COMMENTARY | This offseason, the Arizona Cardinals have gone through a myriad of changes. From the front office to the playing field, several positions have been upgraded--most notably to the most important areas of the franchise.
When team president Michael Bidwill fired head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves following a third straight losing season, thoughts were that the replacements would have a bear of a time putting a winning team together quickly.
After a trade, free agency and the draft, however, things appear to be more promising now than thought possible in the weeks after the 2012 season ended.
Here are the five most notable upgrades to the Cardinals organization this offseason, in no particular order.
1. General Manager Steve Keim
It starts with new GM Steve Keim. Without this hire, none of the other hires and signings would have taken place.
Keim has been with the organization since 1999--first, as a regional scout (1999-2006); then, as the director of college scouting (2006-2008), the director of player personnel (2008-2012), and the vice president of player personnel (2012).
He and Bidwill came together to hire the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year, Bruce Arians, and a plan for the rest of the offseason began to take shape. The duo of Keim and Arians has proven to be an aggressive, potent one in just a few short months.
2. Quarterback Carson Palmer
Despite being mocked for being "done" and "over the hill," Carson Palmer quietly has put up impressive numbers since leaving Cincinnati. While with the Oakland Raiders, Palmer threw for 6,771 yards, threw 35 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and accumulated a passer rating of 83.5 in a season and a half.
He did that with little talent surrounding him in Oakland.
Now as "the guy" to run Arians' downfield attacking offense, Palmer has a unique opportunity to resurrect not only the Cardinals' offense, but his reputation as well. And just turning 33 years old, he could have anywhere from two to five years of production left in him, depending upon actual performance, injuries, etc.
Keim gave up a sixth-round pick to get Palmer. If the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback can produce multiple seasons like the one he had in 2012, when he threw for over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, the trade could go down as the best in franchise history.
3. Running Back Rashard Mendenhall and Co.
2012 was a blunder of a season for Rashard Mendenhall. Coming off an ACL tear, he played in only six games, starting four and gaining only 182 yards on the ground--he did not score a single rushing touchdown. His yards-per-carry average of 3.6 was his lowest output since his rookie year.
Nevertheless, he is a big upgrade over Beanie Wells, whom the Cardinals released on January 11, just days before Mendenhall signed in Arizona.
Then, Keim and Arians went out and stole Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington in the fifth and sixth rounds of the 2013 NFL draft, respectively. These two backs are durable and provide many options for the future of the Cardinals' backfield.
Ryan Williams is still around, and everyone is hoping he can be of service. But in the event he and Mendenhall are once again bitten by the injury bug, the two rookies would be plenty serviceable this season and in the long term.
4. Offensive Guard Jonathan Cooper
In what could be the biggest upgrade to the team, first-round pick and No. 7 overall selection Jonathan Cooper comes in as the expected day-1 starter at one of two offensive guard positions.
It first was thought he would play right guard, especially after 2012 free-agent bust Adam Snyder was released just days following the draft. But Arians may have other plans, as Cooper has manned the left guard spot early on at Cards camp, as first pointed out by Josh Weinfuss of AZCardinals.com.
Yes, it is very early in the preseason and a lot has yet to be determined. But it is worth noting that Cooper played left guard while at North Carolina and may be most comfortable there.
This will be a storyline to keep an eye on as the preseason rolls along.
5. Inside Linebacker Kevin Minter
This second-round pick could be a star in the near future. What he is right now is an immediate starter at inside linebacker, partly because of Daryl Washington's four-game suspension to start the season and partly because he is simply that good.
Kevin Minter will start next to Karlos Dansby in the middle of new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' defense. Depending upon how the rookie plays in September, there could be a difficult decision ahead regarding which player to rotate out once Washington returns.
Will it be Minter rotating out, or will the rookie outplay Dansby? Dansby--the former and now current Cardinal--knows Bowles' system from their time together in Miami (Bowles coached Dansby with the Dolphins from 2010 to 2011), and that may give him the early edge over the rookie.
Minter is an upgrade over Paris Lenon, whom the Cardinals did not re-sign after his contract expired this offseason. Lenon was a liability in defending the run, which is where Minter excels. He told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com he is a big hitter who feels he needs to make his presence known early by enforcing his will on the field.
"I feel like I'm a great leader," Minter said. "I'm not necessarily a hoo-rah type of guy. I'm more of a speak-softly-carry-a-big-stick-type of dude."
That is good news for Cardinals fans. The combination of the speedy Washington and the heavy-hitting Minter could wreak havoc on NFL offenses for years to come.
Shaun Church is a student of football statistics who looks for obscure numbers and provides in-depth analysis when something noteworthy is found. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, Football Nation, The Boston Metro, ESPN.com and more.
You can follow Shaun on Twitter @Church_NFL
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- Arizona Cardinals
- Carson Palmer
- Rashard Mendenhall
- Bruce Arians
- Steve Keim
- Kevin Minter