As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.
The Cardinals seemed like a possible bounce-back team this season. But the team alternated wins and losses before the season practically ended in Week 7, when quarterback Carson Palmer broke his arm. The Cardinals lost that game 33-0 to the Los Angeles Rams to fall to 3-4, and were never really in the playoff race after that. By the time the Cardinals were eliminated, they hadn’t put together back-to-back wins all season.
What went right: This needs to start with Larry Fitzgerald, who had 982 yards in Arizona’s first 14 games despite some bad quarterback play. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer and here’s hoping he returns for another season. Cornerback Patrick Peterson also had another standout season, and pass rusher Chandler Jones posted 15 sacks in Arizona’s first 14 games. The Cardinals weren’t a terrible team this season, they just went good enough to be a factor in the playoff race.
What went wrong: In Week 1, running back David Johnson suffered a wrist injury that ended his season. He did everything for the Cardinals offense in 2016, and his 2017 season ended after 90 yards from scrimmage. Any remaining hope after that vanished when Carson Palmer injured his arm. The Cardinals stayed competitive despite those two major injuries, with a solid defense and a patchwork offense, but it was still a disappointing season.
Will the coach be back?: Bruce Arians is 65, has dealt with health issues and if Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald retire the Cardinals will be looking at a full rebuild. That seems daunting, though Arizona Republic beat writer Kent Somers said earlier this season he thinks back-to-back losing seasons makes it more likely Arians returns. There was a report that Arians didn’t plan to return next season, and he shot those down right away. He also hasn’t said for sure if he’ll be back for 2018. It would be a shocker if the Cardinals fired Arians, but retirement probably can’t be ruled out.
Do they have a quarterback?: This really seems up in the air. Palmer has dealt with injuries the past two season and turns 38 years old on Dec. 28. He took a lot of hits this season. It seems unlikely he’d be back if Bruce Arians doesn’t return, though there haven’t been any clear answers to what happens with Palmer if Arians is back. Even if Palmer returns, the Cardinals have to finally address life after him. They have put it off way too long.
Quick free agent fix: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals are in the hunt for a quarterback, if Carson Palmer retires. A quick fix like Alex Smith (if he’s cut) or a big splash like Kirk Cousins would solve the quarterback issue. Cousins might be a pipe dream considering the Cardinals don’t have a ton of projected cap space. More realistically, the Cardinals need to use their free-agent resources to bolster an offensive line that allows way too much pressure. The Cardinals could also use a pass rusher to go with outside linebacker Chandler Jones, who has 15 of the team’s 32 sacks.
Quick draft fix: Almost any realistic scenario has to include the Cardinals using a high pick on a quarterback. Maybe they pass in the first round, but they have to land someone in the second round at the latest. They haven’t made a significant investment at quarterback since acquiring Carson Palmer. If Palmer retires this offseason, they’re suddenly stuck with Drew Stanton as a starter and no option for the future. A pass rusher, some offensive linemen or a cornerback to go opposite Patrick Peterson would be nice, but that’s not the top priority. The Cardinals aren’t in a great draft position to get a can’t-miss quarterback prospect, so their evaluations of prospects will very important.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: Let’s say Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald return. David Johnson will be back, with some other key players. This is a team that made the NFC championship game two seasons ago. Things change fast in the NFL, but there is still a good core here. With some key figures back and some better injury luck, they could be in the playoff mix.