Arizona Cardinals: From Laughing Stock To Contenders

After an abysmal 2018 campaign which resulted in a 3-13 season for the Arizona Cardinals, general manager Steve Keim decided to blow things up: starting with the firing of first year head coach Steve Wilks. Having not seen the playoffs since 2015, the Cardinals want to flip that narrative.

During the offseason, Keim hired Kliff Kingsbury, who little did we know, would turn the franchise around. Kingsbury, who was fired by Texas Tech after leading them to multiple losing seasons, was hired at the University of Southern California. After a quick one month stint at USC, he was shockingly crowned head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

A big believer in dual-sport quarterback Kyler Murray, the future was in Kingsbury’s hands. He was one of the few coaches who believed in Kyler Murray, which promptly lead to his hire. His toughest job was to convince Murray to play football. Murray was a 5’10, 207 pound outfielder and 1st round draft selection for the Oakland Athletics out of Oklahoma. Shortly after the Kliff Kingsbury hiring, Murray declared for the 2019 NFL Draft and announced his decision to solely focus on the sport of football.

On April 25th, 2019, the Arizona Cardinals were on the clock with the number one pick and the player they were going to select was never in question. After going through a carousel of quarterbacks that included Mike Glennon, Sam Bradford, and Josh Rosen, the Cardinals were still trying to find “their guy.” The player who was going to turn their franchise around was none other than Heisman winner, Kyler Murray, who received high praise from 16-year veteran Larry Fitzgerald in the first week of training camp.

“I’ve never see a quarterback come in so quickly and be able to command an offense. I mean, from Day 1, he’s out there checking the different plays, sliding the line, different protections, getting us in screens when blitzes are coming. His understanding of the offense is crazy.”- Larry Fitzgerald

Similar to how the Baltimore Ravens built around Lamar Jackson, the Arizona Cardinals have started to build their team around one of Kyler Murray’s best features: Speed. Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury have many holes to fill, but started out the 2019 draft on a good note.

With Patrick Peterson aging, Keim decided to select cornerback Byron Murphy Jr in the 2nd round, who has turned out to be a future lockdown cornerback. With Larry Fitzgerald’s future in question, the Cardinals went offense-heavy in the draft with the selections of receivers Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, and Hakeem Butler.

Keim selected solid building blocks with offensive linemen Lamont Galllard and Joshua Miles. When free agency hit, the Cardinals had plenty of money to spend. Steve Keim elected to sign edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Darius Philon, guard J.R. Sweezy, as well as linebacker Jordan Hicks, who would lead the team in tackles.

Along with their leader in Jordan Hicks, the defense is starting to add up well with tackling machines like Budda Baker, Haason Reddick, and Byron Murphy Jr. Key pieces were brought in to the offense via trade. Keim acquired Kenyan Drake from Miami and Marcus Gilbert from Pittsburgh, who were introduced to Kingsbury’s “air-raid” offense. The Cardinals finished the 2019 campaign with a record of 5-10-1. Although they only managed to win two more games than last year, the sky is the limit in Arizona.

Kyler Murray finished the 2019 season with twenty-four total touchdowns and ten interceptions. Murray is already flashing signs of greatness with his arm, legs, and decision making. Going into his second year in the NFL, expect Murray to have a much better season and a real shot to make playoffs.

With an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in the league and a defensive line that didn’t create much pressure, the Cardinals are expected to target those areas in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Arizona Cardinals are quickly becoming one of the most entertaining teams to watch and with good drafts, the playoffs are closer than we think.

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