TEMPE, Ariz. — The way to fix the Arizona Cardinals’ woes from the past two seasons isn’t cut-and-dry.
There isn’t one tweak the organization can make or one position to shore up. There are five areas the Cardinals need to address this offseason if they want to get back to their winning ways in 2018, regardless of who the head coach is.
Quarterback: It won’t be a surprise if Arizona signs Blaine Gabbert to a multi-year deal to keep him on the roster, even after benching him in favor of Drew Stanton on Monday. Arians has been intrigued by what Gabbert could do when playing in a second year in the same scheme — something he has not had an opportunity to do during his career. However, the Cardinals need to start preparing for the long term, whether or not Gabbert pans out. Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford and Jay Cutler are among the quarterbacks in this year’s free-agent class. The gems of this year’s quarterback draft class are well known, but the Cardinals, who currently sit 11th in the first round, would likely have to trade up to get a quarterback they’d want. Should Carson Palmer decide to return in 2018, he’d still be under contract, giving the Cards a built-in option, but if Arizona wants to start playing for the future, they need to figure out a new avenue at quarterback, especially since Gabbert and Stanton are scheduled to hit free agency after the season.
2018 NFL DRAFT
When: April 26-April 28
Where: Arlington, Texas
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Wide receiver: Aside from Larry Fitzgerald, who has 92 catches and 982 receiving yards this season, the Cardinals’ don’t have anyone with more than 33 catches or 490 yards. John Brown has consistently dealt with his health. J.J. Nelson has been up and down. Jaron Brown hasn’t emerged as the consistent WR2 the Cardinals had hoped he’d become in the wake of Michael Floyd’s departure last season. And before he went on injured reserve, Brittan Golden didn’t have a large enough role in the offense to make a significant impact. The two Browns and Golden are all pending free agents, giving the Cardinals an opportunity to revamp the receiving corps while finding Fitzgerald’s successor. They could spend some money in free agency and sign someone like Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins, Davante Adams, Danny Amendola, Eric Decker, Ryan Grant, Donte Moncrief, Paul Richardson, Deonte Thompson, Mike Wallace or Tyrell Williams, or see if Alabama’s Calvin Ridley drops to them in the draft.
Offensive line: A lot of the blame for the Cardinals’ offensive line issues this season can be blamed on injures. On Sunday against Washington, the Cards were starting four backups alongside starting center A.Q. Shipley. Even still, there are areas of the line that need to be addressed, namely right guard and right tackle. Evan Boehm and Earl Watford have started at right guard this year, but veteran experience could be beneficial for Arizona. Jared Veldheer is a natural left tackle, so his switch to right tackle this season took a long time for him to adjust to. And then when he found his footing there, he was moved back to the left. Watford and Alex Boone will be free agents this offseason but Boone is one of the few the Cardinals should keep. And while injuries hit the Cardinals in waves during 2017, adding more depth would be necessary for Arizona to be a prosperous offense on a weekly basis.
Cornerback: Even though they’ve received plenty of production from veteran cornerback Tramon Wililams opposite of Patrick Peterson, Arizona can’t rely on a 34-year-old’s body to continue to hold up like it has this season. Adding another lock-down cornerback to go along with Peterson, who made his seventh straight Pro Bowl, would make it even more difficult for quarterbacks. It’s still early, but few corners have emerged as potential first-round picks. Arizona could sign one from a free-agent class that includes Brandon Boykin, Tramaine Brock, Morris Claiborne and Alterraun Verner.
Inside linebacker: The Cards traded a young inside linebacker for an older one when they let 27-year-old Kevin Minter go in free agency last year and signed 36-year-old Karlos Dansby. There has been little consistency at inside linebacker. Deone Bucannon’s lingering ankle injury forced him to miss four games, and Haason Reddick’s versatility has seen him to play at outside linebacker in the wake of Markus Golden’s season-ending ACL injury. With Dansby scheduled to be a free agent in March, Arizona will need to replace him in the starting lineup or find depth to take his spot on the roster.