Pressure’s on 3 Arizona Cardinals as renovation enters new phase

Feb 27, 2024, 1:31 PM

Kyler Murray celebrates with Monti Ossenfort postgame...

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals talks with Arizona Cardinals general Manager Monti Ossenfort after the game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 31, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The honeymoon is nearly over. Renovation of the Arizona Cardinals has entered Phase Two.

There are three key figures moving forward:

1. Monti Ossenfort: In his first draft as NFL general manager, Ossenfort showed considerable skill. He had the nerve to negotiate while on the clock. His first roster in Arizona overachieved despite a lack of funding. His four-win team fought until the very last play of the regular season. That’s the sign of a good talent evaluator.

Ossenfort has 11 picks in the 2024 NFL draft, including six of the top 90 and the fourth selection overall. The Cardinals need a few home runs, and it’s his turn to go deep.

2. Michael Bidwill: The Cardinals owner must step up and make a positive impact. He must turn the page on one of the more dysfunctional eras in team history.

The second NFLPA report card will be released soon, and like a wayward teenager, the Cardinals need better grades. They were shamed by the inaugural report, and Bidwill immediately promised significant changes in workplace culture. Results are forthcoming.

On the field, Bidwill has nearly $60 million of salary cap space available. He needs to spend aggressively in free agency, following the lead of the Suns’ Mat Ishbia and the Diamondbacks’ Ken Kendrick.

3. Kyler Murray: The Cardinals quarterback checked a lot of boxes in 2023. He proved his resiliency while recovering from major knee surgery, the first medical setback of his football career. He proved his toughness by playing with grit and reckless abandon, hurdling all mental obstacles in his path. He was a better teammate, a better leader and a better listener. By the end of the season, he was taking snaps from under center 25% of the time, a major leap for a headstrong quarterback who had spent his entire life in the shotgun.

So, how will Murray attack an offseason without rehab? Does he view 2023 as proof that he belongs in the NFL? Or does he view it as a launching pad to greatness? Does he breathe easy or work even harder for the encore?

Either way, the Cardinals just reaffirmed their commitment to Murray on social media. They celebrated their “franchise quarterback” in a headline-generating post, just as the football world descended upon the NFL Combine.

The naïve might believe the Cardinals truly love their starting quarterback. Skeptics recall how the Cardinals once did the same thing for Josh Rosen before replacing him with Murray shortly thereafter.

The more plausible explanation:

Unlike the previous regime, these Cardinals are doubling down on their ride-or-die relationship with Murray. And their pledge of allegiance will go a long way in soothing/motivating Murray if and when the rumor mill begins to churn in Indianapolis.

“I think it’s a good position to be in,” Ossenfort told the media Tuesday at the combine. “The way Kyler came back at the end of the year gave us all a lot of confidence, the way the offense hit their stride both running the football and throwing the football. And just Kyler’s health back to the point where he could use his legs, use his arm, do the things that we’re accustomed to seeing.

“So, you know, as always, we’re going to evaluate every position that comes in the draft. But knowing where Kyler is at — not only where he’s at, but getting better and seeing him work and progress the way he is — I think it’s an exciting spot to be in.”

Maybe Ossenfort is playing poker, buying time before selecting the quarterback of his choosing. Maybe the real evaluation of Murray has only just begun. Or maybe the new regime is succeeding where Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury failed, building a fortress of a football team and the perfect ecosystem of support around their diminutive quarterback, thereby solving a critical issue from a different angle, from a different point of attack.

That would be a sign of genius, a GM who engineers around Murray’s shortcomings. No pun intended.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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