Analysis  

 

State of the Franchise: Kyler Murray brings hope to Cardinals

Print

Where does every NFL franchise stand heading into 2019? Adam Rank will set the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Arizona Cardinals organization, Cardinals fans around the world and those who are going to draft Kyler Murray on their fantasy team:

There is something rising in the desert. A thing called hope. It hasn't existed in the Valley of the Sun since the days of Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians. Measured in trips around that great ball in the sky, it wasn't that long ago -- but in the world of the NFL, it feels like it was light years away. And now, make no mistake, hope has returned.

How the Cardinals got here

Let's take a quick look at the ups and downs of 2018:

The highs:

-- Beating the Packers in Week 13. Arizona defeated the team with Aaron Rodgers, in Lambeau Field and everything, by the score of 20-17. Josh Rosen played well, I guess, but rookie running back Chase Edmonds experienced what will no doubt be a life highlight, scoring a pair of touchdowns. I mean, he'll be on the phone with somebody and be all, "Hey, did I ever tell you I had two touchdowns against the Packers in Lambeau Field?" And the person on the other line will be all, "Sir, this is a Wendy's."

Sweeping the 49ers. The best part: They beat an NFC West rival twice and still ended up with the first overall selection in the draft.

The lows (a.k.a., just about everything else):

-- Losing A.Q. Shipley in August. The veteran center went down in the Red & White scrimmage game with an ACL tear. And then the rest of the offensive line followed suit. Six other members were put on the injured list by the end of the season: D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Mike Iupati, John Wetzel, Jeremy Vujnovich and Korey Cunningham. The Week 17 lineup featured this starting O-line: second-year pro Will Holden (left tackle), rookies Colby Gossett (left guard) and Mason Cole (center) and journeymen Oday Aboushi (right guard) and Joe Barksdale (right tackle).

-- Firing the offensive coordinator in Week 7. Less than halfway into his first season, Mike McCoy was relieved of his duties following a 45-10 drubbing by the Broncos on "Thursday Night Football." During McCoy's tenure, Arizona averaged 13.1 points and 220.7 yards per game. Those numbers would have ranked at the bottom of the league in 1978.

-- Patrick Peterson reportedly asking to be traded. Only one other person in Cardinals history has more Pro Bowls to his name than the cornerback's eight. And, yeah, the way things were going, that player -- receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has 11 -- should have asked out, too.

-- Firing Steve Wilks after one year. More on this below.

2019 VIPs

Head coach: Kliff Kingsbury. Wilks was at the helm for only one year -- but the Cardinals wasted no time in letting him go, firing him the day after he completed a 3-13 record. There is no use prolonging a bad relationship when you know it's going nowhere. Why put off the breakup? Especially when Fitzgerald is closing in on retirement and you'd like to let him get something done.

The hiring of Kingsbury did raise some eyebrows, given that he was fired from Texas Tech and had resurfaced as the offensive coordinator at USC before getting the gig in Arizona. But he's long been considered one of the brightest coaching minds in the business. And if he could get Patrick Mahomes to go to college in Lubbock, Texas, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Quarterback: Kyler Murray. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner enters the NFL as one of the most exciting quarterback prospects since Cam Newton in 2011. He's also the team's second consecutive top-10 pick at the position. But Josh Rosen (No. 10 overall last year) is gone now, shipped to the Dolphins during the draft, and the Cardinals have committed to the first overall pick in 2019. It's funny -- like the Cardinals with Murray, the Panthers didn't let the presence of a second-year quarterback on their roster keep them from drafting Newton. Of course, in the Panthers' case, that second-year quarterback was Jimmy Clausen. But still.

Projected 2019 MVP: David Johnson, running back. His 2018 season was actually rather robust when you consider the disarray on the offensive line, the presence of a rookie quarterback and the lack of continuity at coordinator. In his first full season since losing most of 2017 to an injury, Johnson collected 1,386 yards from scrimmage on 308 touches. That's a far cry from his breakout effort in 2016, when he led the NFL in both touches (373) and scrimmage yards (2,118). But he's the perfect back for Kingsbury's offense, which featured plenty of early-down tosses to running backs at the college level. If there is one way to combat issues on the offensive line, it's getting the ball to your back in space. The Cardinals failed in this last year, but they will excel under Kingsbury.

2019 breakout star: Christian Kirk, receiver. I'm a touch apprehensive, because the second-year pro and former second-round pick was good friends with Rosen, who is now in Miami. But I doubt he'll get shunned as the friend of the guy who got dumped. There's too much talent there. Though Kirk was targeted just 68 times and caught just 43 passes, his yards-per-catch mark (13.7) was tops on the team in 2018.

New face to know: Terrell Suggs, pass rusher. I loved Arizona signing this seven-time Pro Bowler, who'd spent the entirety of his career in Baltimore. I mean, the Cardinals had a chance to draft him sixth overall when he was coming out of Arizona State in 2003, which I called for the Birds to do in that moment. Instead, Arizona traded down with the Saints, and Suggs fell to Baltimore at No. 10. Now he's an old guy, at least by NFL standards, but the 17th-year pro will bring some leadership to this young team.

