TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals may be an attractive destination for NFL free agents.
You read that correctly.
Yes, the same franchise that won five games in 2019 and three in 2018, that last went to the playoffs in 2015 and that has yet to win a Super Bowl is now, possibly, an NFL place to be.
General manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury believe the Cardinals have put together a roster that will make potential free-agent targets take a longer look at signing with Arizona next week, and it all starts with quarterback Kyler Murray.
"We feel we have some good things going," Kingsbury said. "Anytime you have a young player [at QB] you expect to be really good moving forward."
Murray, Keim said, gives a team "hope."
"In this game that's what you need from the get-go," Keim said.
And while it may start with Murray, the reigning Rookie of the Year and top overall pick in 2019, Kingsbury said there's more to what makes Arizona attractive than the quarterback.
Playing alongside Fitzgerald can be transformative, some of his teammates have said, because of the way he approaches practice. He goes after passes like he would in a game, diving and all. And, for some free agents, playing alongside a future first-ballot Hall of Famer could be reason enough to pick the Cardinals.
Kingsbury is also a selling point. By the end of last season, chatter throughout the Cardinals' locker room was that Kingsbury's offense was fun to play in. When a free agent is looking at a specific team, the first thing he does is call or text players he knows on that team. Those player reviews can swing a free agent's mind just as much as the number of commas to the left of the decimal.
"I think people have termed Kliff as somewhat of a players' coach," Keim said. "I'm not sure exactly what that means but I know our players play hard for them, they like playing for him."
Inside the locker room last season, Kingsbury won over players young and old with his no-nonsense approach to meetings and practices. His meetings were short and to the point. He didn't filibuster. He didn't come into his first NFL job with mottos and phrases and T-shirts. And players, especially veterans, quickly took note. On the practice field, players felt like Kingsbury didn't waste their time. That counts for a lot, especially with veterans.
One other thing that resonated through the locker room early in the season was Kingsbury publicly taking responsibility for the team's woes, whether or not they were actually his fault. Players looked at that as an act of accountability. He was practicing what he was preaching.
On defense, the Cardinals have a solid foundation with Jones, Budda Baker, Peterson and Jordan Hicks. Another piece or two, especially on the defensive line, and Arizona could quickly return to the type of top-10 defense it had under former coach Bruce Arians. Playing alongside or behind an elite pass-rusher such as Jones, whose 19 sacks were second in the league last season, or opposite a cornerback such as Peterson, a perennial Pro Bowler, could be the type of opportunity that swings a decision toward the Cardinals.
But there's more that Arizona offers than just players, a scheme and a coach.
As a state, it's a financially smart place to reside. Arizona's income tax rate was 4.54% in 2018 for an individual who makes more than $155,159, according to the non-profit Tax Foundation. That was the second-lowest rate for a state's highest tax bracket.
And, then, there's the sunshine. Arizona has more than 200 sunny days and more than 300 days with some sunshine each year.
In the end, though, money talks and the Cardinals have more than $39 million in cap space. That's below the league average but enough to sign a few key players.
"I think it's all different," Keim said. "I've seen guys who have looked for ... you know it comes down to the dollars. I've seen guys it's more about fit; and I've seen guys, essentially it's about family and where they can sort of reside.
"I think when you look at the big picture it's the same for us. We have to judge them. Not only are they a good football player on tape but it's one thing to sign and pick good players, but you have to build team chemistry too. So, it has to be the right person."