Linebacker Markus Golden and safety Tyrann Mathieu are among the young core of Cardinals that provide optimism whenever Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer leave.
David Johnson smiled and paused, considering life with the Cardinals in the not-so-distant future when the roster will change and stars like Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer are no longer around.
"I never even think about not having Carson and Larry on the team," the star running back said. "I really do think more about Carson and Larry and getting the ring for them and other veterans, so that question doesn't really even dawn on me."
That guys like Palmer and Fitzgerald will eventually leave – and that doesn't necessarily mean it'll happen after this season – is inevitable. But the Cardinals have done some work to build a talented core when that does happen, keeping General Manager Steve Keim's overarching goal of "sustained success" realistic.
"You can't sit back and say 'Larry and Carson are going to be finished and the world's going to come to an
end,' " Keim said.
On defense, the Cardinals have safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Patrick Peterson in the secondary along with pass rushers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. There are high expectations that defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, linebacker Haason Reddick and safety Budda Baker will evolve into high-end players.
Offensively, the Cardinals believe they have a long-term left tackle in D.J. Humphries and an MVP-type running back in Johnson that can be leaned upon.
"I think we have a good group of (young) guys, guys that can be a cornerstone to a lot of franchises," Mathieu said. "We are fortunate to have guys like Markus, who is a premier pass rusher, a guy like David Johnson as well, to kind of keep things sane on the offensive side.
"But we don't give much thought into it."
In a league that feels very much – with significant roster change each year and non-guaranteed contracts – as a year-to-year proposition, that makes sense. But the players that figure to be around for a while have reason to consider later, at least a bit.
"You work for now, but if you see something this team can have in the future, you're building for that,"
Nkemdiche said. "You have in the back of your mind."
No talk of the future is valid without quarterback considerations. Mathieu's nod to Johnson's ability to keep the offense "sane" in that case is only one example, and Keim acknowledges that is a question that must be answered for the Cardinals to truly embrace a successful future.
There will be contracts to juggle as well. Both Golden and Johnson, for example, are eligible for extensions after this season before heading into the final year of their rookie contract. Neither price tag will be cheap.
But you get what you pay for, and both players have earned their potential as core players.
"I can seriously say there is a lot of talent in my draft class and I think we are doing our part," Golden said. "Anytime you have a good team like this, you want to be able to win Super Bowls and let all the hard work of Steve Keim, getting all these players, make it pay off."
It's still possible the Cardinals will be working in training camp 2018 with essentially the same offense, with Palmer directing things behind center and Fitzgerald – schedule to become a free agent after this season -- his top target.
But if not, the roster should be in good shape.
"Nobody loves Larry Fitzgerald more than us," Keim said. "Same with Carson Palmer. But at the same time, that's why you have to draft well.
"When that transition does occur and the faces of your organization continue to change – whether that's Pat Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Haason Reddick, Budda Baker, David Johnson, the list goes on – the thing that excites me moving forward is I see a large number of players that have Pro Bowl talent as a core."
Images from Thursday's training camp practice