Tuesday, February 17, 2009

5 Questions NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

With the NFL Scouting Combine starting and Free Agency beginning at the end of next week now seemed like a good time to start looking at the NFL off season. To begin we will ask 5 questions that each team will be facing this off season and answer them. I encourage all readers to feel free to give their answers as well.

First up we will take a look at the NFC West, a division that has a pretty wide talent gap between the NFC champions Arizona Cardinals and the other 3 teams that will all be picking in the top 10 in Aprils draft. The answers to these questions are not what I necessarily think the teams will do but rather what I think they should do.

Arizona Cardinals:

The Cardinals already answered their top question by deciding to place the Franchise tag on LB Karlos Dansby, keeping him off the open market. I believe also that Kurt Warner will re-sign so that too will not be one of the questions addressed here.

1. What to do with Anquan Boldin?

Boldin has been a major part of the Cardinals offense since they drafted him in the second round in 2003. Over the last six years he's caught over 500 balls for 6,500 yards and 40 touchdowns. Now Boldin wants a new contract and is saying that he wants a new team. I think the Cardinals have no choice but to trade Boldin. The Cards should look at what the Lions got in return for Roy Williams and expect a little more. The Cards have more leverage with Boldin than the Lions did with Williams, Williams would have been a free agent at seasons end and while they could have used the Franchise tag it is a difficult process. Boldin on the other hand is under contract for two more years, meaning the Cards don't have to trade him right now. Also Boldin has been a more productive receiver than Williams was with the Lions. My take: Make the trade and get the picks, between Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, and Early Doucet the Cards have plenty of talent to pair with Larry Fitzgerald at the receiver position.

2. What to do with Matt Leinart?

Now I know conventional wisdom says to keep Leinart as Warner's understudy for the next two years and hand him the job when Warner retires. The main problem with that line of thinking is that you are putting an expiration date on Kurt Warner who just led your team to the Super Bowl. What if Warner continues putting up big numbers and still wants to play two years from now, will you just let him walk? The other problem is that Leinart is only under contract for three more years, so if Warner is the starter for another two then you only have one year of Leinart before you need to make a decision on whether or not to extend him. Now I know the flip side of that argument is that if Warner is injured or ineffective Leinart is there as a capable back-up. While that is true, the Cards could trade Leinart to a team looking for a QB pick up a couple of picks and then sign a Byron Leftwich or Kyle Boller to be Kurt Warner's caddy. Now this is not to say that I believe that Arizona could get a king's ransom for Leinart, but getting a couple 3rd rounders is not out of the question. My take: Cash in now while there is still value and draft a quarterback in the mid rounds this year to be the next heir apparent.

3. Who will Kurt Warner be handing the ball off to?

Last year the Cardinals offense finished 2nd in the league in passing yards, 3rd in points scored, 4th in total yards and dead last in rushing. This is an area where the Cardinals need a lot of help. The Cards thought they had addressed the issue at running back when they signed Edgerrin James 3 years ago but he has been a major disappointment. Never coming close to matching his numbers with the Colts, James was benched part way through this season and while he played well in the playoffs James will likely be running somewhere else next season. Tim Hightower was a 5th round pick out of Richmond and was a nice surprise for Arizona excelling at both short yardage and catching the ball out of the back field. While he was a nice find in the 5th round he's far from a complete back as he only averaged 2.8 yards a carry despite leading the team with a 143 rushes. J.J Arrington is the third piece of the Cardinals running back puzzle and will be a free agent. While he has done a nice job as a 3rd down back he's shouldn't really be counted on for more than 40 rushes. The Cards need a back who can give them 300 carries a year and take some of the heat off the passing game. Unless the team makes a run at Derrick Ward they aren't going to find their answer in the Free Agent market. The Cards should look long and hard at taking a running back in the first round of April's draft with Knowshon Moreno, Chris Wells, and LeSean McCoy. While any running back would be an improvement for the Cards, Wells might not be the best fit as he's doesn't have the big play potential of the other two. Regardless one of these players should be in a Cardinals uniform next season. My Take: Given the fact that the Cards are likely to have an extra pick in the first round with a Boldin trade this is a no-brainer. I say add the best back available with my choice being LeSean McCoy.

4. Will losing their offensive and defensive coordinators set the Cardinals back at all?

With the 4th ranked offense in the league and an impressive playoff run it was no surprise when Arizona OC Todd Haley left to become the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. What was a surprise was the firing of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. While his defense finished 28th in the league in points allowed and 19th in total yards, coordinators from teams in the Super Bowl don't traditionally lose their jobs. It was even more surprising considering how well his defense played in the playoffs where they overcame some of the league's best offenses. Head coach Ken Wisenhunt and the Cardinals promoted from within with linebacker coach Billy Davis taking over as defensive coordinator and the offensive coordinator duties will be split between assistant head coach/ offensive line coach Russ Grimm and receivers coach Mike Miller. Davis will likely move to a 3-4 defense compared to the hybrid version they ran last year. Grimm will handle the ground attack while Miller is in charge of passing game plan, with Wisenhunt calling the plays. Outside of the possibility of some confusion on offense this seems like a good fit. You don't want to start over with a whole new offense so the Wisenhunt/Miller mix should keep the aerial attack one of the most feared in the league. Also Grimm is a well respected coach around the league so if anyone is gonna get a ground game going in Arizona it will be Russ Grimm. As for defense, Wisenhunt saw first hand what a 3-4 defense can do while he was in Pittsburgh, moving in that direction makes sense especially when you have linebackers like Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes. My Take: I wouldn't expect any set back at all, and if the changes help improve the running game and/or the defense the Cards could be looking at a first round bye in next year's playoffs.

5. What moves should the Cardinals look at making this off season in Free Agency and the NFL Draft?

With Dansby and Warner already addressed (and taking up a good chunk of cap room) the Cardinals don't have any other major free agents they need to sign. DE Antonio Smith is a nice player but the Cardinals shouldn't break the bank for him. RB J.J. Arrington should be retained also if its not to expensive. While he's not much of a running back he does offer some nice value as a kick returner. As for outside free agents, RB Derrick Ward would make a lot of sense but his price tag might get too high. If Boldin is traded they will likely not sign any big name free agents to replace him, but one that could make sense is Nate Washington whom Ken Wisenhunt knows from their days together in Pittsburgh. Outside of that, the Cardinals need depth on both lines and could use a veteran corner back. Given the number of decent and relatively young corners on the market, this could be one area where the Cards spend some money. As for the draft, if Arizona fails to sign Ward, running back has to be their number one priority. After that some young linebackers to go with Dansby and Hayes should be next on their to do list. Given their depth I don't think they will take a receiver in the first couple of rounds but I would imagine they'd look to grab one in the middle rounds to help replace Boldin. My Take: I would grab a veteran corner in free agency and an offensive lineman center is a weakness on this team and bringing in a big name like Jason Brown or Matt Birk could really help stabilize the offensive line. For the draft I'd add the top running back available and then with the additional top picks for Boldin and/or Leinart I'd look at get help at linebacker, offensive tackle and defensive line in that order. My Surprise pick for them would be grabbing a big play tight end in the 2nd or 3rd round with Chase Coffman from Missouri the guy I like the best.

No comments:

Post a Comment