BURNS AND GAMBO

Big 3 and beyond: The Cardinals suddenly have needs to address

Nov 22, 2016, 5:55 AM | Updated: 3:45 pm
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It’s almost hard to believe how much will change for the Arizona Cardinals from one offseason to the next.

Just eight months ago, the Cardinals’ brass went into the 2016 draft and free agency period with a very small checklist. The core players were all coming back. Heck, the majority of the team was coming back from a 13-3 season and appearance in the NFC Championship game, including every single player who scored an offensive point.

Arizona wanted to address the pass rush and did so with the trade for Chandler Jones. But outside of that, the Cardinals were in a position of strength. They really had no weaknesses. They were able to draft the best available players and not select someone based on need. Sure they wanted to add some depth and size in the secondary and grab a center. But they really weren’t desperate for anything.

In just a few short months, all of that will change, and it could determine the futures of the Big 3: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald.

No one knows for sure how the recent health issues of head coach Bruce Arians will affect his future with the team. He has his forever home in Georgia and has enough money to live happily ever after with his lovely wife, who will have a lot of say in whether he continues to coach or not.

Arians loves doing what he does and he is awfully good at it. But this season must be mentally and physically draining. A Super Bowl favorite, the Cardinals have flopped and it appears to be taking a toll on their head coach.

Erin Andrews on the FOX broadcast this week talked about his blood pressure. ESPN’s Adam Schefter mentioned Arians’ face looking red. And after returning to Arizona following the game, his wife took him to the hospital because he wasn’t feeling well and had chest pains.

This is the second time this year Arians has spent time in the hospital for a health-related issue. Clearly, this is a stressful job, but because of the pressure to win and with the losses mounting him, you have to wonder if the stress is too much.

Carson Palmer is taking a beating. In the last three games, he has been battered and bruised by the Carolina and Minnesota defense. Age catches up with everyone, and Palmer will be 37 years old in December. He is not having a great year, just an average one. And average doesn’t usually get it done in this league.

Palmer is tough. I almost can’t believe how he is able to get back up after all these brutal hits. The Minnesota game reminded me of Rocky when Apollo Creed kept knocking Rocky down and saying “stay down, chump” only to see Rocky get up and ask for more.

The depleted offensive line can’t protect Palmer at this point, and you have to wonder just how many more hits he can take over these next six games.

Will it be enough for him to not want to come back next year?

Will his season be bad enough that the Cardinals decide to go in another direction?

Time will tell, but the need for the Cardinals to find a replacement has never been greater.

Fitzgerald is having another great year and he certainly has plenty left in the tank. But he seems tied to Palmer. If Palmer doesn’t come back, does Fitz? And if Arizona is going to rebuild — let’s not forget they have 22 free agents this year — does Larry want to stick around? It’s likely he comes back, but you just never know even though he and Palmer each extended their contracts this offseason.

Let’s talk about those 22 free agents. That list includes Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Swearinger, Michael Floyd, Chirs Johnson, Jermaine Gresham, Frostee Rucker, Kevin Minter, A.Q. Shipley, Earl Watford, Andre Ellington, Marcus Cooper and Alex Okafor. And the Cardinals will have roughly $32 million in cap space, not a lot considering how many free agents they have to consider. So, safe to say, the 2017 Cardinals will look a lot different than the 2016 Cardinals.

General manager Steve Keim will have to figure out how to fix the special teams unit, the offensive line and address the wide receiver issues. With Fitzgerald nearing the end and the chance of Floyd coming back slim along with the down year from John Brown and season-ending injury to Jaron Brown, a position of strength going into 2016 can all of a sudden become a major weakness — just like that.

If I said the Cardinals can draft a quarterback, wide receiver or offensive guard in the first round, you would say “yes please” to all three. The Cardinals will have needs — a lot of needs — entering the offseason, no matter what the results of the final six games are.

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Big 3 and beyond: The Cardinals suddenly have needs to address