The Cardinals are and will continue to be a fully-fledged member of the NFL, thanks to the fact that the league has yet to develop multiple layers and to institute relegation. They should be grateful for that reality, because this would be the year they get swept down to the B level of pro football.
Whether inadvertent or deliberate or some combination of both, the Cardinals are entering the 2023 season with one hand tied behind their backs. The prioritization of 2024 over 2023 became obvious during the draft, when they traded down from the third overall pick and stockpiled a second first-round selection in 2024. They currently have six picks in the first three rounds of next year's draft.
The most obvious evidence of a decision to punt on 2023 came when the Cardinals deliberately released receiver DeAndre Hopkins just before June 2, taking the full $22 million cap hit this year in lieu of keeping $11 million around in the event an opportunity to use it on a veteran might emerge. That $11 million would have rolled over to 2024 if they hadn't used it. By not keeping the money around, they didn't even want to be in a position to use it, no matter who might be available via trade or free agency.
It's not as if the Cardinals were going to be an elite team, especially with starting quarterback Kyler Murray still recovering from a torn ACL. But everyone knew they needed a solution at quarterback, and what did they do? It was assumed the bridge to Murray would be Colt McCoy. Now, McCoy is gone and the Cardinals could be starting newcomer Josh Dobbs in Week 1.
They could have signed Dobbs as a free agent, but they didn't. While that part of the slow-rolling tank surely didn't occur on purpose, it becomes a convenient spurt of incompetence that will help propel the Cardinals toward the top of the draft.
They'll never call it a tank, of course. The first rule of Tank Club is to never talk about Tank Club, after all. They'll just let nature take its course.
And the players never are in on it. It's amazing that, even now, some in the media will try to push back against the obvious reality of tanking by arguing that the players don't try to lose.
Of course they don't try to lose. The never do. The tanking happens when the team's management takes steps to put lesser players on the field. As a coach recently observed, the NFL is a chess match only when one team isn't playing with a bunch of pawns. When a team is tanking, it puts an all-pawn lineup on the field and wishes them well.
Whether the coach is in on the tank is a different story. The Cardinals last mailed in a season in 2018, despite the best efforts of first-year coach Steve Wilks. He paid for the disastrous season with his job.
So what will happen in 2024? If the Cardinals end up being the worst team in the NFL — and in turn securing the first overall pick in the draft — will Jonathan Gannon get a second year, or will the Cardinals, for example, hire USC coach Lincoln Riley to reduce the possibility that USC quarterback Caleb Williams will refuse to sign in Arizona?
Regardless, it will be a surprise if the Cardinals don't have the first overall pick in April. Especially since they also hold Houston's first-round pick.
In the end, Arizona could end up with both of the top two picks. Which points to a potentially brighter future, no matter how dim the present might be.
But, hey, at least they have new uniforms.