Arizona Cardinals roundtable: Optimistic, yet realistic expectations for 2023

Sep 7, 2023, 11:41 AM

Jonathan Gannon looks on during Arizona Cardinals practice...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon looks on during practice on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, in Tempe. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

New era, low expectations. The Arizona Cardinals under first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon and first-time general manager Monti Ossenfort are fighting an uphill battle.

Their 2023 roster lost stars from last season’s iteration, and the additions haven’t been especially intriguing. The strategy appears to point to the 2024 NFL Draft as the event to kick the restructuring into full gear.

Franchise quarterback Kyler Murray begins the season sidelined while rehabbing an ACL injury.

So how would we define success this season?

We asked our Arizona Sports show hosts, Cardinals Corner podcast co-hosts and editors this prompt:

Please paint us your most optimistic, yet realistic, picture of how the Cardinals’ 2023 season can go, knowing that all signs point to the 2024 draft as the next make-or-break point of the franchise’s future.

What’s an optimistic, realistic 2023 season for the Arizona Cardinals?

Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & LukeTo me the (realistic) best-case scenario starts with Houston being terrible so the Cardinals get the top pick that way. Then Murray returns at some point so they can see what he actually looks like in this offense instead of just projecting, and they can make a decision between him and Caleb Williams with all the information they need. Beyond that, hitting on four or five of the nine rookies in Monti Ossenfort’s first draft class and identifying some other good keepable players from this year’s team so they can establish a solid core to build around would be huge. Winning the occasional home game would be nice, too.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Blending optimism and realism when painting a picture of how the Cards season can go? It feels like two colors that clash on the canvas. I believe there are five somewhat winnable games on the schedule; the two Rams games, the Falcons the Texans, and perhaps this Commanders game on Sunday. Can they win all five AND sneak out a surprise or two? That’s optimistic but I just don’t know how realistic it is. Perhaps, the best way to put it goes like this … win a couple of games before you get Kyler back, then win half the games you play after you get him back. I think that is the very best-case scenario.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: The most optimistic results for the 2023 Cardinals in my eyes are based more on what the team’s culture looks and feels like after the season is over in January. Is Gannon able to squeeze the most effort and passion from this team, which admittedly is about as talent-deprived as any roster in the NFL? You want a win total? And remember this is based on the phrasing of the question that asked for the “most optimistic” picture … I think this Cardinals team could top out at four wins.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I think the ceiling is five wins and the floor is one win. But I am not calling this tanking. This is responsibly building. The roster was trash. Spending money on veteran free agents past their prime to win 7-8 games would have been just plain dumb. It appears that the Cardinals had a good draft. They need to develop these players, continue to acquire assets, as in future draft picks, and try to build something that can have sustained success. Yes, they will lose a lot of football games this year. The coaches will coach to win, the players will play to win and the front office will take 2-3 seasons of solid drafts, smart free agency acquisitions and getting off of bad contracts to get this turned around. They don’t have the talent to win on either side of the ball, so I will go with a 2-15 record.

Dan Bickley, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: As someone well-versed in fiction, this is simple: Josh Dobbs becomes one of the breakout stars of the NFL season. The Cardinals offense shines behind its revamped offensive line. The new system installed by Drew Petzing has a dramatic effect against opposing defenses and on a region numbed by the zombie-like predictability of the previous offense. And while the defense isn’t good enough to carry its share, the Cardinals make the season interesting and fun.

Tyler Drake, Cardinals reporter and Cardinals Corner podcast co-host: A successful season in 2023 will look like this: Three to four wins against the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Texans but still maintaining their place at the top of the draft board. A five- or six-win season is the worst thing that could happen and very well could be the difference in owning one of the top picks. Improvement from an individual and team basis are the two biggest caveats that need to be seen in what is expected to be a down season. We need to see the on-the-field vision Gannon and Ossenfort have for this franchise after saying all the right things leading up to the season. You know what else makes it a successful season? Rolling out your franchise quarterback to see what exactly he still has to offer before thinking about making an organization-shifting move in the draft.

Erik Ruby, Cardinals Corner podcast co-host and afternoon contributor: The absolute best-case scenario for the Cardinals has absolutely nothing to do with winning games. Of course, a lot of people don’t want Arizona to win ANY games this season in order to secure the No. 1 pick, however, an 0-17 season could not be classified as anything other than an absolute failure. In order for this season to be a “success,” the team needs to balance losing games and winning culture, something I believe is possible. Go 4-13 or 5-12, secure a high draft pick BUT make sure you compete in every single game. Don’t just roll over, don’t just lose to lose, compete until the bitter end and make sure the players believe in the process and see the foundation being built even if the wins don’t come THIS season.

Alex Weiner, editor: The most optimistic picture of the 2023 Cardinals season would be that of an organization finding a group of young blue chippers on both sides of the ball. Arizona had struggled to build a young corps under Steve Keim, as evidenced by the essential jettisoning of the 2020 draft class outside Leki Fotu this summer. Learning Paris Johnson Jr. is reliable on the offensive line; Zaven Collins is disruptive off the edge; Rondale Moore, Trey McBride and Michael Wilson are mainstays on offense; and BJ Ojulari, Cameron Thomas, Myjai Sanders and Kei’Trel Clark can be long-term contributors on defense. That is more important than wins in a transitional season.

Kellan Olson, editor: It has less to do with a win total and more to do with young players revealing themselves, for better and for worse. The new regime has to be able to sift through the roster to figure out who the long-term pieces are before a pivotal offseason. This goes as high on the totem pole to Murray and as low to edge rusher Myjai Sanders. Honestly, on a squad severely lacking in overall talent, the only two locks are safety Budda Baker (if he wants to stay) and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., the recent No. 6 overall pick. Everyone, and I mean everyone, else? I have no idea. It’s around two dozen guys and clarity will greatly aid the turnaround next offseason, because the franchise’s biggest current problem, among others, is how many positional weaknesses it has. Trimming that list down greatly for 2024 is a must.

Kevin Zimmerman, editor: It’s both optimistic and realistic to aim for the top pick in the 2024 draft, right? How about this: The Cardinals show cleanliness in their gameday operation under a first-year head coach and a no-quit attitude when they get down by double-digits in every game they lose. But midway through the year, when Murray returns, the franchise QB proves he is just that, operating an NFL-style offense — under center at times! Now, Murray literally pulls off two wins the Cardinals should not have in the backhalf of the year. Maybe not all of the Ossenfort-drafted players are starters, but they’re at least NFL second- and third-stringers who can help build the culture for a few years. Fortunately, the Texans are more miserable and in a much worse place, and their draft pick lands at first overall with Arizona’s own fitting in the top-five with a five-win campaign that is respectable.

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