G Adam Snyder, DE/OLB Quentin Groves, CB William Gay, S James Sanders.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Michael Floyd, CB Jamell Fleming, OT Bobby Massie, G Senio Kelemete.
OT Brandon Keith, G Rex Hadnot, CB Richard Marshall.
2012 Arizona Cardinals Offense:
The Cardinals better find themselves a quarterback soon, or they'll risk wasting Larry Fitzgerald's career away with countless mediocre passers struggling to get the ball to him downfield. Fitzgerald, now three years removed from being paired with Kurt Warner, somehow managed to accumulate 80 catches for 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011.
Arizona has two quarterbacks vying for the starting gig. Neither is very good, but one has the potential to be - and it's not Kevin Kolb, who is way too skittish in the pocket. John Skelton is raw, but has a big arm and underrated scrambling ability. Entering just his third season at only 24 years old, Skelton should be able to beat Kolb in training camp competition if given a fair shot. He was much better than Kolb last year, both in terms of record (6-2 compared to Kolb's 2-6) and statistics when targeting Fitzgerald. Compare the two:
With Kolb (8 games): 38 catches, 658 yards, 2 TDs. With Skelton (8 games): 42 catches, 753 yards, 6 TDs.
Throw in Kolb's dubious concussion history, and Skelton is the better man for the job. Arizona fans just better hope that Ken Wisenhunt doesn't allow financial implications to play a role in the competition because Kolb makes way more money than Skelton, thanks to the 6-year, $65 million contract he signed last July.
Skelton's one flaw last year was that he locked on to Fitzgerald too often. That's not a surprise, given that Fitzgerald was Skelton's only viable target. Opposing defenses were constantly use bracket coverage on the future Hall-of-Fame wideout, which is part of the reason why he begged Arizona's front office to use the No. 13 pick on Michael Floyd. The Notre Dame receiver is very physically gifted and should be able to contribute instantly.
Arizona had a choice between Floyd and the top offensive lineman available with the 13th-overall selection. It was a tough choice because the Cardinals' blocking has been atrocious in recent years. Left tackle Levi Brown has never lived up to his potential; he surrendered 11 sacks in 2011, though he played better toward the end of the season (only one sack allowed after Week 12). Arizona wasn't completely sold though, opting to cut him and then re-sign him at a much cheaper price.
It gets even worse on the other side. The Cardinals will be hoping that fourth-round rookie Bobby Massie will be able to supplant the pedestrian Jeremy Bridges at that spot. Mel Kiper mocked Massie at the end of the first round this past April, so it's not out of the question that Massie could step in and produce relatively well, but it's still a long shot considering how inexperienced he is.
Luckily, the interior of Arizona's front line is much better. Center Lyle Sendlein and left guard Daryn Colledge are both quality blockers. They'll be joined by newly acquired Adam Snyder. The former 49er did a decent job stepping in for an ineffective Chilo Rachal last year.
Snyder, whose strength is run blocking, will help open up lanes for Chris Wells and Ryan Williams. The former is a very talented runner, but can't seem to stay healthy. Williams, a second-round pick from the 2011 NFL Draft, is coming off knee surgery himself, but the fact that Arizona's front office didn't obtain a running back this offseason means that they're encouraged by his recovery.
2012 Arizona Cardinals Defense:
The public marvels about how terrific San Francisco's defense is, and rightfully so, but Arizona's stop unit was very impressive last year, especially in December. The Cardinals were second in pass defense (Eagles) in the final four weeks of the season, maintaining a sterling YPA of 5.80. Their run defense was just mediocre (15th), but they made up for it by registering 18 sacks in the final five games.
The difference was that Arizona's two, young rush linebackers stepped up. Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield, in their first and second seasons, respectively, had seven of those sacks in that span. Both figure to improve, though the Cardinals should be concerned about that depth in that area. If either one suffers an injury or regresses, there won't be any sort of backup plan; 35-year-old Clark Haggans was recently re-signed to be the top backup.
Fortunately for Arizona, it can get tons of pressure on opposing quarterbacks elsewhere. That would be up front with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Campbell is arguably the top five-technique in football. He has no weaknesses; he's a ferocious pass-rusher, he blocks kicks, and he can even drop into coverage pretty well. And he'll be 25 until Sept. 1. Campbell and Dockett figure to one again terrorize signal-callers, making things easier for the two rush linebackers.
The Cardinals' secondary has to love how much pressure the front seven can generate. They're a talented bunch themselves; cornerback Patrick Peterson, chosen with the No. 5 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, struggled early on last year, but finished his rookie campaign on a very strong note. He and strong safety Adrian Wilson combine for a formidable duo. Wilson struggled with nagging injuries in 2010, but bounced back to Pro Bowl form last season.
Elsewhere in the defensive backfield, Richard Marshall took over for a struggling A.J. Jefferson at corner opposite Peterson in 2011. Marshall was fantastic; opposing quarterbacks completed just 51.9 percent of their passes when targeting him. Jefferson is now the starter with Marshall in Miami. Greg Toler, who is coming off a torn ACL, will compete for the job. And speaking of defensive backs returning from injuries, free safety Kerry Rhodes started in seven games last year because of a foot injury.
