The Arizona Cardinals are the longest continuously run pro football team in America, having been founded in 1898 in Chicago. The team has moved around plenty, from Chicago to St. Louis and then finally arriving in Phoenix in 1988 before taking the Arizona name in 1994. In all that time though, the team has been frustratingly unsuccessful. They have won just two championships, in 1925 and 1947, and in the Super Bowl era they have just seven divisional titles and one Super Bowl appearance in 2008.
In recent years the Cardinals have bounced between competitive and awful. That 2008 Super Bowl appearance was soon followed by a 2010 team that went 5-11 after Kurt Warner retired. In 2015 under Bruce Arians the Cardinals were a revelation and went 13-3, getting all the way to the NFC championship game. The followed that year with a 7-8-1 record. Inconsistency has plagued this team for decades now, and in 2018 they fell to the very foot of the NFL with a 3-13 record that saw the first and last season of the Steve Wilks era.
Thankfully, in Madden 19 you get the chance to bring some glory to this franchise at long last. In Franchise Mode you can take over the reins of the team and try to lead them to their first Super Bowl victory, but it will be an uphill struggle. The Cardinals start Franchise Mode with an awful 73 overall rating. This is tied for the worst in Madden 19 and is made up of a 73 rated offense and a 79 rated defense. There is a lot of work to be done to bring this team up to a competitive level, let’s start by looking at their salary cap situation and see how much money you have to play with.
Arizona Cardinals Salary Cap
The Cardinals start Franchise Mode with 69 players on the roster and $56.6 million in cap space. This is a very good foundation to begin your rebuilding project from. You will need to cut 16 players to make it down to the regular season roster limit of 53 players, but this is easy to do. There are 35 players that can be cut without incurring any cap penalty. You also don’t need to cut anyone for financial reasons, allowing you to hold onto players like Benson Mayowa and his $1.5 million cap hit.
With that much cap space you will be able to add a few free agents immediately. Players like Cliff Avril, Vontae Davis, and Jack Mewhort can be productive additions to your season 1 roster. You’ll also be able to pursue free agents after season 1 and re-sign any of your own players you want to.
Arizona Cardinals Impending Free Agents
The Cardinals have 37 players entering the final year of their contract when you start Franchise Mode. That sounds like a lot but many will be part of your pre-season roster cuts and most of the others are at the bottom of the depth chart and can be allowed to leave without any real problem. However, there are some who you will want to re-sign or need to have a succession plan for if they leave.
The first player you need to think about is starting free safety Tre Boston. He is just 26 and is playing season 1 on a very cheap 1-year, $1.2 million deal. At 83 OVR he isn’t going to blow anyone away but he is a very solid player and the kind of talent every team needs in its secondary. You should retain him even if you have your eyes set on a replacement.
Defensive end Markus Golden is next on the list. He is a starting end opposite star Chandler Jones and so should be retained too. Golden is one of six defensive ends on the roster that will be a free agent after season 1, and even if you have designs on signing a new starter you need players like Golden to fill out your depth chart and take snaps in the event of injury.
#3 cornerback David Amerson is also an impending free agent. While the Cardinals have two good corners already you will end up playing most defensive snaps with three on the field, making Amerson an effective starter for your defense. At 75 OVR he isn’t great, but like golden should probably be retained for depth purposes in season 2 and beyond.
Other key impending free agents: Phil Dawson (K), Ricky Seals-Jones (TE), Benson Mayowa (DE), Deone Bucannon (OLB)
Arizona Cardinals Roster Needs
The Cardinals took quarterback Josh Rosen with their top pick in 2018, and while he is a work in progress his presence means you don’t have to go hunting for a starting quarterback any time soon. That alone is a very comforting fact as having a quarterback is the key piece for any team.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done around Rosen. The offensive line is a car crash. It doesn’t have a single starter with an OVR of 78 or above, meaning all five spots need to be replaced sooner rather than later. That process should start with the center and right tackle spots. There is also a lack of talent at the receiver positions. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald is still there, but at 35 years old he won’t be for long. There are some interesting rookies like Christian Kirk around who could develop into useful players, but they lack a star playmaker either at wide receiver or tight end. Thankfully running back David Johnson is excellent and has 4 years left on his contract so you can lean on him.
Defensively things aren’t quite as bad for the Cardinals, but they aren’t great. The defensive line needs some help around Chandler Jones. There defensive tackle spot isn’t awful but they are missing a quality playmaker to work with Jones. Linebacker is also a problematic position for the Cardinals. They invested in Haason Reddick recently but he is weak in coverage while the middle linebacker spot is totally devoid of talent. The secondary is at least a bright spot for Arizona, but that 3rd cornerback spot could use improving too.
Your priority should be to fix the offensive line. That will give you the protection to use Josh Rosen properly and a base from which to run the ball. There are several great pass rushers that could hit free agency after season 1 so if any of Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, DeMarcus Lawrence, or Brandon Graham do hit the open market then you should sign one. That way you can improve your defense and then turn your draft attention to the offensive line. Wide receivers are usually quite plentiful in the draft, but the elite athletes always disappear quickly so if you do find a talent that you like don’t be afraid to take him early. Cornerbacks are harder to find, but there are some veterans potentially hitting free agency that could plug a gap for you in the short-term while you invest draft capital elsewhere.
If you can develop Josh Rosen, then this team isn’t too far from competing, but the longer he sits behind a poor offensive line the more likely he is to get injured and miss time, robbing him of XP and development. Get the line fixed as soon as you can so you can maximize Rosen’s cheap contract and bring this team back from the basement of the NFL.