I can not believe I am beginning to feel sorry for Ken Whisenhunt. But I am. And I may be the only one.
The Cardinals coach has begun to take serious heat from fans as the team stumbled into the halfway point of the NFL season with a 3-5 record. Forget that 3-5 is where most observers thought the Cardinals would be right now. But it is difficult to overlook the Whiz’s most glaring problem. The offense. Since there is no offensive coordinator and he calls plays from the sidelines, the offense is in essence Whiz’s baby.
But then you look at the reality. That reality to me at least is that the owner and the organization as a whole decided investing in player talent this season was not in the interest of the team’s long-range goals, that winning in 2010 was not the primary focus. That focus I believe was on capital preservation, saving money for the potential rainy days of 2011, when labor issues could lead to an owners lockout or a players strike. It could mean part or all of the season wiped out.
The Cardinals retrenchment is probably a smart move. But it is not a move they want to advertise. It is hard to raise ticket prices in one breath and say in the other `buy those tickets to see a bad product.”
The retrenchment would explain the quarterback situation. The sudden and shocking release of its one-time quarterback of the future, Matt Leinart, he with the big contract coming up in 2011, and muddling around with the failed Max Hall experiment, Hall with a small contract and only $5,000 invested in signing him. This is not to mention all the talent that departed after 2009 and was replaced by aging NFL retreads, like guard Alan Faneca and linebacker Joey Porter, both 33 years old, and linebacker Paris Lenon, 32. That you would replace a proven pro like tackle Mike Gandy with a struggling newcomer like Brandon Keith boggles the mind, and move another slow-footed tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side is equally astonishing.
Any way you cut it, the Cardinals built this team for one year and one year only. For 2010.
The Cardinals arguably could’ve made a run at a proven commodity at quarterback, like Donovan McNabb, but didn’t. And, again on offense, add the under-performing of recent No. 1 draft picks, tackle Levi Brown and running back Beanie Wells, the discarding of Leinart and the disinterest in finding a tight end that can not only block but catch. Brown and Wells, by the way, being tied together through separate drafts. If the Cardinals used the Levi Brown pick as they should’ve, running back Adrian Peterson would be here, not in Minnesota, and there would’ve been no need to draft the injury-plagued Wells.
If these decisions were in essence all made by the owning Bidwill family telling GM Rod Graves, “Save money anyway you can, but we need to get down to this dollar figure for our budget going into 2011,” then perhaps the Whiz needs a break, that the coach is biting the bullet for everyone in the organization, taking the heat while they hide in the shadows.
In that case, the Cardinals mantra, “We do this together,” takes on a whole different aspect.
So what Cardinals fans are watching in Sunday’s all-important home game with the Seattle Seahawks is a game within a game. On one hand the Cardinals are a watered-down product, much less than they should’ve been, and for sure an aesthetic failure. They struggle along with nearly the worst team stats in the league, on defense as well as offense.
But, here they are in mid-November, with a shot at winning the division and getting another stab at the playoffs.
Maybe we should come to praise the Whiz, not to bury him, to salute him in a way for what he’s had to put up with as the organization’s front man. That he could win a division title this year might be the brightest red feather in his so-far distinguished cap.