NFL free agency began last Tuesday and just six days later the Arizona Cardinals roster is almost entirely unrecognizable. Considering they had just 41 players under contract when the festivities began it was clear there were going to be a number of new faces - what wasn't clear is how exactly they'd fill out the roster.
To the delight of most Cardinal fans who got accustomed to winning, the talent Rod Graves and the front office have brought in has been significant. Considering how wild things have been, a quick recap is in order. Here are some of the new faces that are now donning Cardinal red:
- QB Kevin Kolb (Eagles), G Daryn Colledge (Packers), LB Stewart Bradley (Eagles), CB Richard Marshall (Panthers), TE Todd Heap (Ravens), WR Chansi Stuckey (Browns), G Floyd Womack (Browns), DE Nick Eason (Steelers), TE Jeff King (Panthers), DE Vonnie Holliday (Redskins)
At least six of those players will end up starting and it's entirely likely all will contribute - and those are just the new guys acquired through trade or free agency. The team also re-signed Lyle Sendelin and inked Deuce Lutui to a one year deal after he failed to pass a physical in Cincinnati. Some day Deuce will realize he needs to stay in shape during the offseason but I'm sure glad he hasn't learned that lesson yet.
Odds are the team may not even be done as there are strong rumors that former Jets receiver Braylon Edwards could be on his way to the desert in a deal that could be done by the time you're reading this article.
So what does it all mean? Well in short it's a statement that the Cardinals are interested in reclaiming their NFC West crown and will be aggressive in the achievement of that goal.
We'd heard rumblings that the team had a serious plan for free agency but given their long term history in the Valley it was only natural for fans to doubt the intentions. But in just a few short days the Cardinals have told their fans that they regard 2010 as a mere bump in the road during the Whisenhunt era.
Personally I always viewed the 2010 Arizona Cardinals as the Ken Whisenhunt vanity squad. Riding high off of two consecutive division titles I think the head coach and the organization thought they could continue to succeed with pretty much anyone at the helm. Derek Anderson, Max Hall, and John Skelton are the very definition of "pretty much anyone" and the result was a 5-11 debacle that felt even worse than that as the team was regularly throttled.
With the 2008 and 2009 good karma pretty much all used up, the University of Phoenix Stadium sell out streak hanging by a thread, and Larry Fitzgerald coming up for free agency in a year - action was needed. And significant action was taken.
Without a doubt everything starts and ends with Kolb. No matter how stellar the contributions are from every other acquisition, as last season proved, if you have poor quarterback play you're going nowhere. Think about it like a house - it could be well decorated, the lighting could be perfect, and it could be an absolute dream home in nearly every way, but if the foundation (read: quarterback) sucks then the house never had a chance.
The adjustment period for the new QB, not to mention trying to build chemistry on a team that might be half full with new starters isn't going to be simple - particularly since none of these guys can begin practicing until this Thursday. Fortunately the early schedule god's have smiled on the Cardinals as their first three games are against the Panthers, Redskins, and Seahawks.
I of course mean no offense to any of those three squads but they'll all likely be breaking in new quarterbacks and none are expected to be serious playoff contenders. Apologies to the defending NFC West champs.
But that's all beside the point. The real issue here is that the Cardinals were faced with quite possibly the most crucial offseason in franchise history and to this point they've passed with flying colors. Those who were complaining that the team is cheap have been put in their place. I hesitate to dust off the "Same Old Cardinals" cliché even to say that it's no longer the case but well...it's no longer the case.
There's no guarantee that this is all going to work. Kolb is an unproven risk and if he struggles he could leave the Cardinals with egg all over their faces. But what continues to make me feel optimistic is that Arizona is putting themselves in a position to succeed. They are going out and bringing talent in and taking what seems to be an appropriate amount of risk to make sure they can get themselves back to the playoffs.
Even if they fail to land Braylon Edwards it's hard to consider this lockout shortened offseason anything less than a success. If they do get Edwards? Well the offense could be nearly as dangerous as its 2008/9 predecessors (there's some hyperbole for you).
Football is completely back - and if you're a Cardinals fan you might seriously need a program just to keep up with the changes.