The Arizona Cardinals 2015 season came to a crashing end with their 49-15 shellacking at the hands of the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday, and now have a lot of decisions to make this offseason. The Cardinals set a franchise-record 13 regular season wins and won the NFC West division crown for the third time in franchise history.
“Looking at the team that’s coming back versus where we were this time last year, very few holes to fill,” head coach Bruce Arians said when asked about the state of the Cardinals.
Arizona appears set at quarterback — as long as 36-year old Carson Palmer returns following his career season — and wide receiver. The Cards also have plenty of depth in the secondary and on the defensive line, according to the Arizona Republic.
Arizona does have a lot of decisions to make this offseason, as the Cardinals have 17 unrestricted free agents. But one of the team’s priorities this offseason, according to NFL.com, appears locking up safety Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu, who tore his ACL on December 20, has one year left on his rookie contract.
Mathieu set career-highs in every statistical category, and ranked as the league’s top cornerback in Pro Football Focus advanced metrics. The first time All-Pro selection registered 89 tackles, 17 pass defended and five interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
For his part, Mathieu seems to open to staying with the Cardinals for the foreseeable future.
“Obviously, I love this team, I love this locker room, I love the coaching staff, upper management. I think this is the perfect place for me. I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life here.”
Mathieu added that he expected to be healed by summertime, though he planned on taking his time this go around. The Honey Badger previously tore his ACL late in December during his rookie season, and didn’t return to field until the second week of the 2014 season. However, he struggled early on and didn’t return to form until midway through the season.
Of the 17 unrestricted free agents, seven were starters last year, and several more were important contributors. Some of the more important free agents include OLB Dwight Freeney, TE Jermaine Gresham, RB Chris Johnson, CB Jerraud Powers, C Lyle Sendlein, T Bobby Massie, QB Drew Stanton, S Rashad Johnson, and G Ted Larsen.
Freeney had a great year rushing the passer, but he really didn’t do anything else and may not return next year. The 35-year-old registered eight sacks and forced three fumbles in 11 games last season, though he only had nine tackles.
Gresham didn’t produce big numbers, but did demonstrate the ability to make big plays. The 27-year-old had 18 receptions, with 13 going for first downs. He was targeted just 32 times.
Chris Johnson led the Cards with 814 yards on 196 carries and had three touchdowns. The 30-year-old played in 11 games as he landed on injured reserve after fracturing his tibia. The season was a nice bounce back year for Johnson after a disappointing 2014 season – he rushed for 100-yards four times. Johnson’s future with the team is uncertain due to the performance of David Johnson and Andre Ellington when Johnson was out.
Powers and Rashad Johnson are two of the most important pieces in the Cardinals’ secondary, according to ESPN. Powers started 13 games this past season, recording 52 tackles to go along with one interception and nine pass defended. In the meanwhile, Johnson registered 61 tackles and five interceptions to go along with seven pass defended.
Massie, Sendlein and Larson combined to start 39 of 48 games. Massie is the best of the trio and had one teammate say this about him.
“Bobby (Massie). I thought he had a great year. Whether he stays here or whether he doesn’t, he’s going to get paid a lot of money.”
Stanton didn’t get a lot of playing time, completing 11-of-25 passes for 104 yards and two interceptions. It will be interesting to see if the 31-year-old returns, or if the Cards decide to draft a quarterback.
Arizona also has four restricted free agents – WR Jaron Brown, P Drew Butler, S Tony Jefferson, and S D.J.Swearinger.
[Photo by Matt York/Associated Press]