DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals’ 2022 season one of NFL’s most dysfunctional ever

Dec 15, 2022, 6:02 PM | Updated: 6:08 pm
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals look on during the second h...
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals look on during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Cardinals hoped to win a home Super Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Feb. 2023.

Instead, they have produced one of the most dysfunctional seasons in NFL history.

Things are so preposterously wrong in Arizona that the owner, Michael Bidwill, might be tempted to forego major changes and write the whole thing off. The kind of snakebite season that effects every NFL franchise over the course of time.

That would be a mistake.

That’s because the issues that have grounded the Cardinals in 2022 took root a long time ago. They are the byproduct of decay and a culture that has grown soft, undisciplined, sloppy, and loose. They are breadcrumbs on the path of a franchise that has lost its way a long time ago.

The Cardinals are 5-14 over the past 19 games. Half of those losses are by 10 or more points. This is well beyond a trend.

After butchering a shot at the playoffs in 2020, the Cardinals added savvy veteran leadership, guys like J.J. Watt and Rodney Hudson. The hope was a strengthened/empowered locker room would compensate for the unconventional power structure and weak hierarchy in Arizona, featuring a hands-on owner who inherited his title; a general manager who handpicked most of the assistant coaches and wielded far too much power; and a roll-of-the-dice head coach who simply couldn’t believe his good fortune. A head coach content to play the role of glorified offensive coordinator, willing to treat his players with kid gloves and hope they returned the favor.

Alas, kid gloves never work in the NFL, and the Cardinals collapsed twice as bad in 2021, losing five of their last six games and getting blown off the field in the playoffs.

Incredibly, the encore has been 10 times worse. To wit:

Kyler Murray and his agent chose guerrilla warfare, strong-arming their way into a contract extension that felt more like a shotgun wedding. DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for performance enhancing drugs. Hollywood Brown was arrested for driving 126 miles per hour on his way to practice, revealing a team so unbuttoned that didn’t even sleep together during training camp.

When the season began, Murray couldn’t hide his on-field disdain for Kingsbury. Two key figures of the 2022 team – Eno Benjamin and Sean Kugler – behaved so poorly that the team felt compelled to send them packing immediately. Two other assistant coaches were removed of their titles, including a running backs coach who pled guilty to domestic battery.

Jeff Gladney died tragically. Antonio Hamilton badly burned himself in a cooking accident; J.J. Watt had to shock his heart back into rhythm; and whenever the opportunity arose, former Cardinals’ star Patrick Peterson took shots at Bidwill and Steve Keim, emboldened by the lack of resistance and response in Arizona.

Today, the general manager is on a medical leave of absence; the franchise quarterback is facing knee surgery, lengthy rehabilitation and the crossroads of his football career. And in the latest episode of “Hard Knocks,” the overmatched head coach is begging his players to hold themselves accountable, admitting to the world that maybe he’s to blame for treating football players like men, for giving them just enough rope to hang the guy in charge.

Kingsbury isn’t to blame for who he is and what he’s always been as a head coach. Decency, delegation and player empowerment are not character flaws.

They just rarely work in the NFL, a hardcore league where football players must be pushed and prodded well beyond their comfort zone, where a head coach needs to be an omnipotent figure, comfortable carrying a hammer, feared and respected at all times.

Which is exactly why Bidwill needs to seize the moment, clean house and change the culture. Before he wastes another year hoping against hope, doubling down on a losing hand.

Dan Bickley

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