The last available head coaching job was finally filled when the Arizona Cardinals hired Jonathan Gannon. He spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. He led the defense to become one of the toughest in the league. Gannon gets his first head coaching job after 15 years in the NFL. He has previously worked for the Falcons, Rams, Titans, Vikings, and Colts under some most prominent names in the coaching world, like Frank Reich, Bobby Petrino, Steve Spagnuolo, and Mike Zimmer. He comes to the desert with a chance to build a team and prove he can be the head coach. Gannon has plenty of coaching experience to lean on but not much this high up. He only has two years as a coordinator on his resume and no previous head coaching experience.
The Cardinals have Kyler Murray, but it doesn’t look like he will be available for the start of the 2023 season. Gannon has come out and said that having Kyler being there was one of the reasons he took that job. As a defensive-minded guy, Gannon knows what it’s like to have to plan against a dual-threat quarterback. He just saw firsthand what Jalen Hurts can do in an offense that utilizes and emphasizes that skill set. Gannon will want to utilize Murray’s ability to create plays with his legs on top of his passing.
Gannon must bring in the right offensive coordinator to help, as he has only done defensive coaching in his tenure. Unlocking Kyler’s ability will be vital in getting him back to what we have seen from the young quarterback. In his first three years in the league, Kyler was a top-ten QB. In his second year, in 2020, Kyler had 11 rushing touchdowns and 819 yards on the ground. On top of that, he added close to 4,000 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Kyler can be a top-10 quarterback. He won’t finish the season there because he will miss a chunk of games. He will probably still struggle to regain his top ten ways in his first few games. Coming off an ACL and meniscus tear, it’s a long road to recovery. Do the Cardinals pick up a veteran who can play like a Jacoby Brissett type at the start of the season, or do they bring in a lower-end rookie and see what they can be while Murray gets healthy?
With Gannon focusing on the defense, it will take some pressure off the quarterback as they shouldn’t have to be in shootouts with teams and can rely on making smart plays and winning close games. The offensive line has a ton of holes that need to be filled. Out of the total 5,940 snaps taken on the O-line in 2023, players who account for 4,750 of them are hitting the free agency market. Having a new offensive line might mean that Kyler and whoever is under center must make more plays with their legs.
The Running Backs
James Conner will continue to be the lead back for the Cardinals, but you probably aren’t excited about that. On top of the fact that he hasn’t ever played an entire season in his six-year career, he also hasn’t averaged over 4.5 yards per carry since his first two seasons.
The Cardinals drafted Keaontay Ingram in the sixth round in last year’s draft. Despite Conner missing time, he played as much as you would expect from a sixth-rounder.
With the offensive line being a major point of off-season spending, I hope the Cards and Gannon bring in at least one veteran rusher to help fill out the backfield. If Gannon uses a system similar to what we have seen the past two years in Philadephia, then Conner will be a low-end RB2. The Eagles ran the ball the fourth most in 2022. Miles Sanders was eighth in total carries with 259, but he could play all 17 games. Jalen Hurts added another 165 carries, which were good for the 34th most in the league.
Without Kyler being available, Conner and the running backs should be the focal point early in the season and, when healthy, should be very good. It’s an excellent opportunity to sell high on an older player before he falls off later in the season. From a dynasty, If the Cardinals draft a guy before the fifth round, it could be a player that will provide dividends in a few years. Conner is soon to be 28 and already has a lengthy injury history.
The Wide Receivers
The Cardinals have gone all in the past few years. Before the 2020 season, they made a huge splash. They traded for DeAndre Hopkins, and then this past year, made a surprise trade for Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Arizona has continued to look to bolster the receiving corps, adding Robbie Anderson and AJ Green.
They head into the 2023 offseason with rumors swirling that Hopkins will be traded. Along with Kyler getting injured, the offense was hampered by missed games from Brown, Green, and Rondale Moore. Hopkins missed the first six games due to a suspension for PED use.
If Hopkins does get traded away, the Cardinals will probably be looking to add another weapon opposite Brown. Short speedsters Moore and Greg Dortch are best fit for slot work, and the other receivers on the team have yet to show they can be an every-down player. That could come via free agency, even though it’s less than a stellar group. It could come via a trade, like how they acquired Hollywood or the draft. The Cards hold the third overall pick and are in a prime spot to trade back if a team is looking to move up for a quarterback if one falls there. It remains to be seen what type of offensive scheme Gannon will want to have now that he is calling the shot. If it’s anything like Philly, it will be run first but have enough passing to support two high-end wide receivers.
The Tight Ends
The Cardinals have a luxury that many teams don’t have, two excellent tight ends. Veteran Zach Ertz and sophomore Trey Mcbride combined last season for 108 targets, 76 receptions, 671 yards, and five touchdowns. Ertz missed the season’s final seven games but still finished as TE19. He is getting up there, turning 33 years old this season, but has shown he can still be a substantial part of the offense. He ran routes on 91.2% of his snaps, according to PFF.com.
The tight end could be his outlet if the quarterback struggles with pressure. Ertz is recovering from a knee injury but should be ready for the start of the season. He is an excellent option for win-now teams looking for a two-year piece. Rookie tight ends generally don’t do well, and McBride was no exception. He has the skill set to be a solid fantasy option. His ability to step up is held back by having Ertz in front of him and the longer timetable for Murray to return to his peak form. It’s plenty of time for McBride to mature into a solid tight end in his third year, just as Ertz is leaving town and Kyler is back to 100%. He represents a great buy-now candidate for dynasty managers.
Was Gannon the Best Hire?
The Cardinals owners have Super Bowl aspirations every year, and anything less than that is a complete failure in their eyes. They waited for the longest to hire a new head coach bringing in a guy who just ran a defense that was one of the best in the league and went to a Super Bowl.
Bringing in a defensive-minded head coach makes sense. The Cards were fourth worse in point differential at -109. He has been around the league for a long time. He has much experience and connections to build a staff that can help him in his first head coaching venture. His seat might get hot sooner rather than later.
Gannon doesn’t have the winning experience that his predecessor Kliff Kingsbury had. Kingsbury was let go after four years. He had a good team the previous two till this year but was thwarted by injuries. It’s a sign that ownership and management won’t tolerate losing seasons, and maybe even an early playoff exit might not save his job.
For a team with lofty goals, bringing in someone with minimal coordinator experience and no head coaching experience is a huge gamble. It seems like an overreaction to how bad the defense was in 2022. The team wants to fix that and hopes recovery from injuries will improve the offense.
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