Upon taking over as a first-year head coach in Arizona, Bruce Arians wasted no time in making the Cardinals immediate contenders in the NFL’s toughest division.
Behind the league’s sixth-best defense and a resurgent Carson Palmer at quarterback, Arians guided the Cardinals to their first 10-win season since 2009. Arians’ next task will be parlaying last year’s success into a long-term affair, one that could require multiple upgrades offensively.
Palmer is coming off of a year in which he established a career-best with 4,274 passing yards, his fourth career season eclipsing 4,000 yards through the air. His 24 touchdown passes were second only to Seattle’s Russell Wilson among NFC West quarterbacks. Palmer will turn 35 this season, however, and with a quarterback-rich draft class in 2014, Arians and General Manager Steve Keim could find this year ripe for a quarterback of the future.
However, with Palmer currently under contract through at least the 2014 season, the addition of a quarterback would be much more a luxury and a look toward the future than an immediate necessity.
Keim addressed his team’s outlook at quarterback while meeting with media at the NFL Combine.
“Carson gives us some stability, but at the same time, we’ll always be aggressive in our approach and in our mindset that you’re always looking for the next young quarterback,” Keim said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio.
One would be hard-pressed to identify a current head coach with more recent success in grooming a young franchise quarterback than Arians, who oversaw Andrew Luck’s rise to stardom in Indianapolis as the Colts’ interim head coach during the 2012 season. He also guided Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger for five of the Steelers quarterback’s most successful seasons, from 2007-11, while serving as the team’s offensive coordinator.
In addition to looking for the team’s future signal-caller, the Cardinals join a cadre of teams in the market for what appears to be an elite class of offensive tackles. Greg Robinson (Auburn), Taylor Lewan (Michigan) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) head the class, though all three could likely be chosen before Arizona’s 20th overall selection. Barring a trade, the Cardinals could be positioned to choose from a group of tackles that would include Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandijo and Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, among others.
Whether the Cardinals make their upgrades via the draft or free agency, Arians emphasized he would like to see both the offensive and defensive lines gain a boost in the offseason, and credited the quality and physicality of the NFC West as elevating the sense of urgency toward that end.
"I think we need to get bigger and stronger on both sides of line with more depth,” Arians said in a recent interview with arizonasports.com. “We need to get some depth because of our division -- you're going to win at the line of scrimmage in our division, you have to be physical.”
In an interview with Arizona Cardinals team writer Darren Urban during the Combine, Keim referenced a need to build not necessarily to specific positions, but with an eye on the top talent available.
“We’re looking for impact players,” Keim said. I think it’s always your goal as an organization, to find at least three impact players in each draft.”
Keim and Arians drew rave reviews for the construction and performance of last year’s roster, efforts that almost instantly placed the Cardinals in playoff contention. With the division showing no apparent letup entering 2014, it will take similar success this offseason to make Arizona a lasting contender.