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The Cardinals are moving toward fulfilling Kliff Kingsbury’s vision

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The Kyler Murray show will continue next year. How will the Cardinals’ new pieces help him thrive?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray were always a perfect match on paper, but it was still surprising how competent the pairing was in their first year with the Cardinals. Kingsbury’s air raid offense not only needs time to mature in the NFL, but also relies on offensive playmakers that Arizona simply doesn’t have.

Despite that, Murray and the offense thrived at times last season. It was evident the Cardinals still had a lot of holes, but Murray showed flashes of what the Cardinals can be with time and talent.

This offseason, the Cardinals need to make moves to be competitive next season in a tough NFC West division. The top order should be bringing in more playmakers on offense to support Murray and execute Kingsbury’s vision.

Arizona Cardinals (5-10-1), missed playoffs

Murray can do a lot with a little, but the Cardinals need to get him some protection and a reliable weapon or two.

Before free agency:

  1. Offensive tackle: The Cardinals took care of the left tackle spot when they extended D.J. Humphries on a three-year deal. But they also have a need at the other tackle spot. Waiver claim Justin Murray played well at right tackle, and Arizona could bring him back. The team could also find a new starting tackle with the No. 8 pick in the draft, like Tristan Wirfs of Iowa, to ensure Kyler Murray isn’t sacked 48 times again.
  2. Wide receiver: Larry Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere, but he’ll be 37 when the season starts. Even though the Cardinals have some good, young receivers like Andy Isabella and Christian Kirk, Kingsbury’s offense could use another big-play wideout to help Murray’s growth.
  3. Linebacker: Chandler Jones remains worth every penny of the big-money contract he signed in 2017, but his supporting cast at linebacker hasn’t been nearly as inspired. Former first-round pick Haason Reddick has been ineffective. Jordan Hicks, who signed a $34 million contract last offseason, disappointed with a career-high 21 missed tackles. That leaves plenty of room for upgrades on the edge and inside in Glendale.

What Revenge of the Birds wants most this offseason: This offseason is all about building on what was good growth offensively. The Cardinals need to find another weapon outside for Murray and make sure they have a long-term solution ready along the offensive line at right tackle and right guard. Finally, the defense needs the same type of rebrand, which makes this offseason tough. When you need to figure out two or three spots on offense and potentially need six or seven starters on defense the offseason can seem a bit daunting. For me, that means finishing the offense before turning your focus to finding a way to rebuild the defense. — Seth Cox

After free agency:

The Cardinals got a huge upgrade on offense in their trade for receiver DeAndre Hopkins from Houston. Arizona also did a good job upgrading at linebacker, signing De’Vondre Campbell and Devon Kennard.

1. Offensive tackle: The Cardinals re-signed Marcus Gilbert to a one-year deal, but he hasn’t played in double-digit games in a season since 2016. Getting a highly touted tackle for Murray in the first round should still be the plan.

2. Defensive line: Arizona acquired Jordan Phillips from the Bills, but the Cardinals could use another solid edge rusher or defensive tackle to complement him. There are plenty of talented defensive linemen in this year’s draft class who might be there in the second round, such as TCU’s Ross Blacklock.

3. Running back: Transition-tagging Kenyan Drake made sense, but the Cardinals could still use another back to replace David Johnson, who went to Houston with the Hopkins trade. They should be able to find good value on Day 3 of the draft.

After the draft:

Somewhat surprisingly, the Cardinals didn’t go with an offensive tackle in the first round. Instead, the opted for the “best player available” strategy, which worked out.

Not only did that land them Clemson’s do-everything defender Isaiah Simmons, but they also lucked into Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones in the third round. Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin, a seventh-round pick, can help out as a third running back.

Arizona didn’t ignore its defensive line, either. The Cardinals added Utah’s Leki Fotu and LSU’s Rashard Lawrence in the fourth round.

Dan Kadar’s draft grade: A-