NFL Draft Advent Calendar-Door #9: The Cardinals

We’ve already started opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar!  This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.

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OVERALL

Our Draft Advent Calendar is basically a (over)simplified way to appraise each team’s offseason moves to this point, and what roster needs still remain that could be addressed via the draft.  We’ve all had those years when nobody, fucking nobody buys what we put on our list.  We’ve all also experienced that shitty moment when we realize that the gift we want to get is no longer available in stores.  As such, we’re not going to predict which college players will go to which team.  Rather, we’re appraising each NFL team to this point, and what position(s) they might want to address when the last advent door is opened and the wise men start going off like a bunch of gun lobbyists.

Door #9 – The Cardinals

Cardinals

2012: 5-11; missed playoffs

TOTAL PICKS: 7

ROUND 1

7

ROUND 2

6 (38)

ROUND 3

7 (69)

ROUND 4

6 (103)

ROUND 5

s7 (140)

ROUND 6

6 (174)

8 (176) (from Titans through Vikings)

ROUND 7

no selection

Arizona experienced a season of extremes during the 2012 season.  As one of the perceived upstarts in the resurgent Ice Tub Division – the NFC West – the Cardinals started the regular season with a 4-0 record…aaaaand then lost their next 9 games, and 11 of their last 12, capitalized by the Seahawks taking them out to the woodshed in Week 15 to the tune of 58-0.

There were a lot of problems with this team last year, most notably at two of the most intertwined roles in football: The quarterback and the offensive line.  (Mind you, the oft-vaunted defense experienced too many lapses for their reputation – especially CB Patrick Peterson.)  As far as the O-line goes, there isn’t enough moves in the world to be able to fix that unit.  If ever there existed the equivalent in football for five pylons in a row, it is the ’Cards unit.  Arizona allowed a league-high 58 sacks last season, and it wasn’t just the numbers that told the tale; the line looked like the equivalent of pass-blocking diarrhea on the majority of the team’s pass plays.  Given that situation, I’m not so sure that adding a pocket passer is the best idea, but the trade Arizona made for then-Raiders QB Carson Palmer on Tuesday is a great idea.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Cards swapped their 176th overall (sixth round) pick to Oakland in exchange for the Raiders’ 219th (in the seventh round) and also gave up a conditional seventh round selection in 2014 if Palmer starts 13 games for Arizona next season.  One of the likely deciding factors in the deal was the willingness of new Cardinals GM Steve Keim to sing Palmer to a new contract that, is worth $16 million over 2 years.  (The deal comes with an escape clause for ’Zona after one year, should Palmer disappoint.)  Put simply, while the trade is a bargain, the contract will only be justified by Palmer’s productivity next season.

However, the Palmer deal is a great team chemistry move for the Cardinals, given the franchise’s most notable addition during this offseason, which was the signing of last season’s Head Coach Of The Year, Bruce Arians.  The former Colts offensive coordinator was forced into head coaching duties for a dozen games after Chuck Pagano had to sit out for cancer treatment.  Arians went 9-3 during that stretch (the best record of any interim coach in league history), but, frankly, he won’t have a cancer-stricken colleague in his motivational repertoire that season.  Indianapolis was a very young and very impressionable team when the former Steelers offensive coordinator took over the reigns after Pagano fell ill; Arizona is a team in shambles, with more roster issues than most teams in the NFL.

Give Arians some credit thus far.  For better or worse, he’s already got his fingerprints all over this team.  (It’s not hard for anyone to argue that the reigning COY should have that right.)  Palmer is the most obvious example of this – and Arians said as much when he said this to the Associated Press: “I’m here to introduce our starting quarterback and put it to bed, and I’m really happy about it.”  Consider that Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported that Arians “hate[s] the West Coast offense”, and pointed out that Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck was second in the league last season with an average pass length of 10.17 yards downfield.  Hate on Palmer al you want, but if there’s one thing he can still do, it’s air it out.  Was there a quieter 4,000-yard passing season last year?  In other words, the former Heisman winner isn’t a guarantee for wins, but he will take a team down the field when put in the right situation.

Mind you, that situation involves being kept upright.  The Cardinals need to address needs at safety and a lack of depth in the defensive front seven, but it would be hard for them to spend too many draft picks on the offensive line.  All-World (in terms of talent and his travel-horny offseasons) wideout Larry Fitzgerald has put up decent numbers despite toiling behind a bum parade at quarterback over the last few years.  At least now the franchise can feel like they’re taking strides to justify Cousin Larry’s huge contract by pairing him with a deep-ball coach and a downfield thrower.

Unfortunately, Arians has reprised his role of coaching injury-prone running backs.  After finally escaping the medical woes of RB Rashard Mendenhall while the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, the new head coach went and signed…..Mendenhall.  Sadly, this dovetails with ’Zona’s propensity for hobbled tailbacks over the last few years, with the oft-banged up Beanie Wells, and Ryan Williams, who has superb talent but has yet to play a meaningful stretch of games after two straight season-ending injuries (knee & shoulder).  In this vein, the Cardinals should draft RB Marcus Lattimore.

I kid.  Still, taking a tailback if the talent is right for the war room situation (think mid-round), then Arizona should pull the trigger.  Either way, offensive linemen are the priority- thrice over.  Alabama’s Chance Warmack, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson could be there at the seventh pick.  (Fisher is less likely to be available – from what I saw, he looked fantastic in Senior Bowl drills.)  After that, the middle of the defensive line could use upgrades and/or depth.

The big questions: Can Airans motivate a team without the tugs on the heartstrings he had last season in Indy, and can Palmer stay upright/healthy long enough to make an elite contract to Fitzgerald and a 2012 first-round pick on WR Michael Floyd.

If Arians and the Cardinals can’t get their shit together fast enough, they could very well get buried under what might be the strongest division in the NFL.

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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT.  WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR.  WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.  

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