The Cardinals are and will remain a full member of the NFL as the league has yet to build multiple tiers and introduce relegation. They should be thankful for that reality because this would be the year they would slide down to the B level of professional football.
Whether accidental or intentional, or a combination of both, the Cardinals are entering the 2023 season with a hand on their back. The prioritization of 2024 over 2023 was evident during the draft when they were relegated from third overall pick and a second pick for first Round accumulated in 2024. They currently have six picks in the first three rounds of next year’s draft.
The most obvious evidence of a decision to back 2023 came when the Cardinals intentionally released receiver DeAndre Hopkins just before June 2 and took the full $22 million cap that year, rather than $11 million to keep in case of an opportunity to take advantage of it. A veteran might show up. That $11 million would have carried over to 2024 if they hadn’t used it. Not having the money with them, they didn’t even want to be able to use it, no matter who was available through trade or a free agency.
It’s not like the Cardinals will become an elite team, especially since starting quarterback Kyler Murray is still recovering from a cruciate ligament tear. But everyone knew they needed a fix at quarterback, and what did they do? It was assumed that the bridge to Murray would be Colt McCoy. Now McCoy is gone and the Cardinals could start new signing Josh Dobbs in Week 1.
They could have signed Dobbs as a free agent, but they didn’t. While this part of the slow tank is certainly not intentional, it becomes a convenient touch of incompetence that will help propel the Cardinals to the top of the draft.
Of course they will never call it a tank. Finally, the first rule of Tank Club is never to talk about Tank Club. You simply let nature take its course.
And the players are never there. It’s amazing that even now, some media outlets are still trying to defend themselves against the apparent reality of tanking by arguing that players aren’t trying to lose.
Of course they try not to lose. They never do. Tanking happens when team management takes steps to bring weaker players onto the field. As one coach recently noted, the NFL is only a chess game when a team isn’t playing with a lot of pawns. When a team tanks, they put an all-pawn lineup on the field and wish them well.
Whether the coach is there is another story. The Cardinals last posted in a season in 2018, despite the best efforts of first-year coach Steve Wilks. He paid for the disastrous season with his job.
So what will happen in 2024? If the Cardinals end up being the worst team in the NFL — and thereby securing the first overall pick in the draft — will Jonathan Gannon get a sophomore year, or will the Cardinals hire USC coach Lincoln Riley, for example, to reduce the likelihood of that USC quarterback Caleb Williams will refuse to sign in Arizona?
Regardless, it will be a surprise if the Cardinals don’t take first pick overall in April. Especially since they also hold Houston’s first-round pick.
In the end, Arizona could have both top picks. This points to a potentially brighter future, no matter how bleak the present may be.
But hey, at least they have new uniforms.