Big things should be looming for the Arizona Cardinals ahead of the 2022 NFL season. The team has one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the game in Kyler Murray, and a veteran defense featuring proven commodities like J.J. Watt and Budda Baker.
Yet, instead of viewing the Cardinals as a team on the rise, some see trouble brewing. One of the detractors is NFL.com’s Adam Schein, who has offered a bleak prediction about what’s in store for the Cardinals this year.
Schein has cited “bad vibes” and raised serious questions about Murray’s leadership. He’s also pointed to what he sees as an obvious talent disparity between the Cards and their main rivals in the NFC West.
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Postseason Hopes Dashed Amid Murray Mess
Schein’s prediction is “the Cardinals miss the playoffs,” despite the columnist admitting his admiration for the “roster that Steve Keim has assembled.” Schein’s concerns include the presence of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers in the division: “Overall, the Rams and Niners still have better overall rosters. That’s a big-picture problem.”
Yet, strength of the opposition isn’t Schein’s main cause for alarm. Instead, he asked the following questions about Murray: “can Kyler truly lead a team? Can he handle adversity? Can he avoid the winter collapses that have plagued the Cards under Kliff Kingsbury? And this season, can he still come out the gates hot despite DeAndre Hopkins’s six-game suspension?”
Those are a lot of doubts about a franchise player. Murray is supposed to be the Cardinals’ ticket to a championship, but concerns linger. Concerns exacerbated by an offseason of drama surrounding his next contract.
Murray and his agent, Erik Burkhardt, have both made their desire for a more lucrative deal public during the last few months. The posturing has done little to push the Cardinals to a decision, so far at least.
It’s not likely general manager Keim will be rushed, not when Murray’s only played three years of his original rookie deal. The Cardinals are saying “we’re gonna wait,” according to MMQB’s Andrew Brandt, who explained to The Rich Eisen Show why the team has all the leverage: “We’ve got this Year. We’ve got option year next year, big number, but still an option year. And we’ve got potential franchise tags.”
Brandt also detailed why the collective bargaining agreement is working in the Cardinals’ favor: “the other part of the CBA is increased sanctions and penalties for any kind of holdout.”
While it appears as though Murray and the Cardinals are headed for an impasse, some are more optimistic than Brandt. Murray’s decision to attend OTAs has been called an “olive branch” by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (h/t Around The NFL’s Nick Shook). Garafolo says Murray’s return is a “show of good faith discussions on a new deal will pick up.”
If Murray is showing a willingness to meet the Cardinals halfway, it’s a good reason why the team can defy Schein’s prediction and return to the playoffs.
Why the Cardinals Can be Better Than Expected
Murray makes a difference when he’s on the field. He’s the main reason the Cards went from 3-13 to the playoffs in three seasons.
A return to the postseason is likely as long as Murray stays healthy and motivated. The former has been a problem for a QB who has suffered injuries every season he’s been in the NFL and missed three games at a crucial moment in 2021 because of an ankle problem.
If Murray can stay upright, he’ll have enough weapons around him to post the best numbers of his career this year. Even with DeAndre Hopkins suspended for six games.
The Cards can cope without Hopkins after Keim traded a first-round draft pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown. He was Murray’s teammate at Oklahoma, and Brown joins returning veterans wideout A.J. Green and tight end Zach Ertz, who were both brought back in free agency.
This experienced trio will join second-year man Rondale Moore and rookie tight end Trey McBride, the teams top draft pick this year, to form a deep and explosive cadre of pass-catchers. Add in running backs James Conner and Darrel Williams, and the Cards have playmakers at every level around Murray.
As Watt put it on an episode of The Pat McAfee Show, “who the hell do you double team?”
Watt’s words ring true, not least because it’ll be the defense that defines how far the Cardinals go in 2022 as much as Murray’s offense. The unit is weaker on paper after edge-rusher Chandler Jones signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency, but things will look better if Watt stays healthy and gets back to his best.
Watt can inspire a pass rush that still features Markus Golden, the team’s sack leader last season, as well as useful veteran Devon Kennard. Add in rookies Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders, and the Cards have enough options to generate pressure sans Jones.
Things also look good on the back end, where Baker is a two-time All-Pro. There’s still room for a veteran cornerback and perhaps another edge-rusher, but the market is brimming with intriguing names like Chris Harris Jr. and Justin Houston.
It won’t take much for the defense to take a step forward in 2022, nor is it a stretch to see the Cardinals as a team still good enough for the playoffs.