The Arizona Cardinals are in the midst of one of the most successful runs since the team moved to Arizona.
The team won 10 games in 2013 and 11 in 2014, with expectations once again pretty high heading into 2015.
There has been talk about the team being a “true contender” as long as quarterback Carson Palmer stays healthy, and there is a general sense that this team could compete for a spot in Super Bowl 50.
But while things look good heading into this season, the question remains how how set the franchise is going forward.
The folks over at ESPN.com tried to determine that for the Cardinals — as well as every other team in the NFL — in their 2015 NFL Future Power Rankings.
In the piece, which you need an ESPN Insider subscription to read, analysts John Clayton, Louis Riddick and Mike Sando rank the teams based on a 0-100 scale in roster, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching.
The analysts grades were averaged and then each category was weighted. Thirty-percent goes to roster, with 20 percent going to both coaching and quarterback. The remaining 30 percent is divided up evenly between draft and front office.
And when it’s all tallied up, the Cardinals can be found ranked 11th, with an overall score of 72.4.
The Cardinals got their strongest marks for coaching, followed by front office, draft, roster and quarterback.
The analysts then broke the team down even further:
The overview: The Cardinals made their biggest gains in drafting (21st to eighth) and coaching (16th to fourth) as general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians validated early successes with another strong year. The organization also signed both to contract extensions, setting a foundation for the future. The big question is whether Carson Palmer can return to previous form following another knee surgery, but in Arians, the organization has an offensive-minded head coach who seems to think he can build a winning plan around just about any viable quarterback. –Mike Sando
Indeed, much of the Cardinals’ success will likely hinge on the veteran QB’s health. As has been noted, Arizona was 6-0 in games Palmer started last season and just 5-6 in games he missed. Before being lost to a season-ending ACL injury, the former number one overall pick had completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,626 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions, looking every bit the top-flight quarterback teams need in order to win in today’s NFL.
But alas, while Palmer seems to have made a great recovery from the injury, until he gets back on the field and plays well there will be questions about what kind of passer he will be in 2015. Assuming he’s effective, the focus will then turn to being able to keep him healthy and on the field.
And that’s precisely what the next analyst pointed to:
The dilemma: I said a year ago that as Palmer goes, so goes the fortunes of this franchise. Unfortunately, 2014 proved me to be right: Without Palmer in the lineup from Weeks 11-17, the team went 3-4, culminating with an embarrassing loss in the postseason where, with Ryan Lindley under center, they totaled 78 total net yards of offense against the Panthers. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a realistic succession plan for Palmer, which is worrisome considering he turns 36 this season and is coming off a torn ACL. How the quarterback position is handled going forward will continue to determine whether or not this team can mount a serious, sustained challenge to the kings of the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks. –Louis Riddick
Those notes are more about what the Cardinals have going for them right now. Given that this is the Future Power Rankings, plenty of thought went into how the team should look in the coming years. That’s where the team’s younger players factor in, and it’s one of the reasons why the Cardinals are ranked as high as they are on the list.
The youth movement: Keim did well in 2013 with the selections of Tyrann Mathieu, Alex Okafor and Andre Ellington, along with undrafted linebacker Kenny Demens and safety Tony Jefferson. But after two years and only two starts, guard Jonathan Cooper, the seventh pick in the 2013 draft, needs to become a factor at right guard. Likewise, it’s time for 2013 second-rounder Kevin Minter to become starting material at inside linebacker. Deone Bucannon’s solid rookie season overshadowed some of the struggles from his fellow 2014 draftees. The Cardinals are still hoping second-round tight end Troy Niklas comes around and third-rounder Kareem Martin successfully makes the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker. –John Clayton
In terms of the NFC West, the Cardinals rank only behind the Seattle Seahawks, who are second. The St. Louis Rams are 17th, while the San Francisco 49ers are 22nd.