The Cardinals entered the 2016 campaign as a popular Super Bowl pick, but they ultimately stumbled to a 7-8-1 record, easily the worst mark of the Bruce Arians era. Although their on-field performance was troubling enough, the fact that two of the franchise’s cornerstones, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, are approaching the ends of their careers has only intensified the concerns in the desert.
Although both Palmer and Fitzgerald will be back for the 2017 season, it is clear that Arizona needs to start planning for life without them. Nonetheless, the Cardinals still have a talented roster, so it makes sense for them to try and stay aggressive while their championship window is still open. And, as Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com writes, GM Steve Keim plans to do exactly that.
During a recent interview, Keim discussed whether or not his club would make a “splash” move in free agency, saying, “I don’t know what you would consider ‘splash,’ but we’ll certainly be aggressive and keep our foot on the gas pedal, try to keep pushing this thing in the right direction. There’s no doubt we took a step back last year. We’ve got to pick up the pieces and make some good decisions this offseason.”
Arizona does have roughly $38MM in projected cap room, and Chandler Jones could eat up a chunk of that room if the Cardinals put the franchise tag on him or sign him to a long-term deal — Keim reiterated that the tag was a real possibility — but outside of him, the club does not have many of its own free agents that they must re-sign (Calais Campbell will get a lucrative payday, but given his age, he probably won’t be out of the Cardinals’ price range if they choose to bring him back).
In addition to being aggressive in free agency, Keim did note that the team has to carefully balance long- and short-term goals, as he never wants to enter a true rebuilding phase. He said, “It’s a tough double-edged sword for me. There are guys like [Palmer] and [Fitzgerald] where you know the end is sooner rather than later. So you have to try and build around them and, so to speak, go for it now.
“But that’s our mindset every year. We’re never in a rebuilding phase. To me, you owe it to your fanbase to go for it every year, to be aggressive either in free agency or the draft. But you also have to keep in mind that you are going to do the right thing for the organization for the long-term. That’s the biggest challenge.”
So who might the Cardinals pursue on the open market? Our Dallas Robinson recently took a look at the team’s top three offseason needs, and while it will be difficult to address two of those three needs — a true No. 1 receiver and a long-term quarterback solution — in free agency, the club will certainly be able to spend money on a cornerback or two to provide Patrick Peterson with a much-needed running mate.
But as Keim said, “There isn’t any position, if we feel we can significantly upgrade that spot, that we won’t either draft a player or sign a player in free agency.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.