The Arizona Cardinals have enjoyed unprecedented success as a franchise over the last 10 years, especially the last five. Historically, though, its 30-year history is pretty sad. There have been plenty of “what if” moments since the team moved here.
Here are seven of the biggest what ifs.
What if Neil Lomax didn’t get hurt in 1988?
Lomax was a fantastic quarterback Arizona fans barely got to see. He led the NFL in passing the season before the move to Arizona and had the Cardinals in position to make the playoffs in their inaugural season in the desert. But he suffered a career-ending injury that led to the team losing its final five games, eliminating them from playoff contention and then sent them into quarterback purgatory for basically a decade. He was only 29 when his career ended.
What if Timm Rosenbach hadn’t gotten hurt?
Rosenbach was the Cardinals’ last supplemental draft pick and, in 1990, when he started and played every snap that season, he showed promise as a young quarterback. But injuries and getting hit ended it for him. He started only three games after 1990. He was a potential franchise quarterback whose career was derailed early by sacks and injuries.
What if the team hadn’t been dismantled around Jake Plummer in 1999?
1998 was a magical season for the Cardinals. A young Jake Plummer looked like a franchise quarterback. They made the postseason for the first time while in Arizona and they beat the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs. Then it all fell apart. The team let left tackle Lomas Brown go. They let linebacker Jamir Miller go. They let fullback Larry Centers go. They became a bottom-five team offensively and defensively. Plummer and Dave Brown were sacked 45 times. No receiver had a 1,000-yard season. No running back got to 600 yards. Plummer threw 24 interceptions in 12 games.
What if Andre Wadsworth’s knees hadn’t given up on him?
The Arizona Cardinals had a number of first-round busts in the draft, but perhaps the most frustrating one was Wadsworth. He was going to be so, so good. He was taken third overall in 1998 and was going to give the team a devastating pass rush on the defensive line, combined with Eric Swann and Simeon Rice.
He had five sacks as a rookie, but his knees allowed him to play only a portion of the next two seasons before his career ended.
What if Kurt Warner had waited another year to retire?
After two consecutive playoff runs that included a Super Bowl appearance, Warner retired with a year remaining on his contract, leaving the Cardinals in a bind at quarterback. They had Matt Leinart and signed Derek Anderson. They went 5-11. The Cardinals were not prepared for his retirement. He was ready to call it quits, but doing so put the team in a bind that wouldn’t be fixed until Carson Palmer.
What if Matt Leinart had been the starter in 2010?
Cardinals fans were puzzled when Ken Whisenhunt named Derek Anderson the starter in the 2010 preseason and then cut Matt Leinart. Leinart had not done anything all that poorly and his flashes as a rookie gave fans hope he would ably replace Kurt Warner. We know what happened with the disaster of 2010, which featured Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton starting games in a 5-11 campaign. Leinart never accomplished anything else in his career, but many believed had he been given a shot, he would have been fine. We will never know.
What if Carson Palmer had stayed healthy in 2014?
The Cardinals were the talk of the NFL in 2014, getting off to a 9-1 start to the season. Then Palmer tore his ACL and Drew Stanton got hurt late in the season. Arizona finished 11-5 and made the playoffs, but had to finish the season with Ryan Lindley starting a postseason game. This might be the biggest what if of all. The Cardinals looked like Super Bowl contenders and their best chance at winning it all, based on their play and the way the postseason played out, it appears the Cardinals had their best championship chance wasted on Ryan Lindley.
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