The worst of times: Is this the nadir of the Cardinals franchise in Arizona?

To say that the Arizona Cardinals have had a tumultuous last year and a half or so would be an understatement. During this time period, the team has gone from one of the highest points in its history here in the desert—that now-dreamlike 10-2 start to the 2021 season—to what now is one of its lowest points.

How did we get here? Here’s a quick, and surely incomplete, list of everything that has gone wrong since that 10-2 start.

  • The Cardinals lost 4 of its final 5 regular season games to lose the NFC West title and finish 11-6. Injuries were a factor in the collapse, with DeAndre Hopkins’ injury woes looming the largest.
  • That season ended with an embarrassing 34-11 loss to the eventual Super Bowl–winning Los Angeles Rams, a game where it looked like the Cardinals were barely even trying.
  • Almost immediately after that concerning end to the season, Michael Bidwill gave then HC Kliff Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim 5-year extensions that seemed head-scratching at the time… and disastrous in retrospect.
  • Extension in hand, Keim basically punted last offseason, letting several players go without adequately replacing them and failing to address several glaring weaknesses that bit the team in the ass almost immediately (interior O-line, pass rush, cornerback).
  • DeAndre Hopkins was suspended for the first 6 games of the 2022 season for violating the league’s PED policy.
  • Halfway through last season, offensive line coach/running game coordinator Sean Kugler was fired for allegedly groping a woman when the team was in Mexico City. He later filed an arbitration request that is still ongoing as far as I can tell.
  • On the opening play of the team’s Week 14 game against the New England Patriots, Kyler Murray tore his ACL, an injury he is still recovering from. His status for the 2023 season is uncertain at this point.
  • The team slogged through a 4-13 season, one of the worst records in franchise history. Kingsbury and Keim were fired after the season just one year after signing those extensions.
  • The 4-13 record included a brutal 1-8 home record (this includes the Mexico City game, which was a Cardinals “home” game). The Cardinals are now 1-13 in their last 14 home games, including a stretch of 8 home losses in a row.
  • After firing Kingsbury, the Cardinals pursued Sean Payton very publicly. He eventually chose the Denver Broncos job while the Cardinals were linked to over a dozen other candidates before eventually choosing (settling on?) former Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon.
  • Also this offseason, the NFLPA released a report card for each team. The Cardinals were rated as one of the worst—if not the worst—franchise in the league, with horrendous marks in areas like treatment of families, food services, weight/training room, and locker room.
  • Finally, and perhaps most damning of all, is the still-developing story of former executive Terry McDonough accusing Bidwill of “cheating, discrimination and harassment” tied to the period when Keim was suspended from the team due to his DUI arrest.

Ugh, it was ugly writing all that out and briefly reliving it. This organization has turned into a soap opera—and not even a watchable one, at that. And it will likely get worse this coming season with Kyler’s availability in question, Hopkins likely traded away, and new GM Monti Ossenfort using this offseason to clean up our salary cap situation and stockpile assets for the future. There’s a very real possibility that the 2023 Cardinals will be as bad or worse than the 2022 team.

So, yeah, this is an undeniable low point for the Cardinals franchise since they moved to the Phoenix market in the late ‘80s. But is it the lowest of low points, the franchise’s rock bottom, its nadir? Unfortunately, with a franchise as maligned as the Cardinals, there are several other contenders. Let’s take a quick look at some of the other franchise low points to see if we’re truly at the bottom here in 2023.

I’ll be honest—this era was before my time. The Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988, when I was but 5 years old. I actually was somewhat of a football fan even at that young age. Our family moved from Colorado sometime around this time, and my parents were Broncos fans. I rooted for them a bit, I suppose, but I also remember rooting for the Bengals because I liked their helmets. (Hey, I was in kindergarten.) I later became a Dolphins fan because I liked the number 13 and, thus, Dan Marino. (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective also helped.) I had a dim knowledge that my home state had a football team, but they were so bad that no one really seemed to pay them much heed.

It’s easy to see why. During the 6 seasons that the Cardinals had the “Phoenix Cardinals” moniker, they were a combined 32-64 (a robust .333 winning percentage), never finishing better than 7-9 or better than fourth in the 5-team NFC East. They played at a college stadium (Sun Devil Stadium) where Cardinals fans were routinely outnumbered by fans of the opposing team. We had such luminaries as Gary Hogeboom, Top Tupa, Timm Rosenbach, Stan Gelbaugh, Chris Chandler, and Steve Beuerlein at QB. The Cardinals didn’t become relevant—and I finally became a fan—until a few years later when the team drafted hometown hero (and Sun Devil Stadium veteran) Jake Plummer.

