With QB Murray in 3rd season, Cards under pressure to win
ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-8)
CAMP SITE: Glendale, Arizona
LAST YEAR: The Cardinals looked like one of the NFL’s rising franchises for most of the season but lost five of their final seven games to fall just short of the playoffs. The connection between QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins was one of the league’s most productive until fading in the final weeks. The defense improved dramatically under second-year coordinator Vance Joseph.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DL J.J Watt, WR A.J. Green, K Matt Prater, CB Malcolm Butler, C Rodney Hudson, G Brian Winters, QB Colt McCoy, S Shawn Williams, LB Zaven Collins (1st-round draft pick), WR Rondale Moore (2nd-round draft pick), RB James Conner.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Patrick Peterson, LB Haason Reddick, RB Kenyan Drake, WR Trent Sherfield, TE Dan Arnold, DL Angelo Blackson, C Mason Cole.
CAMP NEEDS: Arizona added several veterans with the hope of squeezing out a few more productive seasons from players such as Watt, Green and Butler. With that in mind, keeping them healthy is paramount. The Cardinals hope Murray can take another step forward as a third-year quarterback. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has already made it clear that Collins, the team’s first-round draft pick, will be expected to contribute at linebacker from Day 1. Another intriguing player is linebacker Dennis Gardeck, the special teams ace who was a revelation on defense last season by contributing seven sacks.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: The Cardinals have several spots up for grabs, including running back, where Chase Edmonds and Conner appear to be the top options. Arizona also needs a playmaking tight end to emerge after losing Dan Arnold in free agency. Maxx Williams and Darrell Daniels are the holdovers. There’s also been no announcement about receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s future; he is deciding whether to return for his 18th season. On defense, all eyes will be on Collins and second-year player Isaiah Simmons, expected to be the future cornerstones. Cornerback Robert Alford will try to crack the playing rotation after missing the past two seasons with injuries.
EXPECTATIONS: Kingsbury enters his third season under a considerable amount of pressure to make the playoffs. The Cardinals are running out of time to take advantage of Murray’s relatively cheap rookie contract, and signaled they’re in win-now mode during free agency by adding Watt, Green and Butler while trading for Hudson. Though they made a handful of splashy moves in the offseason, it remains to be seen if the Cardinals can break through in a tough NFC West that includes the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams.
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