Cardinals need to learn lessons from Suns in preparation for 2021 season

Jan 6, 2021, 6:21 PM | Updated: 10:21 pm

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray walks off the field after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray walks off the field after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

One team has great leadership. The other has a void at the top.

One team has an experienced head coach who commands respect. The other is paying a price for an unproven, unconventional choice at the helm.

One team is the Suns. The other is the Cardinals. Somehow, they’ve traded places.

It will take months to unpack and fully understand what we experienced in 2020, to reconcile the forces that derailed a 5-2 team with Super Bowl intentions. But for starters, the Cardinals need to learn some lessons from the Suns.

I know. That would’ve sounded absurd for most of the past decade.

The Cardinals need their own version of Chris Paul. A strong, veteran leadership component that will serve as the foundation during hard times, that will help instill much-needed accountability inside the locker room. The Cardinals were unmotivated and uninspired in too many first quarters of 2020. They were the most penalized team in the NFL. That has to change from the inside.

Paul is also a teller of hard truths. He’s been pushing Deandre Ayton to sharpen up his marshmallow game and timid temperament. Slowly, it’s working.

The Cardinals need that kind of voice. Someone who is both fearless and respected. Someone who can do the heavy lifting, saying the words Kliff Kingsbury can’t.

Next, the Cardinals need Kyler Murray to be more like Ayton, another declaration that would’ve sounded preposterous one month ago.

But earlier in the week, Paul complimented Ayton for being receptive to feedback, criticism and all the constant nagging. Murray must do the same. He must have open ears, embracing the insight of others, learning from his elders.

There have been whispers that the Cardinals quarterback is unapproachable. He was given a starting job in Arizona from the moment he was drafted. He never cultivated a relationship with Larry Fitzgerald, the most popular player in Arizona history. He doesn’t understand the power of body language.

He needs to be receptive to those who have so much to give.

To be clear: Murray is the least of the Cardinals’ problems. The team finished in third place in the NFC West and was pummeled by the last-place 49ers in the penultimate game of the season. Steve Keim’s seat is nearly as hot as his handpicked head coach. There are holes at cornerback, offensive line, defensive line, inside linebacker and wide receivers opposite DeAndre Hopkins. He needs an offensive coordinator who can mentor, support and call the plays that Kingsbury designs, giving the latter a chance at succeeding as an NFL head coach.

But Murray is the team’s most important player. And with the right growth spurt and adult supervision, he can lead this city to a championship.

For over a decade, our NFL team was a model of excellence in the Valley. They went to the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner. They soared with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer. They connected with sports fans in Arizona. They felt like family, close enough to be our neighbors.

During that time, the Suns toiled in obscurity and embarrassment. They rolled out Lindsey Hunter, Earl Watson and Igor Kokoskov as head coaches. They had wayward locker rooms that faced little accountability. Their culture was toxic.

Things have changed dramatically. For both franchises.

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