Over the past couple of seasons the NFC West has been one of the more dominant divisions in the the NFL after spending the better half of the 2000s as one of the weakest.
Since the 2008 season the only NFC West team that has not been to the Super Bowl is the St. Louis Rams, but they also seem like a team that they will be playing on Super Sunday again in due time.
The Arizona Cardinals are the ones that started this current domination by a division that was once looked at as the laughing stock of football.
After their Super Bowl run in 2008, the Cardinals quickly found themselves hovering around the bottom of the division until head coach Ken Whisenhunt was finally ran out of town following the 2012 season. After the team parted ways with Whisenhunt they turned to offensive mastermind 2012 Coach of the Year Bruce Arians as their head coach heading into the 2013 season.
In Arians' first season leading the Cardinals, they finished the 2013 season with a 10-6 record, barely missing the playoffs. Now that Arians has gotten his feet wet as an “official” head coach in the league, this team's success will be based on the player moves that are made now that they have a strong coaching staff in place.
Last season one of the biggest moves the Cardinals made was bringing in veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, and running back Rashard Mendenhall as their offensive leaders. Palmer paid off by leading the Cardinals' air attack to 13th in the league, while Mendenhall is currently a free agent after the 217 carries for 687 yards he had in 15 games landing the rushing attack at 23rd in the league.
While the Cardinals have plenty of room for improvement on offense, their defense is all around one of the best in the league ranking 1st against stopping the run, and 14th against passing attacks. If general manager Steve Keim can get all of his key free agents signed, and pick up some extra help for the offense, and secondary help for the defense, the Cardinals will be fighting with the San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks for first place in the West at the end of the season.
The one thing good the Cardinals have going for them is a deep 2014 Draft class that features a lot of good players at the positions they need making it easier for the team to stay within the salary cap. At this time, like the majority of teams in the league, the Cardinals are facing cap issues with roughly $13 million to work with.
Last season signing a veteran running back did not work out well for the Cardinals' offensive attack. The best thing is to let Mendenhall become a free agent instead of signing him. Besides Arians already has a couple of sturdy backs with Andre Ellington leading the way followed by Stepfan Taylor.
If Keim, and Arians do decide to add a veteran back for leadership, Donald Brown would be a great addition since he already knows Arians' offense from the time they spent together with the Indianapolis Colts.
Over six seasons with the Colts, Brown has played in 66 games where he has carried the ball 551 times for 2,377 yards, and 17 touchdowns while only fumbling once. Brown also proved to be an effective pass catcher during his time with the Colts by catching 83 of his 109 targeted passes for 767 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
The best way to handle running back needs anymore is through the draft when the money is running short. Other than Brown the Cardinals have too many needs to overpay for a running back when they can snatch up a couple of key free agents at other positions. Here are a handful of players the Cardinals should really look at signing.
Dennis Pitta - Tight End
Pitta could be expensive since he is one of the top tight ends in the league. The Cardinals need that big-time tight end though, and could be worth the hassle it takes to sign.
Over four seasons with the Ravens. Pitta has played in 47 games where he caught 122 of his 187 targeted passes for 1,244 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
Pitta is coming of a 2013 season that put him on injured reserve early, but saw him return to form the last four games he played in showing everything is alright, and teams interested should not worry.
Dustin Keller - Tight End
Dustin keller would be a great addition as long as he is completely heeled from the knee injury that put an end to his 2013 season during the preseason. Keller also was limited to eight games during the 2012 season with an ankle injury to put an end to his five-year career with the New York Jets.
Until the 2012 season, Keller played in all 16 games over the first four seasons to start his career. During 72 total regular season games Keller has caught 241 of his 412 targeted passes for 2,874 yards, and 17 touchdowns while fumbling twice.
Jordan Gross - Right Tackle
If Eric Winston is not re-signed the Cardinals will need a right tackle capable of protecting Carson Palmer. Jordan Gross would be a great man for the job if Keim can wrestle him away from the Carolina Panthers at a reasonable price.
Charles Tillman - Cornerback
Tillman was a huge shock when he hit the free agency market after the twelve seasons he gave to the Chicago Bears. With Tillman at the end of his career he would fit perfect with all the young talent the Cardinals have in their secondary.
Over his career, Tillman has played in 154 regular season games where he has made 849 total tackles, forced 42 fumbles, made 36 interceptions, defended 133 passes, and had 8 touchdowns.
Could it get any better with Peanut Tillman on one side, Patrick Peterson on the other, and a Honey Badger prowling behind them?
Brandon Spikes - Inside Linebacker
Spikes has become one of the most feared run stopping linebackers in the league.
Over four seasons with the New England Patriots, Spikes has played in 51 games where he has made 286 total tackles, 1 sack, forced 5 fumbles, and defended 13 passes.
Brian Orakpo - Outside Linebacker
Orakpo is a player that can either get after the quarterback or step back and knock down a pass when he needs to.
Over the five seasons Orakpo has played for the Washington Redskins he has been in 64 regular season games where he has made 230 total tackles, 39.5 sacks, forced 6 fumbles, had 16 defended passes, 3 recovered fumbles, 1 interception and 1 touchdown.
The only down season Orakpo has had was in 2012 when he tore his pectoral muscle two games into the season. He returned from that injury without any setbacks in 2013 to play in 15 games where he recorded his first career interception against the Chicago Bears.