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State of the 2023 Arizona Cardinals: Question marks abound as Jonathan Gannon era begins

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Cardinals organization, Cardinals fans around the world and those who want to know if that Kliff Kingsbury house has hit the open market.

The Cardinals were really trying to go for stability when they gave long-term deals to Steve Keim, Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray last offseason. Then they went 4-13, prompting a near-total house cleaning. Now, they're looking forward to a brighter future.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: Winning that crazy overtime game against the Raiders in Week 2. The Cardinals were down 20-0 at halftime and 23-7 heading into the fourth quarter. But Kyler Murray and Co. rallied, with Murray dashing off a 3-yard run (it felt like he actually covered more like 80 yards) on the last play of regulation, then adding the subsequent two-point conversion to tie the game and force overtime. And, of course, Arizona won when Byron Murphy returned a fumble for a touchdown. It was nuts.

One low from last season: Going 3-12 the rest of the way, prompting the firing of head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury's record as Arizona's head coach, which sat at 24-24-1 entering the season, dropped firmly below .500. It was sad on a human level to see someone lose their job, but a move needed to be made, and Kingsbury seems to have landed on his feet. Keim also stepped away from a position he held since 2013 to take care of his health.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Kyler Murray. He might be the most polarizing quarterback on the planet. Which is saying something. The former No. 1 overall pick has had moments of heroism, like in that Week 2 game in Las Vegas, showing off electric dual-threat ability. He's also had moments of, uh, not heroism, like sliding too early and spiking the ball on third down toward the end of a Week 5 loss to the Eagles. Before his season was prematurely ended by an ACL tear in December, Murray recorded the lowest touchdown rate (3.6%), passer rating (87.2) and yards-per-attempt mark (6.1) of his career. Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum created a stir in March when he said the quarterback needs to "grow up." Beachum later clarified (after re-signing with Arizona) on NFL Network's NFL Total Access that there was no heat between him and the quarterback, but the comments surely did not spark optimal headlines for a player whose recent contract extension included a (since-dropped) study requirement. Murray will have the chance to prove himself when he returns -- though that won't likely be for some time.

Projected 2023 MVP: Colt McCoy, quarterback. The 36-year-old McCoy is one of those guys who comes in and plays well in the short term, leading people to ask questions like, "Hey, do we even need this high-priced quarterback?" It's like sleeping on a futon while you're renting out an Airbnb, and you think to yourself: Why don't I just get one of these when I get home? Then you're in traction at the end of your week and can't wait to get back to a bed made by (whatever mattress company currently sponsors or will sponsor the NFL). But hey, maybe McCoy can keep this team moving for a few weeks in Murray's early-season absence. If the team is to have anything close to a winning record, he'll have to.

New face to know: Paris Johnson, Jr., offensive tackle. Johnson was considered one of the premier offensive linemen in the entire draft. The sixth overall pick will anchor the Cardinals' offensive line rebuild, something that has needed to happen for quite some time now. Dude was a huge hit when he rolled up to his first press conference in a Pat Tillman jersey.

His dad, Paris Johnson Sr., played with Tillman for the Cardinals in 1999.

