INDIANAPOLIS – Kliff Kingsbury had said it before, and it came up again this week at the Scouting Combine.
The offense regressed. The passing game slid, and the Cardinals coach – as he often does – once again pointed to himself.
"When we lost Hop, I didn't do a good job schematically adjusting some things that could have taken some pressure off Kyler, I think," Kingsbury said, reiterating a point he made after the season. "You lose a piece like that, you've got to find a way to be more creative. I've got to be better at that."
Losing DeAndre Hopkins, first to a bad hamstring and later to a knee injury, derailed the passing offense. Scheme could've helped, yes. But the Cardinals also will take another necessary look at their non-Hop wide receivers this offseason. In part because of necessity – leading receiver Christian Kirk is an unrestricted free agent, as is A.J. Green – and in part because finding that right pairing with Hopkins on the outside remains a priority.
The hope would be that Kirk –who set career-highs with 77 catches and 982 yards – would return. He flourished in the slot, and general manager Steve Keim said Kirk is a player who "does everything right" both on and off the field. But Kirk's market is expected to be inviting and his price may end up more than the Cardinals would choose to spend.
Rondale Moore, 2021's second-round pick, will have a bigger role, perhaps in the slot if Kirk leaves. Wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson said earlier in the offseason Moore's route tree will grow, and the Cardinals want to get the speedy Moore downfield much more than they did this season.
"There are ways to get him the football in space that might be a little different than traditional receiver, but he is a great route runner," Kingsbury said. "With Christian and A.J., we just weren't able to get him out on the field as much as we would've liked."
Green was solid as a No. 2, but he wasn't the same after Hopkins went down and it would seem likely the Cardinals would want to get younger, bigger receiver to try and pair up with Hopkins.
There is talent in the wide receiver class, perhaps not as many high-end prospects as the last two seasons but intriguing potential.
With the Cardinals picking 23rd in the first round, a receiver is possible – but is it more possible than a solid interior offensive lineman, or a pass rusher, or a cornerback? Wideouts like Ohio State's Chris Olave, Penn State's Jahan Dotson and Alabama's Jameson Williams (who tore his ACL in the National Championship game) would be the likely options.
"When you're looking at Olave and Dotson would be home run fits there, and then Jameson Williams is the other one," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "That's kind of that group that would -- you'd be staring at hopefully one of those guys makes it there. I think all of those guys would add a fun dimension. (The Cardinals are) collecting speed. I love that aspect of it. When they get all those guys healthy and on the field together, they're a handful."
The Cardinals have given wideout Andy Isabella the option to seek a trade, which would be another roster spot if he were to depart. Antoine Wesley flashed and as an exclusive rights free agent he should return, but as a depth piece.
The Cardinals want to make sure they have options, with or without Hopkins in the lineup.
"We took Rondale and they asked, 'Why would they take another receiver?' " Keim said. "Then that depth was used. We are looking for guys that fit what we do and for sustainable success. If you are fortunate to have a good quarterback, unfortunately you have to let good players walk from time to time (because of the salary cap).
"It's pretty good when you like your team and you want to keep everybody versus a turnstile. We'll see where the market goes. It's not personal. They have to do what's best for them, we have to do what's best for us."
Several Cardinals participated in the NFL's annual Scouting Combine over the years, including QB Kyler Murray, WR DeAndre Hopkins, S Budda Baker, and RB James Conner.