After Cardinals fall far in 3 years, these dates will be key this offseason

Jan 15, 2019, 6:08 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2019, 12:04 pm

Arizona Cardinals' Patrick Peterson reacts during the second half the NFL football NFC Championship...

Arizona Cardinals' Patrick Peterson reacts during the second half the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Three years. Less than 1,100 days. That’s how long it’s been since the Cardinals played in the NFC Championship game.

Today, they own the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

Some teams fall harder. None have fallen further.

Here are the key dates ahead for a team that played for Super Bowl berth in Jan. 2016 and lost by 34 points, a team that has won just 18 of 48 games since:

Jan. 27

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The day after the Senior Bowl, and the perfect time for Larry Fitzgerald to announce he’s returning for one more season with the Cardinals. This allows new head coach Kliff Kingsbury to tour Radio Row at the Super Bowl in Atlanta with Fitzgerald’s endorsement in tow.

Fitzgerald says he wants to wait until things calm down. But there can’t be any doubt, right?

Wealthy people retire to play golf and take extravagant vacations. Fitzgerald does all of that while employed by the Cardinals. He’s still an elite player. He knows how to avoid injuries. There’s little chance he retires after one of the bleakest seasons in franchise history.

Not with all this energy and swag surrounding Kingsbury and his offense.

Feb. 15

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Position players report to the A’s for Cactus League duty. Will Oklahoma star Kyler Murray be one of them?

Murray was the No. 9 pick in Major League Baseball’s draft last June. He decided to play one more of year of football and merely won the Heisman Trophy. He’s a tremendous athlete with a live arm, the guy Kingsbury once said he would take with the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Murray is also figuring out he can make a lot more money over the short term playing quarterback in the NFL. And if he feels the gravitational pull of professional football, it will present a serious blow to the cultural significance of America’s pastime, providing even more reason to watch the following:

Feb. 26

The start of the NFL Combine, where a stopwatch and a tape measure will produce two vital pieces of information. One will represent N’Keal Harry’s speed in the 40-yard dash, and whether the former ASU star will be a top 10 selection. The other will be Murray’s height, a player who is reportedly shorter than the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.

Murray has the athleticism and skills to soar at the combine, if he shows up. The Cardinals have the No. 1 pick in the draft. Trading down for multiple assets and the chance to acquire Harry would solve many problems in Arizona.

But there has to be a player worthy of the No. 1 pick. And a team desperate enough to climb the ladder all the way to the top.

Can Murray be that player? It all depends on his performance, his commitment to football and his official size.

The University of Oklahoma just listed his height as 5-foot-9 and seven-eighths, in socks.

March 11

Free agency begins. The Cardinals better have multiple acquisitions pending. They have over $70 million in salary cap space and weaknesses everywhere. And if Fitzgerald really wants to help the cause, he’ll return with a pay cut, helping the Cardinals fill out their roster.

The team already snagged D.J. Swearinger at the end of last season, after he fell out favor in Washington, D.C. Their biggest target might be Pittsburgh star Antonio Brown, the subject of rampant trade speculation.

Acquiring Brown would be the boldest stroke yet for Steve Keim, the general manager who needs a splashy offseason, who needs his unconventional, offensive-minded head coach to succeed.

Brown would top the trade for Carson Palmer, who was on the scrapheap in Oakland. It would best his acquisition of Chandler Jones. It would also cost a lot of draft capital.

But Brown would instantly transform the Cardinals offense from impotent to dangerous. He’s the only player in history to post six consecutive seasons with over 100 catches. And in the company of Fitzgerald, he would think twice about acting up in Arizona.

April, TBA

The NFL schedule will be released, and the Cardinals will have grudge matches against their previous two head coaches: at home against the Browns, pitting Josh Rosen against Baker Mayfield and Kingsbury against Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

The other is a game at Tampa, against the beloved Bruce Arians, who is no longer our Cool Uncle Bruce. He’s Bucco Bruce, perfectly fitting the team’s swashbuckler image.

In sum, the Cardinals have a wicked road schedule in 2019 that also features four playoff teams (Rams, Seahawks, Ravens, Saints) and a trip to New York to play the Giants.

April 25

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Cardinals have the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, which will be held in Nashville.

Remember how Suns fans went bonkers when their team won the NBA draft lottery in 2018? That didn’t happen when the Cardinals secured the No. 1 pick with a 27-24 loss to the Seahawks in Week 17. But as the draft gets closer, the excitement will become palpable.

The NFL draft is the biggest non-sporting event in America. Mock drafts and water-cooler discussions have already begun. This year, ABC will televise all three nights of the draft, two in prime- time real estate. It’s an exhausting ritual, and too often, the event feels forced, excessive and overhyped.

Not this year. Not when the No. 1 pick is both a blessing and a curse, exposing an organization to a barrage of second-guessers. Just ask the Suns about Luka Doncic.

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