TEMPE, Ariz. — Whenever the Arizona Cardinals hire their new coach, he’ll have to hit the ground running.
With the calendar already turned to February, planning for free agency is in full swing and scouting for the draft has already begun — all without a head coach. Whoever owner Michael Bidwill chooses to replace Kliff Kingsbury will inherit a roster that’s likely to be turned over quite a bit. More than 30 players are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, allowing both the new coach and new general manager Monti Ossenfort to put their fingerprints all over this team.
Here is a look at five questions the Cardinals will have to answer:
What’s the offseason plan for Kyler Murray? Now that Murray has had surgery, the plan is for him to recover and rehab his knee in Dallas with the goal of returning at some point early in the 2023 season. Kingsbury said late last season that Murray “probably” won’t be back for Week 1. Bidwill has said this offseason that he’d prefer Murray’s rehab to take place in Arizona instead of Texas. Even if Murray is ready — or thinks he’s ready — to start the opener, the Cardinals might take a cautious approach and hold back a bit just to make sure his knee is 100% ready and he can play uninhibited.
What’s the next coach’s top offseason priority? He needs to establish a relationship with Murray, regardless of what Murray’s feelings are toward the team. Whether those inside or outside the team like it, Murray is not just the face of the franchise, he’s the foundation and the future, as well. As he goes — whenever he’s back — so go the Cardinals, so making sure the new coach and Murray are on the same page is critical not to just Arizona winning but to the new coach’s success inside the building.
Is defensive end J.J. Watt’s replacement on the roster? Yes, at least for now. His name is Zach Allen. The issue is that Allen will be a free agent in March and if he’s not a priority for the Cardinals or gets a better deal elsewhere, then Arizona will be left without one of its top interior rushers. Allen developed under Watt — who retired in January after a 12-year career — the last two seasons and started picking up some of his tendencies, both in the weight room and on the field. Allen has even begun batting passes down like Watt. If Allen doesn’t return in 2023, the Cardinals could look at Cameron Thomas, who’ll be in his second season, to fill to void left by Watt, who led the team with 12.5 sacks last season. Thomas played primarily outside in 2022 but used to play inside in college so the Cardinals could transition him there, if needed.
Will center Rodney Hudson and wide receiver A.J. Green be back? Neither is expected to be. Green is leaning toward retirement and plans on making up his mind before free agency starts. He doesn’t want to keep uprooting his family to play for a different team every year, especially with his oldest child starting kindergarten in the fall. But he’s also not ruling out a return in 2023. Hudson won’t be back in Arizona next season, but what happens after that is unknown. He had a knee injury that kept him out for most of the season and at 33 one of the Cardinals’ offseason priorities will be to get younger at center.
What should Ossenfort’s top offseason priority be? Arizona will need to rebuild a roster that’s expecting heavy turnover this offseason. “Between unrestricted free agency, the draft, trades, roster cutdown, there are numerous ways for us to build this roster, and we will explore every one of those,” Ossenfort said last month.
The Cardinals will need to focus on their offensive line because four of the five starters are scheduled to be free agents. The only returner will be D.J. Humphries, so finding 80% of an offensive line will be a major undertaking. Beyond the offensive line, Arizona will need to address a few other key positions, both on the field and on the coaching staff: cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line coach.