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ESPN: Cardinals’ 2016 offseason gets a B+ in re-grade

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones (55) recovers the fumble by New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Last offseason began for the Arizona Cardinals with one clearly stated goal:

To improve the pass rush.

The thought was that after winning 13 games and reaching the NFC Championship Game substantial changes were not necessary, and instead minor tweaks — or in this case, an upgrade in one of the few areas of need — would be enough to get the team to its ultimate goal.

It was with that in mind that they went out and traded for New England Patriots linebacker Chandler Jones, and it’s fair to say that for the most part, the move was a success. Jones finished the season with 11 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, while adding four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 14 QB pressures and 22 QB hits.

That move, along with the team’s draft and other free agent pickups, led to the team earning an A- in an ESPN piece grading each team’s offseason last May.

If judging the offseason was solely based on the Jones move, it would probably get a really good grade. However, Arizona’s other moves, like signing veteran guard Evan Mathis as well as drafting Robert Nkemdiche in the first round, did not work out as well which is why in an updated piece, the Cardinals’ offseason has been re-graded as a B+ by Mike Sando.

The downgrade was slight, even though the team seemed to take a significant step back overall.

Chandler Jones’ acquisition from New England helped the defense improve from 20th to first in sacks (48) and from fifth to third in EPA. Arizona brought back every player who made a pass, rushing attempt or reception in 2015, when the Cardinals led the NFL in offensive EPA and ranked second in offensive touchdowns. The Cardinals did not expect much immediate impact from their 2016 draft class, which delivered 568 snaps from scrimmage, the second-lowest total for any team.

Oddly, the Cardinals plummeted in the NFC West standings even though their 2016 offseason moves largely panned out as expected. They were horrendous on special teams, a big surprise. None of our analysts railed against the Cardinals last spring for failing to address the snapping, kicking, punting and special-teams coverage problems that would undermine their season. It’s a stretch anyone could have seen so many things going wrong at once in that specific area.

The Cardinals could have done more to shore up the cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson, but Pro Football Focus rated Arizona’s secondary No. 2 in the league over the summer. Alarm bells were not sounding there or anywhere. The Cardinals could have gotten more from their draft class, but their 2016 offseason was still solid. Arizona, like Jacksonville and San Diego to some degree, failed more in spite of its moves than because of them.

Looking back, do you feel as good about Arizona’s 2016 offseason as Sando does?

In truth, as the writer noted, while the team’s acquisitions were not enough to propel the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, it’s tough to say they set the team back.

Still, as the Cardinals enter the 2017 offseason — a time in which they have more than 20 of their own free agents to worry about as well as possess the 13th overall pick in the draft — they seem to have more needs than last year, and thus will likely need to come away with more than they did last year.

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