Nose tackle Dan Williams is another player whose 2011 campaign was derailed by an injury. He broke his arm last season, but the good news is that he has reportedly stayed in great shape this spring. His work ethic has always been in question, so it's nice to see that he's taking his career seriously.
A healthy Williams will make life easier for the inside linebackers. Not that Daryl Washington needs much assistance because he happens to be one of the top players at his position. Unfortunately, the Cardinals don't have anyone worthy of starting next to him. Paris Lenon is washed up, while Stewart Bradley was a major bust as a high-priced signing last summer. Perhaps Arizona's best shot is 2011 sixth-rounder Quan Sturdivant, who unfortunately, did not get any playing time last year.
2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule and Intangibles:
Something that was apparent during Arizona's postseason run in 2008 was the homefield advantage the team unceremoniously established. Including the playoffs, the Cardinals are 23-12 as hosts the past four years. They were a solid 6-2 in 2011.
As mentioned, Patrick Peterson improved as a corner down the stretch. He qualified for the Pro Bowl, however, because he was the most dynamic return specialist in the NFL. He scored on a whopping four punt returns, maintaining a prolific average of 15.9 yards per attempt.
Jay Feely nailed 24-of-27 attempts in 2010, but was less impressive last year, connecting on just 19-of-24 tries.
Punter Dave Zastudil is pretty decent at his craft. He maintained a 45.2 average with 24-of-87 kicks inside the 20.
The Cardinals have a pretty even schedule. Tough opponents include the Patriots, Eagles, Bills, Packers, Bears, Lions, Falcons and 49ers twice. The easier foes are the Dolphins, Vikings, Jets, Seahawks twice and Rams twice.
2012 Arizona Cardinals Analysis: No one seemed to notice, but the Cardinals finished unbelievably strong last season. They went 7-2 in their final nine contests, with one of the losses coming at Cincinnati, where a receiver tripped over his own two feet and lost a chance to score the tying touchdown.
That late-season surge will carry over into 2012. Arizona has an outstanding defense, a couple of dynamic offensive play-makers, an improved offensive line and a young quarterback in John Skelton who showed signs in December that he can be a solid starter. Considering the issues the 49ers have (really high expectations, a taxing schedule, trouble-makers in the locker room), it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Cardinals steal the NFC West this year.
Goals Entering the 2012 NFL Draft: Upgrading the quarterback position is out of the question because the Cardinals just paid Kevin Kolb's $7 million option bonus. They'll have to bolster his offensive line and receiving corps instead. A pass-rusher is also needed across from Sam Acho.
2012 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Larry Fitzgerald wanted Michael Floyd, so opponents wouldn't be able to constantly use bracket coverage on him. The front office made his wish come true. I'd say it's always a great idea to listen to your superstar, but Fitzgerald also pleaded for Kolb.
Still, Floyd should be a great addition to Arizona's roster. He projects as a fantastic No. 2 wideout, and he should be able to post big numbers once the Cardinals upgrade the quarterback position.
The Cardinals spent later picks to fix the offensive line. Bobby Massie was an absolute steal in Round 4. Senio Kelemete also provided good value in the next round. Nate Potter, the team's final selection, has the potential to start.
I really liked Arizona's draft overall. The only issue I have is that the front office didn't obtain a much-needed pass-rusher.
2012 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
13. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: A- Grade
The minus is because the Cardinals didn't secure some protection for injury-prone Kevin Kolb, but Michael Floyd is a really good pick. Arizona needed someone to prevent the opposition from using bracket coverage on Larry Fitzgerald. This is the guy Fitzgerald wanted, so who am I to argue?
80. Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma: B Grade
Jamell Fleming fits the range and fills a need, as Arizona had to find cornerback depth. This is a solid selection.
112. Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss: A+ Grade
How the hell did Bobby Massie fall to No. 112? Some thought he could sneak into the bottom of the first round. If you told the Cardinals going into the 2012 NFL Draft that they could land both Michael Floyd and Massie, they would have jumped for joy.
151. Senio Kelemete, G, Washington: B+ Grade
Another much-needed possible upgrade to the offensive line. Senio Kelemete fits the blocking scheme really well. Round 5 is the right spot for him.
177. Justin Bethel, S, Presbyterian: B+ Grade
Justin Bethel was No. 180 on the consensus board, so this is the exact range for him. The pick makes sense in that Arizona had very little safety depth entering this weekend.
185. Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State: A+ Grade
I really like this pick. Ryan Lindley is a favorite of Bill Polian and Ron Jaworski. He could have gone in Rounds 3 or 4, so he's a steal at this spot. The Cardinals missed out on Peyton Manning and Kevin Kolb is injury-prone, so adding some competition at quarterback was imperative.
221. Nate Potter, OT/G: A Grade
I love the three selections the Cardinals made to improve their offensive line on Saturday. Nate Potter was a Round 4-5 prospect, and Arizona will love his versatility to play three positions up front.
This was not what the Cardinals had in mind when they traded a second-round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb. Kolb completed 57.7 percent of his passes, tossed just one more touchdown (9) than amount of interceptions (8), and battled through concussions all year. He was also outplayed by John Skelton, who has a knack for winning in the clutch.
