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Cardinals Have Reason For Optimism, But Process Still Focus

Healthy QB, draft potential can aid improvement as Gannon gets into second season

GM Monti Ossenfort (right) is confident in the future of his team being led by quarterback Kyler Murray (left).
GM Monti Ossenfort (right) is confident in the future of his team being led by quarterback Kyler Murray (left).

The photo is taken annually, an attempt to gather all 32 coaches – there are usually a couple that can't make it – for a group photo at whatever posh resort the NFL is holding its spring meeting.

After the necessary draft prep in the chilly weather of Indianapolis at the Scouting combine, the meeting marks a certain starting point for the coming season, with most of free agency in the rear view and the sun and resort dress of NFL decision-makers feeling good about what's to come.

In the front row of the photo, tucked into the bottom right, Jonathan Gannon sat with his coaching brethren, all planning how to attack the coming season.

"All 32 teams right now are optimistic about what's ahead," Gannon said two mornings later, when taking part in the NFC coaches breakfast on the meeting's final day.

The Cardinals are no different.

They have Kyler Murray back and healthy, ready to prep for a whole offseason. They addressed multiple spots in free agency, and have 11 picks in April's draft, including six in the first 90. Beyond that, however, was the way they played late in the 2023 season, beating teams like the Steelers and Eagles on the road, and leaning into a running game that showed the physicality the Cardinals haven't always had.

"I really think good days are ahead for the Arizona Cardinals," NFL analyst Charles Davis said, noting that he is impressed with the leadership of Gannon and coordinators Drew Petzing and Nick Rallis. "Not only do they have a plan and are they able to articulate it, but it's not a canned response.

"They have a vision for where they want to go and a vision of what they want to look like down the road. It's an overused phrase, but they are authentic."

Coach Jonathan Gannon takes a question at last week's NFL annual spring meeting.
Coach Jonathan Gannon takes a question at last week's NFL annual spring meeting.

Gannon, and GM Monti Ossenfort for that matter, certainly aren't making any proclamations. Gannon has noted more than once the Cardinals only won four games and that isn't good enough. Gannon also likes to talk about the process a team is taking more than results, and Ossenfort has always kept his focus in the present.

"For us, it's not getting too far over our skis one way or the other," Ossenfort said in Orlando. "It's controlling what you can control right now, and this time of year, we got through free agency and felt like we added some pieces there to help us out.

"The next stage in roster building is the draft so we'll be ready for that. Nothing really matters until we kick off in Week One. Everything we are doing now is prepping the team to put it in the best position moving forward."

The NFC West is going through change. The defending conference champion 49ers remain powerful, but the Seahawks are undergoing an overhaul with a new head coach and the Rams continue to change and had their best player retire.

The foundation Gannon poured in 2023, noticed by the Charles Davises of the world, wasn't only apparent to those on the outside but on the inside. Linebacker Zaven Collins, who told a story early in the season last year of being chastised for eating in a meeting, said that kind of accountability only helped the growth.

He, like his coach and GM, isn't about to brag. Asked about optimism, he delivers the kind of mindset that would have to encourage Gannon.

"As a player with the organization, it makes you feel more comfortable being here and when you're more comfortable, playing for the organization is a lot easier," Collins said. "The opportunities we have, however much work we put in, we got a lot of great guys in free agency and we will get a lot of good guys in this draft, and when we get to OTAs, we'll see what we want to do. See where we are at, see what our deficiencies are, and go into camp, in the second year, with the wheels already turning."

Gannon had a serious face in the coach's picture, belying the bouncy energy he arrives with in press conferences or when interacting with players. He isn't going to predict double-digit wins or playoff berths per se, but his belief will remain – and that's how the optimism will manifest itself internally.

"I'm positive by nature, talking about our process," Gannon said. "Even when we have to get things back into alignment or things aren't to the standard that we want, I still try to spin it in a positive way, because I want our guys to be like that.

"Our glass is half-full. Our team enjoys that and they know when it's not right, we have to get it right, from a way of care and positivity and love. I think they respond to that."