Arizona Cardinals: NFL’s Most Troubled Franchise Bleeding Talent, Nursing Injured QB, Paying For Fired Coach And GM, And Now Under Serious League Scrutiny

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The NFL’s most troubled franchise right now? It’s the Arizona Cardinals.

And it’s not really close.

The Cardinals, under normal circumstances, should be celebrating something of a honeymoon period now. They have a young new general manager in Monti Ossenfort and a new head coach in Jonathan Gannon, who was hired fresh off a season with the Philadelphia Eagles that ended with a Super Bowl appearance.

But instead of the enjoying this reservoir of good times and good will, the franchise is in deep trouble. It’s facing dire days ahead. And everything got significantly more uncomfortable on Tuesday.

That’s when former director of player personnel Terry McDonough filed with the league an arbitration claim against Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell. And in that claim the former team executive claims Bidwill cheated and engaged in misconduct that included harassment and discrimination.

Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwell walks onto the field prior to the NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Claim Filed Against Cardinals’ Bidwell

All of this, in a story first reported by The Athletic, paints a spy drama portrait of the Cardinals that includes Bidwell ordering McDonough and then-coach Steve Wilks to use burner phones to contact Steve Keim while the then-general manager was serving a five-week suspension after pleading guilty to a DUI charge during the summer of 2018.

The burner phone scheme directly led to McDonough’s demotion, he claims, when he told Bidwell directly to his face that he was refusing to go along with the plot.

McDonough alleges “illegal and retaliatory mistreatment and abuse” from Bidwill after voicing his objection to the burner phone use. The grievance states McDonough has recordings, photos and the actual burner phone to prove his allegations.

The Arizona Cardinals, taking this very seriously, have enlisted an outside public relations adviser who answered the claim allegations with a written statement that explains or refutes McDonough’s story virtually point-by-point.

And the responses sometimes seem quite personal in nature against McDonough.

Cardinals Answer Claims Of Burner Phone Use

“We are reluctantly obliged to provide a public response along with broader context for some disappointing and irresponsible actions by Terry McDonough,” the statement from Cardinals PR adviser Jim McCarthy said. “Claims he has made in an arbitration filing are wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain.”

The NFL confirmed it is in receipt of McDonough’s claim, per multiple reports. Those will be reviewed under league arbitration procedures.

McCarthy’s statement admits the existence of a burner phone. But it claims “another executive” provided those to interfere with the protocol of Keim’s suspension.

That’s not where the charges and counter-charges stop: There is a claim by McDonough of racial animus on the part of Bidwell. There is also a response from McCarthy saying that charge is merely a “transparent smear that is beneath contempt.”

It gets wilder. The Cardinals, through their outside public relations adviser, are saying McDonough was simply a poor employee, engaging in “friction with his colleagues and willful insubordination …” as well as suffering “prolonged tardiness and disregarding team protocol.”

And it gets more personal, too.

Arizona Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks to the media at the Arizona Cardinals Training Facility on January 9, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Arizona Cardinals Still Paying Departed Brain Trust

“After we hired Terry, we received a spontaneous overture from a close family member of his, writing that he was ‘troubled and perplexed’ about ‘recent changes in Terry’s behavior’ and that he had ‘abandoned responsibility’ to one of his children and cut her off financially,” the statement reads.

Yes, these folks are fighting hard. And, arguably, dirty.

And here’s the problem: This isn’t the only problem the Cardinals face. It’s only the latest one.

The club is still paying former coach Kliff Kingsbury as well as Keim and will be doing that for some time because Bidwell gave both a contract extension in March of 2022. And then effectively fired them (Keim’s departure was officially for health reasons but the club was happy to let him go) at the end of the 2022 season.

The extension both Kingsbury and Keim received pays them through 2027. And while the club is paying for two general managers and two head coaches for the next five seasons, it has been largely inactive in paying for talent this offseason.

The Cardinals defense was bad last season, allowing the second-most points in the NFL. And they’ve bled talent from that defense in the new league year. Zach Allen left for Denver. Markus Golden was released. No one has replaced the retired J.J. Watt.

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals is carted off the field after being injured against the New England Patriots during the first quarter of the game at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Kyler Murray May Miss Start Of Season

The Cardinals are also trying to trade receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The problem is that, so far, no one wants to take on Hopkins’s contract that pays $19.45 million in 2023.

So the Cardinals will have trade Hopkins at a bargain or may simply have to cut him.

It gets worse.

The quarterback situation is worrisome. Kyler Murray, who signed a $230.5 million extension before last season, tore his ACL and a meniscus in December.

So the smallish quarterback who has been injured on and off is expected to miss the entire offseason, all of training camp, the entire preseason, and likely even the start of the regular season.

All this while the team pays him approximately $38 million in base salary and bonus money in 2023.

Yes, it’s depressing.

That’s how things are for the NFL’s most troubled franchise right now.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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