TEMPE, Ariz. — During the season, coach Bruce Arians gives his players 24 hours to move past the last game, win or lose. As the Cardinals enter the offseason on the heels of a disappointing performance in the NFC Championship, the rules have changed.
“Now you’ve got (the) nine-month rule,” Arians joked. “It will linger, but there were so many good things, so many positive things that they far outweigh that.”
When the Cardinals finally move past the sting of Sunday’s 49-15 loss at Carolina, they will realize how much they achieved this season, including a franchise-best 13 regular-season wins, a third NFC West title, numerous offensive records and a berth in just the franchise’s second conference title game.
With team president Michael Bidwill, GM Steve Keim, Arians and the core players all working in unison to create a culture never before seen in this franchise, it is tempting to view this season as a building block toward something bigger.
It is also a dangerous belief.
“When you have guys that are above 10 years in the league at critical positions, your window is very short,” said Arians, echoing a sentiment he voiced at the beginning of the season.
Chief among those veterans is quarterback Carson Palmer, who will be 37 next December. No matter how good your culture is, if you don’t have an elite quarterback in the NFL, you’re not going to win championships.
Palmer managed to stay relatively healthy this year, and he was joined in the NFL’s final four by 38-year-old Patriots QB Tom Brady and 39-year-old Broncos QB Peyton Manning so it is not far-fetched to believe Palmer can play at a high level for another couple seasons.
Beyond that, all bets are off, and Palmer isn’t the only key player with double-digit years of NFL service. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be 33 next season, when he enters the final year of his contract. Fitzgerald proved his worth on the field again this season, and his worth in the locker room is unquestioned.
“Our window is not like other teams where you’ve got young franchise players in place for a long time,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “Carson is a hell of a quarterback but how much longer does he have and how much longer does Fitz have to continue to play at these high levels?
“There’s no question we feel the urgency to win now.”
Keim told The Doug and Wolf Show on Monday that he is already beginning work on improving the roster for next season. The GM’s track record suggests that is exactly what will happen.
“You don’t get to be 13-3 with a bunch of slouches,” Palmer said. “There’s great players, there’s great coaching and the way we work is as good as I’ve been around so the foundation is definitely here.
“The one thing you can look back on is we’ve gotten better each year and that’s something that Steve Keim and Bruce can be proud of. We just need to continue to improve and take that next step.”
Perhaps the biggest question for the Cardinals is how will Palmer bounce back from a postseason in which he turned the ball over eight times (six interceptions, two fumbles), fueling the narrative that he is not a clutch postseason performer.
“I’m sure he is as pissed as anybody and disappointed,” Arians said. “He will probably come back as determined as he did from (last season’s ACL) surgery.”
A look at the Cardinals’ free agents
ILB Sean Weatherspoon
CB Jerraud Powers
QB Drew Stanton
TE Jermaine Gresham
C Lyle Sendlein
G Ted Larsen
S Rashad Johnson
LS Mike Leach
OLB Dwight Freeney
OLB Jason Babin
OLB Lamarr Woodley
RB Chris Johnson
DE Red Bryant
RT Bradley Sowell
S Chris Clemons
CB Corey White
RT Bobby Massie
S DJ Swearinger
P Drew Butler
S Tony Jefferson
WR Jaron Brown
DE Josh Mauro
ILB Kenny Demens
TE Darren Fells
TE Ifeanyi Momah
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