Something is seriously amiss with the Cardinals. I don’t mean their on-field play. That certainly is bad enough. I’m talking about the organization, from ownership on down. I smell “the old Cardinals” again. Apparently not even the new stadium, now in its fifth year, can erase the DNA. Does the smell of penury linger in the desert air?
You can start with the jettison of Matt Leinart, supposedly destined to be the quarterback this season and an adequate replacement during this period of transition for the departed star, Kurt Warner. His release one week before the start of regular season was, to many, a shocker. He had big money coming to him in 2011. Leinart’s departure left the first real cloud of uncertainty over the organization. Leinart was left in the dark, saying only his demotion and departure had nothing to do with football. He and the head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, had obviously little communication.
Then take the growing puzzle over Beanie Wells, the running back and No. 1 draft choice last year. Here, we are well into his second season and he has yet to start a game. There seems little question Wells has much more talent than the current starter, Tim Hightower. Finally this week a frustrated Beanie finally exploded, saying his predicament is “crazy,” and saying he has no idea why he is not a big part of the Cardinals game plan. Again, little communication between Whisenhunt and player. Could it be that Beanie would receive huge incentive money this season for starting an x-number of games or having so many rushing attempts?
Perhaps it all started with Mike Gandy, last season’s starting left tackle, the offensive line’s highest paid player and the one most responsible for protecting Warner’s backside. Think the biographical film, “Blind Side,” and Michael Oher. In January, Gandy’s contract came up for renewal. Cardinals.com reported the team might be interested in doing another contract “but will let him walk if he asks for too much money.” Gandy did not sign, and the Cardinals line has suffered mightily during the first four games.
Another seemingly tell-tale sign lies with Whisenhunt himself. This is the second year in a row there has been no offensive coordinator. One can argue no coordinator was needed for Warner. He was for practical purposes the coordinator of the offense. But with Leinart out of the picture and a new starting quarterback in the suspect Derek Anderson, this of all years would be the time to bring on a new coordinator. Is it Whisenhunt’s need for control of the offense? Or is it money, a budget problem?
And then you wonder about the loss of two stars, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and linebacker Karlos Dansby. That the team was unable or unwilling to bring on capable backups is another point that begs an answer.
Although the Cardinals are 1-0 in the NFC-West and 2-2 overall, it’s looking less and less doubtful that they can reclaim their division title. The 0-4 San Francisco 49ers and the San Bradford-led St. Louis Rams could still pose problems. At the moment the Cardinals appear a bad team, going nowhere. Perhaps a change in quarterback, to Max Hall, will make a difference soon. Maybe even this week at home with reigning Super Bowl champ New Orleans. But . . . .
There is no way a viable NFL organization can enter a season with such a dithering mess at its most visible position. There is no way the Cardinals should have ended up with Derek Anderson and two rookies playing behind him. Hall, an undrafted free agent, may turn out to be the next Joe Montana, or even Alex Smith. Who knows at this point? The point is this. There was no backup plan in place once Leinart was giving his walking orders.
Are the owners, the Bidwills, toying unnecessarily with the purse strings again? Are they strapped for liquidity even as the so-called Great Recession slowly comes out of it? Are they needing additional funds to sink into their real estate holding around the stadium in Westgate? Are they trying to prepare in some way for an anticipated labor dispute with players in 2011? Whatever, I’d bet neither Whisenhunt nor the general manager, Rod Graves, has much control of the situation.
The smell of money issues runs thick.