Barnwell: Arizona Cardinals 12th-most improved team this offseason
Jun 4, 2023, 7:07 AM
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
From a busy NFL Draft to the recent release of an All-Pro pass catcher, it’s been a jam-packed offseason for Arizona Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort.
Following a dismal 3-14 showing in 2022 that lead to massive organizational changes, there was and still is a lot of work to be done.
But in ESPN analyst Bill Barnwell’s eyes, the Cardinals are among those on the right track.
In his rankings that take into account how teams this offseason increased their short- and long-term chances of winning a Super Bowl, Arizona landed inside the top 15 at No. 12.
And it all starts with hitting that hard reset button:
What went right: The Cardinals committed to a much-needed rebuild with a draft-day trade. I’m not sure any team entered the offseason in a worse situation than this one. They were coming off a 4-13 campaign. Their star quarterback, Kyler Murray, tore an ACL in December, and he could miss part of the 2023 season. Years of cap mismanagement and dismal drafting had left them with a moribund roster. … It was time.
Among the positives from Ossenfort’s time on the job, Barnwell highlighted the Cardinals’ Day 1 draft haul of a 2024 first-round pick from the Houston Texans and Ohio State offensive lineman Paris Johnson.
They were impactful additions that better set up Arizona for the future.
But while Barnwell praised Ossenfort’s efforts during the draft, the same couldn’t be said for the organization’s decision to cut ties with its now-former No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
What went wrong: The Cardinals didn’t get any return for Hopkins. We’re only a year removed from Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill landing their respective former franchises first-round picks and additional selections in trades. Hopkins is 30 and coming off a season in which he was suspended six games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, but he posted a 64-717-3 line in nine games after returning, finishing 17th in yards per route run.
Instead of waiting for a trade to materialize, Ossenfort decide to outright release the wideout. The decision brings on more than $20 million in dead money this season but gets the wide receiver completely off Arizona’s books by 2024.
Not being able to get some kind of draft compensation to help further along the rebuild process hurts, though parting ways with Hopkins now gives Ossenfort and the Cardinals more flexibility in the future.
And like every other NFL GM, Ossenfort’s offseason is far from over, with Barnwell pinpointing a big box to check for Arizona in form of a Pro Bowl safety.
What’s left to do: Resolve Budda Baker’s situation. The best player left on Arizona’s roster might be Baker, who requested a trade in April after the organization declined to make him the league’s highest-paid safety. He has a $13.1 million salary remaining as part of the final year of his extension with the Cardinals, meaning that any team acquiring him would likely be handing the 27-year-old a new contract as part of the deal.
While there haven’t been any updates regarding a new contract for the safety, Baker did say he would be present for training camp in an interview with 12Sports’ Cam Cox.
“When it’s time to be there, I’ll be there smiling, same regular guy that I am,” he told Cox. “Just excited to see those guys again.
“For me personally, I’m just letting the business aspect handle the business aspect,” the safety added. “Letting my agent handle all that type of stuff.”
Taking the top spot in Barnwell’s ranking was the Washington Commanders and their new ownership.
On the other end of the spectrum were the Tennessee Titans and their multiple deficiencies at quarterback, offensive tackle, wide receiver, edge rusher and cornerback at No. 32.