Cardinals rank as one of NFL’s top disappointments in 2016
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals arguably are the NFL’s biggest disappointment.
With a roster loaded with talent, with every offensive player who gained a yard back from a 13-3 team, the team embraced its status as a Super Bowl contender.
Then it flopped.
The Cardinals staggered out of the gate, blew some late-game opportunities, couldn’t win in the Eastern time zone, and were eliminated from playoff contention two games before the regular season ended.
Once officially out of it, Arizona finished with two of its best performances: a 38-31 win at Seattle and a 44-6 throttling of the Rams in Los Angeles.
Arizona finished ninth in the league in offense and second in defense, yet couldn’t make the postseason.
Other than missed field goals that blew two victories, just exactly what was to blame changed from loss to loss.
“If you can put a finger on an individual, you replace him,” coach Bruce Arians said. “If you can put a finger on something, you fix it right away. But this was different scenarios each week.”
The 7-8-1 record marked the first losing season for Arians in his four years in Arizona. He sees it as an anomaly for a team that has the core talent to contend next season.
Big changes aren’t needed, just fewer key injuries and better performances from players who have proven they can succeed.
“Some of it depends on retirement,” Arians said. “We’ll get those questions answered in the near future. I think the core is here and there is no doubt that we had high expectations coming into this year with the roster we had. Those expectations will never change.”
Here are some things to consider in the wake of the Cardinals’ disappointing 2016 campaign:
FITZ’S FUTURE: Given his penchant for world travel, Larry Fitzgerald probably already has departed for some far-flung part of the world, leaving no solid hints as to whether he will play again.
When he caught a final TD pass in Los Angeles, the team staff locked the football away for safekeeping — either as a memento for the catch that made Fitzgerald the NFL’s season leader in receptions, or maybe for his final NFL catch.
Carson Palmer has indicated he will be back. So has Arians. The idea would be for the three old-timers to make one final charge at a title.
But Fitzgerald hasn’t tipped his hand.
“That’s strictly a personal thing for Larry to decide,” Arians said. “Does he want to continue to be the warrior that he is, how his body feels, does he want to continue and train and do all those things to come back and try to get that championship? Obviously I have my fingers crossed that he does, but there’s nothing that I can do to be a part of that decision.”
SPECTACULAR DJ: David Johnson emerged as the league’s most versatile running back, as overpowering as a receiver as he is a runner.
Johnson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. Only an injury Sunday kept him from becoming the first player to top 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his 16 games.
There was a collective sigh of relief in the Cardinals’ training facility Monday when an MRI showed Johnson had only sprained his MCL and surgery would not be required. He should be good as new by training camp.
He’s already being compared to some of the game’s greats: Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith.
For Johnson, Arians said, “Sky’s the limit. I mean, 200-yard games every week. I’m serious.”
FREE-AGENT FRENZY: The Cardinals face some difficult roster decisions. The team has some 20 unrestricted free agents, among them outside linebacker Chandler Jones, defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson, inside linebacker Kevin Minter, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety D.J. Swearinger, center A.Q. Shipley, outside linebacker Alex Okafor, offensive lineman Earl Watford and cornerback Marcus Cooper.
Somebody has to go, but it won’t be Jones.
“Chandler’s not going anywhere,” Arians said, “because if we have to, we’ll franchise him.”
TACKLES GALORE: When left tackle Jared Veldheer went down with a torn triceps, D.J. Humphries switched from right tackle and was impressive in Veldheer’s spot. Now the question is whether the Cardinals will leave Humphries on the left side and make Veldheer the right tackle.
Veldheer indicated he’d prefer to stay on the left side, where he’s played since high school.
When Humphries went down with a late-season concussion, the fill-ins performed well, leaving Arians to conclude there will be good depth on the O-line.
THE NEXT QUARTERBACK: Arians acknowledged the time has come to find and groom a successor to Palmer, who turned 37 on Dec. 27.
“That will be one of our main objectives in the offseason,” Arians said, “is to make sure the franchise isn’t in the situation it was in when Kurt (Warner) left, that the next guy is here and ready to roll.”