2023 breakout star: Cameron Thomas, edge rusher. You might have heard that J.J. Watt retired. The team is also without Zach Allen (now with the Broncos) and Markus Golden, who both contributed greatly to the pass rush. The Cardinals will look to Thomas, who was a third-round pick last year, to be the guy to put some heat on the quarterback. He earned a defensive grade of 69.9 from Pro Football Focus as a rookie in 2022, placing him in the top 50 of edge defenders.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Jonathan Gannon
General manager Monti Ossenfort
Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing
Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis
Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers
  • Gannon is a very interesting coaching hire for the Cardinals, who went for the defensive-minded name after firing the offensive-minded Kingsbury. It's kind of like when you break up with somebody and you want to date a person who is the exact opposite. There was a little dispute between the Cardinals and Eagles, who settled a tampering investigation regarding the hiring of the former Philadelphia defensive coordinator. Gannon's track record in that role was short and somewhat uneven, with the Eagles ranking 10th in yards allowed in his first season there (2021) and jumping to second in 2022. Still, it's tough to deny the allure of hiring a coach who helped his team reach the Super Bowl.
  • I became a huge fan of Monti Ossenfort on draft night. I know some might question the decision to pass on edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., while trading out of the third overall slot, but I thought it was a solid move. Arizona needs as much draft capital as possible for 2024, to keep its options open. The team still managed to move back into the top 10, jumping ahead of the Bears, who also could have been eyeing Paris Johnson Jr. I really loved what Ossenfort did there. Very well done.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Cardinals' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State (1-6) David Blough, QB Darrel Williams, RB
BJ Ojulari, Edge, LSU (2-41) Jeff Driskel, QB Chosen Anderson, WR
Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse (3-72) Zach Pascal, WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR
Michael Wilson, WR, Stanford (3-94) Dennis Daley, OT A.J. Green, WR
Jon Gaines II, OG, UCLA (4-122) Will Hernandez, OG Max Garcia, OG
Clayton Tune, QB, Houston (5-139) L.J. Collier, Edge Rodney Hudson, C
Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn (5-168) Kyzir White, LB Billy Price, C
Kei'Trel Clark, CB, Louisville (6-180) Rashad Fenton, CB Markus Golden, DE
Dante Stills, DT, West Virginia (6-213) Matt Haack, P J.J. Watt, DE
Zach Allen, DL
Trysten Hill, DB
Byron Murphy, CB
Andy Lee, P

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

Will the Cardinals be able to ...

... stay afloat in Kyler Murray's absence? You do get the sense this team is going to need to rely on Gannon's defense this season to be competitive. We talked about second-year edge rusher Cameron Thomas being an impact player this fall. The team still has Budda Baker (for now; he did request a trade back in April), who continues to be one of the best safeties in the game. I'm interested to see if Gannon can find a creative way to get the most out of 2020 first-rounder Isaiah Simmons. I'm still a huge fan of his talent and can't believe he isn't a star in the NFL. The Cards also drafted B.J. Ojulari, who comes in behind Myjai Sanders, a third-round pick last year, at OLB. There are some pieces for Gannon to work with.

... find somebody to step up at receiver alongside Marquise Brown? It's crazy to think the Cardinals just let DeAndre Hopkins walk. They even did it before June 1, which means they will just eat most of his contract this season and then be done with it. Again, great move by Monti to just pay it off now and move on. I love Hollywood Brown and really think he could be great as a target-eater for McCoy in the early part of the season. He had 50 catches for 553 yards and scored three touchdowns in eight games without Hopkins last year. His numbers declined sharply in the four games with Hopkins; he hauled in 17 catches for 156 yards and no scores in those contests.

But who else is there to help out? Zach Ertz, another former Philly guy, is still on the team. Michael Wilson was selected in the third round. And for some reason, I'm never giving up on Zach Pascal. Look, he's not going to be a star, but he's good in a wide receiver room that needs talent.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overlook: Whether or not Kyler Murray should play in 2023. I know we've talked about the idea that the quarterback will come back this year. But is it in the best interest of the Cardinals? Murray's contract carries significant guaranteed money through next season, making 2024 a potential turning point in their relationship. Depending on how his rehab goes, might the team want him to just focus on getting right for that season, so Gannon and Ossenfort can evaluate how to move forward at the position? That said, if Colt McCoy starts winning games while Murray is out, Murray's future will become a huge storyline. It's certainly something worth watching.

For 2023 to be a success, the Cardinals MUST:

  • Determine who fits in with their massive rebuild. With two first-round picks now in Arizona's pocket, the 2024 NFL Draft figures to be pivotal, potentially offering the chance to find the next QB of the future or pull off some Bears-like wheeling and dealing. In the meantime, it would behoove Gannon and Ossenfort to identify those already on the roster who can be part of the turnaround.

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