Last year, I made a series of “Absurd Predictions” regarding the upcoming NFL season, including one for each team, and an in-depth look at that team and how they’ve changed this offseason. At the end I made a prediction of that team’s record. I won’t be doing that part yet, just giving the team a general grade on how good I think they’ll be at the end of each blog. Assume an A is probably a first-round bye, a B is a wild-card playoff team, a C is dancing around .500, a D is pretty bad, and an F is a top-three draft pick.
This year, I’ll go through the teams alphabetically.
Today’s absurd prediction:
The Cardinals will tandem their quarterbacks again, and Matt Leinart won’t complain about it this time.
Leinart’s past year has taken some of the wind out of his sails. He’s gotten scrutinized by the media, he’s been seriously injured and missed a lot of time, and all in all he’s learned he’s not hot snot. I think this year we’ll see a humbler version; he’ll still want all the playing time, but he now knows he’s got to be good first. In case anyone missed it last season, Leinart got pulled in two-minute-drill situations in favor of the more experienced Kurt Warner, and it worked really well except that it upset their poor fragile-egoed young QBotF (Quarterback of the Future).
Coaching Changes: C is for Continuity, which earns you an A.
The Cardinals return their entire coaching staff, at least 12 of which were new to the team a year ago. That continuity should pay dividends, and keep the team moving in the right direction.
Draft: All DE and no OL makes Draft a dull B.
The Cards played the cleanup role in the draft, finally taking the guys who slid longer than expected. CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie was talked about as a top 10 pick, and lasted to 16; DE Calais Campbell was a borderline first-rounder, and he was still there for them at 50th overall; WR Early Doucet was once in the top echelon of wideouts in this class, and he stuck around deep into the third round. This appears to be great value for Arizona, but the same thinking led to their selection of DT Alan Branch in 2007, who got 9 tackles in 11 games during his rookie season. Sometimes there's a reason people slide that the media misses, but team scouts largely agree on. Rogers-Cromartie should play a great nickel for a little while and eventually move into a starting spot, and Doucet ought to complement Fitzgerald and Boldin well; I like his style of play. Plus, he’s a champion. Calais Campbell is the one that I think might have slid for good reason. He just seems to be lacking in instinct and fire. But they took two other defensive ends as well; Kenny Iwebema and Chris Harrington, both of whom impress me more than Campbell with their style of play. All three of these guys are pretty big, and it’s possible Whisenhunt will try them out at tackle. They also drafted RB Tim Hightower, who has ideal size but not great speed, to back up Edgerrin James and maybe do some goal line work, and waited until the 7th round to get some much-needed offensive line depth with the enormous Brandon Keith.
Player Movement: You’re my LaBoy, Blue. (B+)
They brought in Travis LaBoy, giving the Cardinals a nice bit of competition at defensive end, not to mention depth. It’s obvious what their priority was this offseason – replacing Calvin Pace. They also plundered a couple of former Steelers: LB Clark Haggans, TE Jerame Tuman, and QB Brian St. Pierre. They lost Bryant Johnson, but with Doucet, shouldn’t miss a beat. Not a very eventful year in player movement for the Cardinals, but the continuity should help, especially along the offensive front, where all five linemen return.
Other Considerations: All the Preseason Whining You Can Stomach!
Obviously, there’s Matt Leinart vs. Kurt Warner, which despite my prediction has the capability of implosion. Then there’s the issue of players wanting new contracts – which I’m sure, for some, is just a translation of “I want to miss as much of training camp as possible.” The line was not upgraded, but hopefully another year of experience for young G Deuce Lutui and T Levi Brown will help them. Edgerrin James isn’t getting any younger, and they didn’t take any of the decent RB gambles in the rich second tier of the draft. Injury or Old Guy Slow Leg Syndrome could devastate them. And their quarterbacks are still injury-prone. So once again, the Cardinals look great on paper, but there’s a lot going on under the surface that could keep them out of the playoffs once again.
Grade: I’m going to give them a B, which might be enough to win the NFC West, we’ll see.