TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals -- yet again -- sputtered down the stretch, culminating with an embarrassing blowout loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in the NFL wild-card round.
After starting 7-0, the Cardinals and coach Kliff Kingsbury finished the season 4-6 -- a year after finishing 3-6. Tensions are high inside the Cardinals' headquarters as the relationship between quarterback Kyler Murray and the team has become acrimonious. The frustration after the 2020 meltdown has been amplified after the 2021 collapse.
Arizona is heading into an offseason in which some of its major offensive players -- running backs James Conner and Chase Edmonds as well as receivers A.J. Green and Christian Kirk -- could be headed to free agency. This could give Cardinals general manager Steve Keim a chance to rebuild the offense around what Kingsbury and Murray want, and who they believe could help Arizona win down the stretch.
Projected salary-cap space: $2.4 million
Each are major hits against the cap in 2022. Phillips' cap number is $13.3 million and Pugh's is $10 million. Phillips was injured the last two years, playing in nine games each season and Pugh was effective in 2021 but with a number that high for a guard, the Cardinals could find a cheaper option.
The big question: Can the Cardinals add enough pieces this offseason to get out of their own way? The offseason started with plenty of drama after Murray scrubbed his Instagram account of all things Cardinals. The pressure will be on in 2022, but that can all be solved by adding the right players -- not just a lot of players. They need more offensive lineman to keep Murray protected and upright, and playmakers throughout the offense. Arizona needs to look at other teams who have stacked their offense with guys who have an impact on every play all over the field and then apply that to their offseason philosophy. Time may be running out to make a Super Bowl run with this core group.
Best-case scenario for the team's offseason: They sign younger playmakers who can lift the offense from struggling in the wild-card round to one capable of scoring enough to make a deep run in the postseason. They need an offense able to withstand a major injury, such as the one to receiver DeAndre Hopkins this season. Arizona's depth among offensive skill players was a major issue in 2021, so adding the right pieces through free agency and the draft could be the difference.
Worst-case scenario for the team's offseason: They sign a handful of aging players, both stars and non-stars, alike, who get injured throughout the season or simply don't produce. They draft another first-rounder who doesn't produce -- see Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins.
Early look at the NFL draft, from ESPN analyst Jordan Reid: The Cardinals will likely be in search of improvement in the trenches. With Jones hitting free agency, the defensive line needs a boost. On the other side, center Rodney Hudson is a good player, but general manager Steve Keim has to get more protection for Murray.
Top needs: DL, IOL, CB
Top pick: No. 23