last big-money contract and just how much the Cardinals, who have other needs to fill and free agents to sign, are willing to send his way.