The 2019 roadmap

The competitive urgency index is: LOW. At this point, the Cardinals just have to be competitive. Notwithstanding what happened to Wilks, Kingsbury is going to be given some room to grow in this offense, especially with a rookie quarterback. I know Wilks also was working with a rookie quarterback, and now both he and said rookie are personae non gratae in the desert. And, I mean, yes, if Arizona is completely listless again, like it was last year, there will be reason to worry. But that shouldn't be a problem.

Will the Cardinals be able to ...

Get the offensive line sorted out? There were too many injuries last year to expect any sort of success. If Murray is to be the player we all want him to be, then the offensive line needs to be right. Just having healthy players would be a great place to start. But there's even a chance this group could improve, with trade acquisition Marcus Gilbert and rookies Lamont Gaillard (drafted No. 179 overall) and Joshua Miles (No. 248) in the fold. Our own Daniel Jeremiah considered Miles and Gaillard top value picks.

Figure out which wide receiver is going step up alongside Larry Fitzgerald? I like the aforementioned Christian Kirk's breakout potential, but I also loved the idea of just drafting 84 receivers and seeing who is going to make the biggest impact. Arizona ended up drafting three: Andy Isabella (taken with the 62nd pick, acquired from the Dolphins as part of the Rosen trade), Hakeem Butler (No. 103) and KeeSean Johnson (No. 174). I'm going to lean toward Isabella, who has the speed -- he ran a 4.31 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine -- to make some things happen in that offense.

Make up for Patrick Peterson during his six-game suspension? As mentioned above, Peterson had asked for a trade last year, and there were rumors he could be a fit for the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, there could still be a trade with the Chiefs, but the price would have to be dramatically reduced, given that he'll start the season with a six-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. The best thing the Cardinals could probably do now is send Peterson on his way and get ready for the Byron Murphy era. Murphy was one of Pro Football Focus' top-rated prospects in the draft, and he was an absolute steal for the Cardinals at No. 33 overall.

Three key dates:

-- Week 1 vs. the Lions. It's in the afternoon window of the first Sunday of the season, and there is no doubt everyone will be tuning in to see what this Cardinals offense is all about. I've already cleared my schedule.

-- Week 2 at the Ravens. Let's say things go swimmingly in Week 1 against the Lions in Arizona. Traveling to Baltimore to face that team the next week will serve as the ultimate reality check.

-- Week 13 vs. the Rams. The Cardinals don't have to face the defending NFC champions until very late in the season, and it comes after a bye week. You can't ask for much more than that. I'm probably overselling it to say this will be Arizona's version of the Super Bowl -- but it kind of is.

One storyline people are overlooking: Just how well the Cardinals drafted in general. Arizona has missed far too many times in the first round in recent years, with really only Deone Bucannon (2014) offering at least a brief spark among a crowd of flubs that includes Michael Floyd, Jonathan Cooper, D.J. Humphries and Robert Nkemdiche. If Murray is as good as expected, then that trend will end. But the rest of this year's draft was really good, too. I already mentioned Murphy and Isabella; defensive end Zach Allen (No. 65) should be another player who can come in and contribute immediately. And don't sleep on my guys Butler and Johnson.

One storyline people are overthinking: Trading away Josh Rosen. Look, I love Josh and believe he's going to do great things with the Dolphins. But you need to give your coach the quarterback he wants to work with. The heart wants what it wants. Padme knew she shouldn't have been with Anakin, but the heart works in mysterious ways. Besides, just look at these charts from PFF illustrating Murray's promise. Those are insane.

And can we stop with: All the talk about Kyler Murray's height? The only time this seems to really matter is during the NFL Scouting Combine, where, yes, he measured 5-foot-10 1/8. Did you watch one Oklahoma game last season and think to yourself, "Oh, Murray would be so much better if he was taller"? You didn't, so let's get over it. NFL quarterbacks play outside the pocket now. He is the quarterback you would fabricate using "Madden's" create-a-player feature. So let it go.

For 2019 to be a successful season, the Cardinals MUST ...

-- Develop Murray. This is another huge thing. If you are losing games but your quarterback is making strides, you can't be too upset about it.

-- Finish no worse than .500. The playoffs should always be the goal. And who knows, maybe getting to .500 would do it. At the very least, winning five more games than last season should be considered a win for the organization.

-- Beat the Los Angeles Rams at least once. You need to make your mark against good teams.

In closing

The Cardinals went through a rough 2018 season. But now they aren't too far away from making the playoffs. I mean, outside of Cleveland, no team that missed the playoffs in 2018 should be more psyched than the Cardinals. What's really exciting is that the Birds could have their version of the NBA's Steph Curry, MLB's Mike Trout and -- whomever the best player in the NHL is. (Who is that person? Connor McDavid?) The point is, the Cardinals have a lot of exciting things cooking for 2019. And the best thing about the NFL is that worst-to-first turnarounds happen all the time. OK, so the playoffs are by no means a lock -- but it's not outlandish to think they're within reach.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop