Move over Cowboys, Raiders, Steelers and any other legacy NFL franchise with an outsized national fan base.
The Arizona Cardinals have muscled their way into that class with a series of bold moves, the latest of which adds J.J. Watt, arguably the greatest pass rusher in the history of football.
We’re not going to spend much energy on the X’s and O’s of this signing. There will be plenty of time for fans and analysts to argue over strategy, fit, contract, longevity and durability. Each topic represents a valid concern that will be addressed in due time.
Right now, we should recognize how general manager Steve Keim and owner Michael Bidwill have maneuvered the Cardinals into the spotlight.
A major addition
Watt is a huge addition, literally — the guy is 6-foot-5 and nearly 300 pounds — and figuratively. He’s the only player in the history of the NFL to get 20 or more sacks in multiple seasons.
Watt has gotten to the quarterback 101 times through 128 games. There are only six guys in NFL history with better numbers. Perhaps you’ve heard of a few of them? Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
This marks the third offseason in a row that the Cardinals’ personnel moves have been the talk of professional football. Last year, Arizona acquired the best wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. And two years ago, they drafted the game’s most dynamic young quarterback, Kyler Murray.
But Watt, Hopkins and Murray are also going to sell the Arizona Cardinals by raising the organization’s profile with football players and fans across a landscape that’s decreasingly tied to location and increasingly connected to star power.
The major networks will be all over this move. Prime free agents will consider the Cardinals as a wish-list destination. And fans in no-hope NFL cities will have a new squad to keep an eye on.
It’s debatable how Watt will fit with Chandler Jones; that’s a matter of opinion and imagination. (The guess here is that those guys will work together just fine.)
It’s debatable whether Hopkins or Julio Jones or Michael Thomas is the best receiver over the last five years; that’s a matter of value and bias. (It’s Hopkins, though. Just sayin’.)
And it’s debatable whether Murray can put himself on the list of the game’s greatest quarterbacks by acting like Barry Sanders combined with Brett Favre consistently over a full season; that’s something time will only be able to tell. (And man, is that evolution going to be fun to watch.)
What isn’t debatable is the legitimacy of these debates. If there’s value in being the talk of the league, the Cardinals are about to find out exactly what it is.
Keim and Bidwill have crashed a party that has typically invited teams that first made their mark decades ago.
The Cowboys haven’t had an offseason this fun in a long while. Mostly, Dallas fans have been left to wonder how much money team owner Jerry Jones would be willing to pay quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have a fancy new stadium that most fans haven’t seen, but the club’s offseason moves haven’t been nearly as flashy. There was the Antonio Brown drama a couple of years ago, but that was negative attention.
And Steelers offseasons have mostly been about whether Ben Roethlisberger will retire.
It’s not an overstatement to say the Cardinals have entered a new class thanks to a series of bold moves, including the addition of Watt.