The Irrelevant Arizona Cardinals

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It may be hard to believe that the Arizona Cardinals were a 10-win team only two years ago, and in the Super Bowl three years ago. The last time the Cardinals had won as many as 10 games in a season was 33 years prior, when the Seahawks were playing their inaugural season. The Seahawks won 10 games or more five times during that stretch of Cardinal ineptitude. Only one team had won fewer games than the Cardinals since the advent of the 16-game schedule, the Detroit Lions, and that will change after a year in which the Lions are certain to win at least two more than the Cardinals. In other words, no franchise has been less relevant than the Arizona Cardinals in the modern NFL era.

Darnell Dockett likes to puff out his chest and play the tough guy role. Jared Brandt, a Twitter friend, sent out a link to Dockett mouthing off after the Seahawks beat the Cardinals in September. He went as far as to say the Seahawks are, “soft as cotton,” when playing on the road. Forget, for a moment, that the softies stomped the Cardinals 36-18 the last time they played in Arizona. That’s the past. This year, the Seahawks have beat the Giants, the Bears and the Rams on the road. A win in Arizona would leave them at .500 on the road. The Cardinals are 2-5 on the road, including a loss to the soft Seahawks. Their only win worth mention was versus the Eagles by four points. This, after a dominating 1-7 road record a season ago. If Seattle is as soft as cotton on the road, Arizona is as weak as wet toilet paper. Most unfortunate for the Cardinals is that this weakness permeates their entire franchise, not just their road record.

Dockett played during the glory years–all three of them–when Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner led the team to a 27-21 record. He plays with the arrogance of a player that was part of back-to-back division titles, but his words are worth less than the wind they generate. Those Cardinals teams were barely over .500 with one of the league’s best quarterbacks playing some of his best football. They could score with any team in the league, and that allowed their defense to look far stronger than it was. The instant the offense turned to Arizona dust, the defense withered as well. Players like Dockett and Adrian Wilson looked far less dominant when being stuck on the field for 35 minutes and playing from behind each game.

The master plan was to acquire their next great quarterback that could team with Larry Fitzgerald to rebuild the offensive powerhouse that led to that dominant run of 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6. They were almost forced to take this tack because Dockett is 30, Wilson is 32, and Fitzgerald is 28. There is no time to develop a quarterback over five years if the goal is contend with these players. They made the bold move to trade for Kevin Kolb and signed both Kolb and Fitzgerald to massive contracts. Contracts so large, the franchise cannot afford to go after another quarterback for some time without handcuffing their ability to plug any of the other holes on the team.

Kolb has not worked out this season. He’s 3-6 as a starter, and has been outplayed by John Skelton, who  boasts a 68.1 passer rating on the year.  Larry Fitzgerald is having a monster season with 71 receptions and nearly 1,300 yards. Beanie Wells is a very good young running back who, at 23, has gone over 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns. Daryl Washington is having a great year at the linebacker spot, leading the team in tackles to go along with 4.0 sacks and a couple of picks. Patrick Peterson has made his largest impact on special teams as a return man, but will be a shutdown corner for years to come. There are some nice pieces, but they did not strike quarterback gold. That leaves them with a disjointed future where major parts will be going downhill by the time they address that hole, assuming they can ever address it.

Step back and ask yourself if it’s likely the Cardinals will find another quarterback that can perform at the level of Kurt Warner. Assuming the answer is “no,” will the receiving corps be better than Larry Fitzgerald in his prime opposite Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston? Probably not. Might the defense be significantly better than it was when Dockett and Wilson were in their primes, with Karlos Dansby and others playing at a high level? Better is possible. Significantly better? Probably not.

It was worth taking the time to compare the Seahawks to the 49ers. Both teams have young teams, who have room to grow. Comparing the Seahawks to the Cardinals would be an insult to the Seahawks.  The Cardinals could go out on Sunday and throttle the Seahawks. They might even find a way to better record in 2012 (not likely, but possible). It won’t matter. They have been the most irrelevant franchise in the NFL for over 30 years, and their foundation is shaky for the next five. They are a balsa wood mansion with a few nice features, built on an eroding hilltop. Do you hear that sound, Mr. Dockett? It is the sound of inevitability.