Jake Plummer also featured in another contender for the franchise’s desert nadir. After a couple years under Buddy Ryan and the new “Arizona Cardinals” moniker, the Cardinals turned to HC Vince Tobin and starting QB Jake Plummer. The high point of this era was undeniably the 1998-1999 season that culminated with the franchise’s first playoff win in a half-century (and over the rival Cowboys, no less).

But two years later, the bottom fell out. Plummer had a scattershot season that included a 56.8 completion percentage and a 13:21 TD:INT ratio. The defense was abysmal, setting numerous team records for futility. Tobin was fired midseason, replaced with the well-liked but overmatched Dave McGinnis. It was so bad that then-owner Bill Bidwill looked into moving the franchise yet again. I vividly remember seeing news stories about this. Thankfully, the move never happened as Arizona taxpayers approved a measure to help finance a new stadium for the Cardinals. But the team being so bad that ownership considered relocating is a true low point.

That brings us to our final contender for the worst of the worst of the Cardinals’ time in the desert—and one that should be very familiar for RotB readers. I wrote plenty about it during my first season as an RotB writer, with no piece perhaps as relevant as this one. (It also references that 2000-2001 season.) But to quickly recap this atrocious season, we have to start with Bruce Arians “retiring” and Carson Palmer retiring after the 2017-2018 season following a run of sustained success for the franchise going all the way back to the opening of the new stadium and the hiring of Ken Whisenhunt in the mid-aughts. To replace franchise icons Arians and Palmer, Bidwill and Keim brought in Steve Wilks and Josh Rosen. Almost immediately, Keim was arrested for that DUI. He was fined and suspended, but there was public uproar at his relatively light punishment.

It only got worse after that inauspicious start to the season. Wilks quickly proved he was in over his head and Rosen looked like a bust from the get-go. Both men were out of the desert after just one season. This was also the season with the 45-10 Thursday Night Football beatdown at the hands of the Broncos that led to OC Mike McCoy (there’s a name I’m glad to not have thought about in years) being fired, and also the season when Patrick Peterson requested a trade before being suspended for PED use at the beginning of the next season. Sam Bradford was (briefly) involved. This was even the year when Bill Bidwill passed away (and it can’t be ruled out that the team’s futility wasn’t a contributing factor). There’s no doubt this is a strong, strong contender for the franchise’s nadir.

So: Which contender takes the cake as the franchise’s low point in the Valley? It’s tough to choose. The franchise’s first few years in Phoenix, playing in a half-full Sun Devil Stadium? The team playing so bad in 2000 (still at Sun Devil Stadium) that they almost relocated yet again? The basically unwatchable Wilks/Rosen season? Or is it now, coming off the 4-13 season with Kyler injured and various failures stemming from Michael Bidwill (the Kingsbury/Keim extensions/firings, the failed pursuit of Payton, the NFLPA report card, the McDonough allegations)?

It’s very tempting to say that, yes, now is the absolute nadir of the Cardinals tenure in Arizona. But I’m going to resist the temptation to give into recency bias and label that Wilks/Rosen 2018-2019 season as the “winner” here. I mean, we’re still suffering from fallout from Keim’s DUI arrest. So that season is the franchise’s true nadir, to me.

With one caveat: If the McDonough allegations have real merit and the organization is punished in any significant way, then this offseason will leapfrog Wilks/Rosen to take its place as the worst of the worst times for this franchise.

Your turn, RotB faithful. You’ve suffered through enough awful stretches of Cardinals fandom that you deserve a say. Vote in the poll below and tell us about your most miserable Cardinals memories in the comments.


What is the lowest point of the Cardinals franchise’s time in Arizona?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    The Phoenix Cardinals Years – 1988-1993

    (41 votes)

  • 2%
    The 2000-2001 Season – Tobin and Plummer

    (7 votes)

  • 34%
    The 2018-2019 Season – Wilks and Rosen

    (90 votes)

  • 44%
    2023 (4-13 last season, Kyler injury, no Payton, NFLPA report card, McDonough allegations)

    (117 votes)

  • 3%
    Other (explain in comments)

    (8 votes)

263 votes total

Vote Now

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  1. Very good photo ✨

  2. Aha, now I see… I didn’t understand the connection with the title at first…

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