With an average age of 26.7 on their final 53-man roster, the Cardinals enter the year as one of the most veteran rosters in all football, surrounded with a litany of expectations in what has evolved into a crucial campaign in year three of the Kingsbury-Murray experiment.
While the faces of Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, and most recently, Malcolm Butler, are now gone, the arrivals of former NFL headliners A.J. Green, J.J. Watt, and Rodney Hudson join aging core piece Chandler Jones in what will present a front-line of experience and wisdom for a unit that will ultimately revolve around the success of 24-year-old dual-threat talent Kyler Murray. The major question remains: Will the aforementioned group compete, produce, and most importantly, stay healthy over the course of a 17-game campaign? And if so, at what level?
Surely Kingsbury doesn’t expect Watt to return to Defensive Player of the Year form, nor will he tailor his aerial game plan around Green on the outside, but what can we truly expect from the group of aging veterans?
Watt’s road back to the defensive edge has been a long, winding path of ups and downs. Now 32 years old, Watt is seemingly on the downslope of what has been an illustrious career that has included two DPOY awards, five Pro Bowl appearances, and three seasons in which he amassed 17.5-plus sacks. Following 2016 and 2017, where Watt appeared in just eight games total, he has started every game in two of the last three seasons in Houston where the franchise crumbled around him from the top down. Following the surprise departure of DeAndre Hopkins prior to the 2020 season, the two are now teammates again in the desert, where Watt hopes they can rekindle their past successes together in an attempt to lead the Cardinals back to the postseason for the first time in more than half a decade.
“It doesn't hurt when it is 65 degrees and sunny when I woke up this morning,” Watt said on one of the reasons why he chose to sign with Arizona. “But, make no mistake, I'm here to dominate on the field and help us win games.”
The same can be said about Green. A six-time 1,000-yard receiver, the former fourth overall selection a decade ago by the Cincinnati Bengals has seen his target share and production decrease substantially into the abyss over the last few seasons. While we’ve become accustomed to his domination on the outside, one can remain optimistic toward his role under the tutelage of Kingsbury. Slotted to start alongside Hopkins and Christian Kirk in what could prove to be one of the league’s most dominant offenses, I would argue with skeptics who believe Green is washed, “over the hedge”, or simply doesn’t have the talent to produce anymore. A change in atmosphere can revolutionize a player’s outlook on their career.
Throughout his NFL tenure, eyes have fixated on Green’s 6-foot-4 frame. With coordinators focused on stopping the run threat from Murray, deep balls to Kirk and first-year speed threat Rondale Moore, with Hopkins serving as the target hog of the offense, there is a role available for Green that he must fill if the Cardinals want to diversify their attack in as many ways as possible.
Usually, an aging team denotes a roster on the heels of prior success, or a franchise on the verge of a rebuild. We’ve seen it with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Houston Texans, who both have enjoyed postseason success over the last handful of seasons only to succumb to a head coaching change and quarterback switch to usher in a complete retooling of a roster. For Arizona, and for Kingsbury’s sake, production and leadership from his veteran core could offer the gateway to his future as the Cardinals’ head man.