Cardinals re-sign DE/DT Vonnie Holliday
Cardinals re-sign DE/OLB Clark Haggans
Cardinals re-sign S Rashad Johnson
Cardinals re-sign RB/KR LaRod Stephens-Howling
Seahawks sign G Deuce Lutui
Cardinals sign S James Sanders
Cardinals release QB Max Hall
Cardinals re-sign P Dave Zastudil
Cardinals re-sign CB Greg Toler
Cardinals re-sign ILB Reggie Walker
Cardinals sign CB William Gay
Cardinals re-sign K Jay Feely
Ravens sign S Sean Considine
Cardinals re-sign OT D'Anthony Batiste
Cardinals re-sign WR Early Doucet
Cardinals cut G Rex Hadnot
Cardinals cut WR Chansi Stuckey
Cardinals re-sign OT Levi Brown
Dolphins sign CB Richard Marshall
Cardinals sign G/OT Adam Snyder
Cardinals cut OT Levi Brown
Two Offensive Tackles: Levi Brown was cut, so the Cardinals will have to bolster both tackle positions. Jonathan Martin will be an option at No. 13 this April because Arizona must protect its investment in Kevin Kolb (or Peyton Manning). Re-signed Levi Brown; drafted Bobby Massie
Wide Receiver: Defenses often use bracket coverage on Larry Fitzgerald because he's the only threat on the field. Andre Roberts came on late, but the Cardinals may want to use the No. 13 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on Michael Floyd or Alshon Jeffery. Drafted Michael Floyd
Inside Linebacker: Stewart Bradley was a colossal free-agent bust, and he will be cut if it makes sense financially. That's why I currently have Luke Kuechly going to the Cardinals in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft.
Defensive End Depth: Calais Campbell is a free agent who will need to be brought back. Arizona could also use depth in this area. Franchised Calais Campbell
Rush Linebacker: The Cardinals need to bring in a pass-rusher to challenge O'Brien Schofield for the right to start across from Sam Acho, who had a solid rookie campaign.
Right Guard: Rex Hadnot was OK early on, but really struggled down the stretch. He can definitely be upgraded. Signed Adam Snyder; drafted Senio Kelemete
Cornerback Depth: Like most teams, Arizona could use corner depth. A.J. Jefferson was torched often in 2011. Signed William Gay; re-signed Greg Toler; drafted Jamell Fleming
Quarterback: I'm listing a quarterback here, but unless the Cardinals can trade up for Robert Griffin, acquire Peyton Manning or blackmail Kurt Warner into returning, they'll have to go with John Skelton and Kolb again.
Backup Nose Tackle: The Cardinals cannot have a sieve like Nick Eason playing again in the event that Dan Williams goes down.
Kicker and Punter: Both special-teamers, Jay Feely and Dave Zastudil, are free agents. Re-signed Jay Feely and Dave Zastudil
2012 NFL Free Agent Signings:
William Gay, CB, Steelers. Age: 27. Signed with Cardinals
William Gay (not that there's anything wrong with that) was inserting (or inserted) into the starting lineup in late September and did a decent job. He has really struggled in the past, however, and the 30-yard touchdown he surrendered to Eddie Royal in the playoff loss was not a good sign.
Adam Snyder, G, 49ers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Cardinals (5 years)
Quentin Groves, DE/OLB, Raiders. Age: 28. -- Signed with Cardinals
James Sanders, SS, Falcons. Age: 28. -- Signed with Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Calais Campbell, DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 26. Re-signed with Cardinals (5 years, $55 million; $31 million guaranteed)
You could argue that aside from Justin Smith, Calais Campbell is the best 3-4 defensive end in all of football. Campbell has no weaknesses; he's a ferocious pass-rusher, he blocks kicks, and he can even drop into coverage pretty well. And he'll be 25 until Sept. 1.
Richard Marshall, CB, Cardinals. Age: 27. Signed with Dolphins (3 years, $16 million; $6 million guaranteed)
Richard Marshall played pretty well at corner in the second half of the year. He was also effective in stepping in for an injured Kerry Rhodes at free safety.
Dave Zastudil, P, Cardinals. Age: 33. Re-signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Dave Zastudil had a pretty good year, maintaining a 45.2 average with 24-of-87 attempts inside the 20.
Deuce Lutui, G, Cardinals. Age: 29. -- Signed with Seahawks
Chester Taylor, RB, Cardinals. Age: 32.
D'Anthony Batiste, OT, Cardinals. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Cardinals
Hamza Abdullah, S, Cardinals. Age: 29.
Sean Considine, S, Cardinals. Age: 29. -- Signed with Ravens
Chansi Stuckey, WR, Cardinals. Age: 28.
Max Hall, QB, Cardinals. Age: 26.
Divisional Rival History: San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers get up for these games; they've taken six of the past eight in this rivalry. Seattle Seahawks: Arizona won six of seven prior to the 2010 season. Kurt Warner's absence hurt, as the Seahawks have won three of the past four this series. St. Louis Rams: Arizona has won 11 of the past 13 matchups in this series.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2012 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)