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2017 NFL preview: The Cardinals dreams rest on Carson Palmer

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We’re previewing the NFL heading into training camp, mixing and matching 49ers opponents and other teams. Today, we look at the Arizona Cardinals.

NFL training camp gets going in three weeks, and that means the NFL regular season is only two months away. I imagine most of us will be focusing on our San Francisco 49ers during training camp, but it will help to know a little bit about the rest of the league. SB Nation’s 32 NFL sites are putting together basic rundowns of what their team has been up to this offseason.

Each explainer includes free agent additions and departures, trades, draft picks expected to contribute as rookies, biggest offseason addition, biggest storyline, underrated storyline, and notable injuries. The idea is to give you a quick but thorough background on each team. We’ll use these to look at 49ers opponents, but if we have time, I want to try and use all 32 to give us a nice look around the league.

Today, we move on to the Arizona Cardinals, courtesy of our friends at Revenge of the Birds. The 49ers travel to face Arizona in Week 4, and host them in Week 9. They have lost four straight, although they almost sprung an upset in Glendale last November. After falling behind 14-0, they eventually tied the game at 20 just under the 2-minute warning. Arizona drove down the field and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Arizona had a rough 2016, finishing 7-8-1 after making it to the NFC title game the season before. Carson Palmer struggled and they will need a serious rebound from him in 2017. Injuries are a concern, but just getting old is an issue. And with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert competing for the backup role behind Palmer, there’s no significant room for error.

David Johnson is coming off a huge 2016 season, and expectations remain high for him. But if Palmer struggles out of the gate, or if he suffers an injury that costs him some games, Arizona is in a world of hurt. They have made some significant additions on defense, including Antoine Bethea and Haason Reddick, but none of that will matter if this offense doesn’t get more on track.

Poll

How will the 49ers two games with the Cardinals go?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    49ers 2-0
    (42 votes)
  • 30%
    Cardinals 2-0
    (75 votes)
  • 52%
    Split
    (128 votes)
245 votes total Vote Now

Notable free agent additions: Antoine Bethea, Jarvis Jones, Karlos Dansby,

Notable free agent departures: Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Swearinger, Marcus Cooper, Kevin Minter

Trades: Traded 2nd and 4th picks in 2017 NFL Draft for Budda Baker.

Traded 3rd round pick in 2017 NFL Draft for late 3rd (Chad Williams) and 4th (Dorian Johnson) round pick in 2017 NFL Draft.

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

Haason Reddick, LB, Round 1 - Drafted 13th overall, Reddick has been thrust into the starting lineup with the offseason surgery for Deone Bucannon. Even before the injuries, Reddick was expected to be a key contributor on third downs as a pass rusher or blitzing from the linebacker position.

Budda Baker, DB, Round 2 - Baker is going to be on the field all over the secondary. One of the things Arizona loves to do is to use versatile players in different ways, giving them a matchup advantage on defense. Baker will be another chess piece, similar to Tyrann Mathieu, that can be moved from a single high safety, to an in the box player, to lining up in the slot as a corner.

T.J. Logan, RB, Round 5 - Logan is expected to be the return man on kickoffs at minimum for the Arizona Cardinals, who were dreadful in this area last season. Logan is a dynamic player with an ability to make things happen in the return game for the Cardinals.

Chad Williams, WR, Round 3 - While Williams is not expected to contribute much in year one, the Cardinals wide receiver corps had to deal with a lot of injuries and ineffective play in 2016. If that carries over into 2017, Williams could be the beneficiary of an extended look in a passing game that needs his physicality.

Biggest offseason addition:

Reddick and Baker - While the Cardinals didn’t necessarily need either player, both young defenders add a dimension of athleticism to the defense that they lacked at times last year. They also provide young depth at positions that was lacking in 2016.

The real biggest addition for this team is health. They had a lot of injuries to key players that didn’t get talked about, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Justin Bethel and Deone Bucannon all played through injuries in 2016. If they can get right, that will be a huge boost to the 2017 Cardinals.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp:

Carson Palmer and the offense. While there are more questions about the defense, Palmer and the offense will make this team a contender or a pretender. If they can find an early rhythm in the season and the offensive line can keep Palmer clean, they will buy enough time for the defense to figure it out. If the offense stumbles out of the gate again, they’ll likely be headed for another mediocre season as the defense will not be ready to win games that early.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:

What’s the limit for David Johnson? He was spectacular in his sophomore season, but only a handful of players have been used like he was in 2016 and then produced again the following year. Is he in line with some notable Hall of Famers like Marshall Faulk and LaDanian Tomlinson, or will his star shine bright and burn out quickly?

Notable injuries heading into training camp:

Deone Bucannon - May miss beginning of season.

A.Q. Shipley - Likely to be ready for start of season.