Arizona Cardinals head to offseason with more questions than answers
The Arizona Cardinals’ season has officially come to a close following their Week 18 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
It ends a year filled with disappointment on and off the field for a Cardinals team coming off an 11-6 mark just a season prior. In addition to Arizona’s dreadful 4-13 record, the Cardinals dealt with injuries and inconsistent play, particularly on the offensive side of the football.
Away from the Xs and Os wasn’t any better, with two coaches no longer on the team due to off-the-field issues. Other distractions included quarterback Kyler Murray’s contract back-and-forth this past offseason, hold-ins at training camp and GM Steve Keim’s health-related leave of absence to name a few.
Now, it’s onto an offseason littered with questions and expected change in one way or another.
A look at some of the bigger decisions that lie ahead for owner Michael Bidwill:
The situation at GM
It all starts at the top.
Keim’s leave of absence was just another layer piled on top of the Cardinals’ already tumultuous season.
And with no return date given, his time as Arizona’s GM is greatly in question despite signing a contract extension that runs through 2027 this past offseason.
Bidwill must figure out where Keim stands — if he hasn’t already — quickly. If he’s not returning, his replacement is going to be needed and quick.
The league waits for no one, and you better believe names will be on the move when “Black Monday” rolls around.
While a GM search could be underway sooner than later, two candidates remain within the organization in vice president of pro personnel Adrian Wilson and vice president of player personnel Quentin Harris.
Going with one — or even both in a co-GM role — could streamline the replacement process of Keim and provide some familiarity at the same time.
But given the personnel issues the team faced this season and the dropoff in play, is promoting from within really the best course of action or is bringing in new blood the way to go?
Once a decision is made on Keim, where does that leave fourth-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury in all of it?
Kingsbury had seen steady progression over his first three seasons at the helm, improving year over year by three wins — eventually earning playoff berth in 2021 — but ran into a buzzsaw of a season in 2022 (as previously mentioned above).
The head coach undoubtedly shares some of the blame, but not all of it.
His play-calling has been questionable at times over the course of the season, and he’s strung together a concerning second-half-of-the-year trend of losing but hasn’t lost the locker room from what defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and other players have alluded to in 2022.
As far as the team’s personnel issues, that’s not all on the head coach.
Still, the NFL is a results-based business, and the current optics are not great.
And if history is any indication, this would be the time for Bidwill to make a move if he was going to.
Entering Week 18, the Cardinals had posted four wins or fewer three times since 2000. In each of those instances, a head-coaching change was made during or after the season.
Does that trend continue with Kingsbury?
Where does DHop stand?
The Cardinals are heading into a hard reset. There are too many free agents to count, quarterback Kyler Murray likely won’t be healthy to start the season and then there’s the status of the front office and coaching staff to consider.
So, what’s that all mean for a player like wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is in the back half of his career, looking to continue his Hall of Fame campaign and due a pretty penny next season? Per OverTheCap, the wide receiver carries a cap hit of $30.75 million next season, up from $15.73 million in 2022.
On one side, Hopkins has proven to be the team’s best offensive weapon when he’s on the field. Despite missing the first six games due to a PED suspension, Hopkins still paces Arizona’s pass catchers with 717 receiving yards. He is second behind only Hollywood Brown (66) in receptions with 64 and trails tight end Zach Ertz (four) in touchdowns with a trio.
Plain and simple, when Hopkins isn’t on the field, the offense is nowhere near the level it could be.
But on the other, the cap hit he has is one that can really hinder a front office’s ability to spend in other areas.
And unloading Hopkins has its own hurdles outside of just finding the right trade partner.
Trading Hopkins with a pre-June 1 designation would save the Cardinals $8.15 million and carry a dead cap of $22.6 million. A post-June 1 trade would save Arizona $19.45 million with $11.3 million in dead money.
Get Allen back on the books
The Cardinals have a lot of players hitting free agency this offseason.
None are more important than defensive lineman Zach Allen.
He may have missed the final four games of the year with a hand injury, but this season marked Allen’s best yet as pro. The lineman was second on the team in sacks (5.5), second in QB hits (19), tied for second in passes defensed (eight) and third in tackles for loss (10).
And with defensive end J.J. Watt retiring at the end of the season, the honorary Watt brother will need a trusted veteran presence to build around.
Of all the difficult decisions, this is the easiest of them all.
Pay the man.
What about Murph?
Allen should be in-house priority No. 1 when it comes to re-signings.
Cornerback and homegrown talent Byron Murphy should be next on that list.
Playing the fewest games of his career in 2022 (nine) due to a back injury, the CB finished with 36 tackles, three of which were for losses, four passes defensed, a QB hit and two forced fumbles.
The only returning options at cornerback on the Cardinals’ books next season are Marco Wilson and Christian Matthew. Keeping Murphy around will keep some stability on a defense heading for change.
Retool the trenches
Sure, there are other holes to consider on this ballclub, but none stick out more than along the line of scrimmage.
On both sides, Arizona could use a revamp.
Offensively, the Cardinals have tackles D.J. Humphries and Josh Jones and rookies Lecitus Smith and Marquis Hayes under contract through at least next season. Humphries marks the only returning Week 1 starter in 2023.
The cupboard is pretty bare.
While free agency, the NFL Draft and potential trades are definite routes the team can go to replenish the line, there’s another stone the team can unturn in Kelvin Beachum.
He may not have made his future plans concrete, but the right tackle was the only starting OL to play in every game this season. He brings a veteran voice to the equation and has already left his mark on players like Smith.
On the defensive end, there’s a lot to be desired.
Watt is headed for retirement, Allen is an impending free agent and the depth behind those two is thin.
Rashard Lawrence has flashed at times but can’t stay healthy and Leki Fotu is more of a plug-and-play option.
Filling out the defensive line with adequate pass rushers can’t be overlooked.
And with a top four pick in this year’s draft, don’t be surprised if Arizona uses its first-round selection on a highly touted defensive big man.