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Tank you, Cards
'Tank, You Cards!'? or maybe Tank U Cards? Seaside Joe 1641
As bad as the Arizona Cardinals have been for the last 103 seasons, you might be surprised to recall that three of their recent rebuilds almost actually worked. First, Ken Whisenhunt helped the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl in 2009, his second season as head coach. Then Bruce Arians coached Arizona to 10-6, 11-5, and 13-3 records in his first three seasons, culminating in an NFC Championship game appearance. Even Kliff Kingsbury had a steady upward rise and just last summer PFF did this:
The only rebuild attempt that completely failed was the one season that Steve Wilks and Josh Rosen spent together in 2018, a 3-13 campaign that led directly to Kingsbury and number one overall pick Kyler Murray.
It only took a year for the Cardinals to give up on Rosen so that they could draft a quarterback who won a Heisman trophy under head coach Lincoln Riley. Could it be that five years after Murray, Arizona repeats their rebuild re-do and picks another Riley Heisman winner in Caleb Williams?
They might as well bring Riley too, which I’m sure will be the top rumor if the Cardinals do indeed get the number one pick again.
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I rarely accuse teams of tanking — the players have nothing to gain and the coaches, when they’re smart enough to get it, know that they probably won’t see the rebuild through if they lose too many games — but what else are the Cardinals doing if not preparing for the worst and hoping for the worst?
Arizona released veteran quarterback Colt McCoy on Monday and head coach Jonathan Gannon hasn’t named a Week 1 starter yet, expected to either be fifth round rookie Clayton Tune or Josh Dobbs, a player the Cardinals traded for a couple of days ago. Dobbs, a fourth round pick in 2017, started the first two games of his career last season with the Titans, and completed 58% of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He signed with the Browns in the offseason and didn’t end up as one of their two backup choices behind Deshaun Watson.
It’s not like I’m perplexed by Arizona’s decision to release McCoy and to roll the dice with someone else during Murray’s absence. (He starts the season on PUP, as he is recovering from a torn ACL.) McCoy is not good and the Cardinals do not need to try to be good.
I’m only pointing out what the Cardinals are, which is what we thought they were, and that is the team with the worst roster in the NFL. Moves like releasing McCoy are signs that Arizona isn’t finished with their deconstruction, which means that the Seattle Seahawks have no excuses when they play the Cardinals in Week 7 and Week 18 of this season.
What it means now: The 2023 Seahawks vs Cardinals
For as scared as people get of divisional opponents, as well as injury concerns any time the Seahawks play in Arizona, the Seahawks have won seven of their last 10 games against the Cardinals. They have lost three games since 2018:
In 2019, when Seattle had a really bad offensive line and DK Metcalf was held to zero catches on one target.
In 2020, when Seattle blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead and lost in OT 37-34 in the final seconds.
In 2021, when Colt McCoy had a career-night and Russell Wilson wasn’t maybe all the way back from his hand injury.
But last season with Geno Smith, the Seahawks won both games by 10 points and by all accounts Arizona is worse now than they were as a 4-13 team. Murray started both of those games, but the Cardinals might choose to shut him down for the entire 2023 season in an attempt to lose games and keep him healthy enough for a trade next offseason.
Last week, the Cardinals traded former top-10 pick Isaiah Simmons to the Giants and even if like McCoy he wasn’t very valuable, it signals that Arizona wants anyone who can go to get going. Apart from tackle Paris Johnson and his draft class teammates, as well as safety Budda Baker as he feels like the “Larry Fitzgerald” of this Cardinals decade, why not try to trade everybody?
That means receivers Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore, tackle D.J. Humphries, tight end Zach Ertz, running back James Conner, and linebacker Zaven Collins.
By the time the Seahawks host the Cardinals on October 22nd, nine days shy of the trade deadline, Arizona could be winless and counting down the weeks until the most important offseason
in franchise history since 2019.
