Cardinals’ terrific offseason creates newfound momentum for 2020 season
Five-win football teams rarely move the meter. Dennis Green was fired in Arizona after a five-win season in 2006. Same with Ken Whisenhunt in 2012.
Amazing how fast our perspective has changed.
The Cardinals are one of the hottest teams of the offseason, one of the early winners heading into the NFL draft. Their 5-10-1 record in 2019 is no match for our collective optimism.
General manager Steve Keim is no longer on a hot seat, resuscitating his sunken image with one glorious heist. The team is being celebrated for who they acquired and who they are bringing back, from their use of a transition tag to keep their best running back in tow, to the little things, like re-signing the backup quarterback.
Meanwhile, the return of Kenyan Drake is matched only by his mood, something you might not expect with a player who was seeking long-term riches.
“We’re up to something,” he declared on Twitter.
Look at the numbers. In 2018, the Cardinals were 41.1 percent worse than the average NFL offense. In 2019, they were 3.8 percent better than the average NFL offense. Their improvement of 44.9 percent was easily the best in the NFL.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is no longer under league-wide scrutiny, no longer coaching with a sense of anxiety that accompanied a Week 1 tie with the Lions. He knows what works and what doesn’t. He’s added a Top 3 wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. He’s lost the distraction that came with benching David Johnson. His coaching staff has been tweaked.
Kyler Murray has a full year of experience under his belt. He played in all 16 games and set a rookie mark for most pass attempts without an interception. His ball security and play-making ability was even more than you hoped, a player who eventually earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He also dealt with failure, frustration and monstrously fast defensive players who outweighed him by 50 pounds.
He is no longer a rookie, having to validate his skill and his size every time he put on a Cardinals uniform. The Cardinals won 2 of their last 3 games in 2019, including a road game at Seattle. They are already better than the Rams, who lost the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. Their offense seems poised for another exponential leap in 2020, which could be frightening for opposing defense.
If there’s a 2020 season.
Fatalists in the audience are nodding their head, aware we are always in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ongoing pandemic is already a cruel twist for the Diamondbacks, a team that aced their own offseason. Opening Day would’ve been days away, along with the celebrated debut of our favorite rodeo star, Madison Bumgarner.
Personally, I’ll never forgive the NHL for the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season. The Coyotes made a big push in the offseason, signing two of my favorite NHL personalities (Mike Ricci, Brett Hull). They added Curtis Joseph and Petr Nedved. Wayne Gretzky came down from the owners’ booth to coach the team.
The rest is an ugly chunk of history. Hull was badly out of shape after the lockout ended and retired five games into the following season. Ricci and Nedved made little impact. Gretzky was a disaster. The dream died before it ever began.
The Cardinals evoke similar fears, a testament to how well they’ve performed, refurbished on the fly by a GM who took his metaphoric pink slip and ripped into pieces. Keim has significantly improved the team before the NFL draft. He unloaded Johnson, retained Drake and authored one of the most lopsided deals in league history. He even kept Brett Hundley, who looked like a perfect fit at backup quarterback in 2019.
But it’s only redemption if they play the games. And for our sake, the 2020 Cardinals better not be a mirage, another cruel tease, victimized by something completely out of their control.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.