CARDINALS CORNER

Why the Cardinals could offer an enticing head-coaching job

Jan 24, 2023, 12:28 PM
Arizona Cardinals NFL football team owner Michael Bidwill, left, answers a question as Monti Ossenf...

Arizona Cardinals NFL football team owner Michael Bidwill, left, answers a question as Monti Ossenfort, the new general manager of the Cardinals, looks on during a news conference in Tempe, Ariz., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Cardinals are doing their due diligence looking for their next head coach.

Arizona is far from the only NFL team in need of a lead man, though, with the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos also well into their searches.

As for the pool of candidates, there is certainly some overlap. Of the names reportedly linked to Arizona’s head-coaching vacancy, former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Denver Broncos DC Ejiro Evero, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive assistant Brian Flores, former Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich and San Francisco 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans have all had multiple interviews for other openings.

There are positives and negatives to each landing spot, but which one is the most enticing?

With that in mind, a look at why the Cardinals could provide the best job opening if Michael Bidwill and new GM Monti Ossenfort sell it correctly.

Pieces in place

Are the Cardinals in a rebuild or a retool?

Given who Arizona currently has under contract, you could say it’s the latter.

Unlike the Panthers, Texans and Colts, the Cardinals currently have their franchise quarterback in place — even if we don’t know when Kyler Murray suits back up given his season-ending knee injury late into 2022 and the rehab that goes along with it. Tight end Zach Ertz, running back James Conner and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins (if he isn’t traded) and Hollywood Brown are also viable pieces already in place.

Murray took a step back in his fourth season. It wasn’t all on him, though, with an injury-riddled offensive line, a six-game PED suspension for Hopkins and a pile of off-the-field distractions playing their part in the downfall of the organization.

Despite the recent optics, Murray has proven he can change games in an instant behind his arm and legs. Now, it’s on him and the organization to bounce back after the rough year on many accounts.

The QB situation at the other open head-coaching destinations are far from perfect, too. With the No. 2 pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, the Texans are projected to nab one of the top QBs in the class. The Panthers don’t have a starting-caliber signal caller currently under contract and the Colts are looking to get younger after the failed experiment of Matt Ryan. The Broncos have a proven hurler in Russell Wilson, but after what we all watched transpire last season, there’s not much confidence brewing a mile high.

In terms of Murray, the biggest question is, when will he be healthy enough to make an impact again?

Defensively, Arizona has safety Budda Baker, star backer Isaiah Simmons and linebacker Zaven Collins to work with. Collins took a massive step forward in Year 2, while Simmons turned in another season with at least 99 tackles and seven passes defensed.

There’s not much that needs to be said on Baker, who year after year brings leadership and an undying desire to put his body on the line.

Keeping a guy like unrestricted free agent Zach Allen around would only bolster the defense even more after he racked up the second-most sacks on the team (5.5) behind only J.J. Watt (12.5).

That’s a strong starting cast to work with for any incoming head coach.

Clean slate

Unless the Cardinals opt for in-house option and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, they appear headed for a clean slate.

With former GM Steve Keim no longer with the team and head coach Kliff Kingsbury getting the ax a day after the regular season ended, the decisionmakers within the walls of the organization will be different when the team reconvenes next year. That change has already been put in motion with the addition of Ossenfort and assistant general manager Dave Sears this offseason.

Ossenfort said during his introductory press conference that he wanted to build a cohesive network throughout the front office and coaching ranks. He’ll have one of the final says on any personnel matters but appears open to giving whoever he hires a voice.

Of the teams looking for a new coach, Arizona is the only one with a new general manager at the helm, leading many to believe first-time GM Ossenfort will fill the role with someone he will trusts, not only in Xs and Os, but in personnel matters.

Getting the team’s GM in place was Bidwill’s first priority this offseason. It allows the owner and Ossenfort to work hand in hand at finding Arizona’s next head coach.

On the positive side of things, Ossenfort and Bidwill can nail down exactly what they are looking for and move forward with their decision in concert. Hiring the GM first may limit the team’s rolodex some, but Ossenfort has connections that could prove fruitful, one being Flores.

Flores, who worked with Ossenfort in the early 2000s with the New England Patriots, has reportedly been in the mix for defensive coordinator jobs this offseason but interviewed with the Cardinals this past Monday for the team’s head-coaching vacancy.

But what does the working relationship between the trio of Ossenfort, Bidwill and the head coach look like past that?

Bidwill has been known to be heavily involved in the day-to-day operation and could very well continue that streak with new blood throughout the organization. At the end of the day, the owner signs the checks and could want to be in the mix at every step of the way.

The owner remained heavily involved last season and would sit with both Kingsbury and Joseph weekly, going over previous games and what needed to change moving forward. It was a practice Bidwill had done in the past but one not done by every owner.

Joseph and Kingsbury said they had no problem with Bidwill sitting down with them regularly, with the coordinator adding that more owners around the NFL should be doing that.

Can the same be said for the team’s next head coach?

Remember, there can always be too many cooks in the kitchen.

The other powers that be

Outside of the San Francisco 49ers, who are certainly a tough out regardless of who is under center, the NFC West is far from the juggernaut it has been in recent years.

The Los Angeles Rams got their Super Bowl but must now climb their way out of the basement of the division. And with the rumblings that defensive lineman Aaron Donald is on his way out sooner rather than later, on top of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s murkiness at the position and the yearly conversation that head coach Sean McVay could be headed for a broadcast booth in the near future, the Rams are in a worse spot than the Cardinals.

As for the Seattle Seahawks, they turned in a surprise playoff run that ended with a dismantling at the hands of the 49ers in the NFC Wild Card round.

Seattle turned in a 6-3 start but lost five of its last eight matchups with QB Geno Smith leading the way. After struggling to find success for most of his NFL career, he’ll likely get the starting nod next season.

The Texans and Panthers jobs are two more to consider just from who is in the AFC South. The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the up and up, but the Tennessee Titans turned in a dud of a season at 7-10 and have to figure out what’s next at QB.

The Broncos, however, are the worst prospect thanks to the road in the AFC West that includes Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs and Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Location, location

Good weather is always a sweetener in any deal.

Outside of the occasional cold snap the Valley endures from time to time, Arizona leads the way when it comes to destination.

NFL teams already battle with a lot during week of preparation and on game day. Taking out a majority of the elements is a definite win.

The tax relief the state gets is an added perk. The next head coach can even buy a swanky Kingsbury-esque house for any viral photos needed. War room 3.0, anyone?

Sure, it’ll be hot when training camp takes place. Luckily for Arizona, it’s got a domed stadium to practice in.

Pack your sunscreen!

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