In their first six contests, the Cardinals have two apparent winnable games (Washington Moons in Week 1, Rams in Week 6) but both are on the road.
Seattle goes to Arizona on January 7th for the season finale, too far away to predict the complete depth charts for either team or close to it. But any scenario in which the Cardinals win more than four games would be shocking and a monumental endorsement for the new head coach. Every year at least four teams win four games or less. Every year. If the Cardinals aren’t one of the four worst teams in the NFL, I’ll… I’ll… Well, I’ll do literally anything besides become a Cardinals fan.
They are the worst team on paper and while I see people argue that “the worst team doesn’t usually get the number one pick, just look at the Texans!” To which I say, yeah, the Texans didn’t pick first. They picked second. They won three games. They were as bad on the field as they looked on paper.
If the Seahawks don’t go 2-0 against the Cardinals…That’s football sometimes, sure. But it wouldn’t make it less disappointing or embarrassing.
What it means in the future: Cards for Caleb
As I said, the Cardinals have a handful of games on their schedule in which they could be playing a team that is capable of losing to anyone: Two games against the Rams, plus games against the Texans, Bears, and Moons. However, four of those five games are on the road, plus their home game against the Rams.
If we just pretend that Arizona loses to every team on their schedule that made the playoffs in 2022 (Seahawks, 49ers, Giants, Cowboys, Bengals, Ravens, Eagles) that would equal nine losses. Add in losses on the road in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, that’s 11. Say they split with the Rams and split their remaining four games (Moons, Texans, Falcons, Bears) and that gives Arizona a final record of 3-14.
It sounds reasonable to me. But if for any reason the Cardinals do better than expectations, maybe 6-11 for instance, they have a second shot at the number one pick because they also hold onto Houston’s first round pick in 2024. The Texans only have five games against playoff teams (Ravens, Bucs, Bengals, Jaguars x2) but must also play Steelers, Saints, Browns, Jets, and two against the Titans. If they go 2-9 in those games, split with the Colts, and go 1-2 vs Falcons, Panthers, Broncos, then guess what the all-important game is for the number one pick:
Cardinals at Texans on November 19th.
But the trick in the equation is that the Cardinals could win that game and still improve their draft capital.
The Texans could end up with the worst record in the NFL, but I don’t think they’re as bad as the Cardinals and they appear to have an easier schedule. Other teams that seem to me like they could be in the way of the number one pick are the Rams, Colts, Bears, Bucs, and Moons, but other contenders will emerge in the next couple of months.
So is USC’s Caleb Williams actually a big deal and would he force Arizona to trade Kyler Murray?
I’ve seen some people argue that he doesn’t have the number one pick sewn up and that teams will be scared off by his size. Is that almost exactly the same argument we have every year between the top quarterback prospects? I was sure that Bryce Young would be the number one pick and I’m even more positive about Williams, but I guess there’s no need to rush to a conclusion. Let’s just say for the sake of thought experiment that he’s the best QB prospect in the last 10 years and that Arizona has the number one pick.
I would expect the Cardinals to trade Kyler Murray because they’d be getting better at the position, they’d be getting cheaper, they’d be getting younger, and I actually do think they could get a team to take on his contract and give back a decent return, provided he passes a physical.
If the Seahawks and the 49ers and most everyone else on Arizona’s schedule takes care of business against the Cardinals, it does invite the opportunity for them to draft Caleb Williams into the NFC West next season—in addition to using their other first round pick on another blue chip prospect in the top-5 or top-10.
Arizona would probably be almost just as bad in 2024, but on track to be competitive by 2025 if their draft picks work out as they hope.
If the Cardinals successfully tank this season, it would not only give them the number one pick but also more draft picks and more cap space to add additional pieces besides Caleb or UNC quarterback Drake Maye (or someone else of your choosing, if you prefer). It would also bring the Cardinals more losses, which at least means that they didn’t have to sacrifice their culture.
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