Following a disappointing 7-8-1 season, the Arizona Cardinals are looking to bounce back in 2017, which could mean a new look for a team that went 13-3 in the 2015 campaign.
A team that opened the 2016 season as one of the favorites to make the Super Bowl sputtered last year and is now looking at a questionable future on both sides of the ball.
This is why ESPN.com’s Mike Sando ranked the Cardinals No. 5 in his list of the teams most in need of an offseason overhaul in an ESPN Insider piece.
Arizona has a league-high 134 starts associated with potential unrestricted free agents, and the team could part ways with defensive mainstay Calais Campbell, among others. Aging players such as Evan Mathis, Frostee Rucker and Chris Johnson also could be out.
The Cardinals have churned their roster aggressively since Steve Keim became general manager, doggedly looking for the right mix of veteran bargains. The urgency could be especially high following a disappointing 2016 season. Quarterback Carson Palmer turned 37 last month. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald turns 34 in August and is considering retirement. Coach Bruce Arians’ health problems raise questions about how long he’ll remain in his role.
Retaining or adequately replacing key defensive free agents, such as Campbell, outside linebacker Chandler Jones and strong safety Tony Jefferson, will go a long way toward determining whether or not the Arizona defense will continue to be one of the best in the league. The Cardinals ranked second in the NFL this season by holding opponents to 305.2 yards per game and led the league in sacks.
Jefferson had a great season for the Cardinals, finishing with 92 tackles, two sacks and five passes defensed, while Jones and Campbell recorded 11 and eight sacks, respectively, with the latter being named an Associated Press second-team All-Pro.
The overhaul Sando alludes to could also involve looking to improve the interior of the offensive line and drafting a young quarterback to groom behind Palmer.
With Mathis retiring and a potential litany of changes to come, the Cardinals will likely look significantly different from the team that took the field last season when they get back on the field again.