R-E-L-A-X

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers spelled out that word in 2014 (seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it?) when the Packers got off to a, believe it or not, 1-2 start to the season and fans were panicking.

And while Rodgers was right to tell everyone, “We’ll be OK” (the Packers finished 12-4), it should be a lesson for everyone to always take a deep breath before jumping off the nearest bridge. Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

Of course, that’s easier said than done in the emotional word of the NFL, and it’s surely the case when a fan base becomes invested in the hiring of a coach, as the Cardinals are doing now. Everyone responds to each rumor, each bit of news, however contradictory, and tries to figure out what it actually means. The truth is, we usually don’t know.

Monday was a classic example. It began with the news that the Cardinals would be interviewing Brian Flores and the Broncos would conduct their second interview with Sean Payton Wednesday.

All of that became secondary when I learned that Payton would be in Arizona Thursday to talk to the Cardinals and the Denver get-together had been postponed.

What’s going on here?

The prevailing opinion had been that any hopes for landing Payton ended when the Cardinals hired Monti Ossenfort as general manager one week after the regular season concluded. The belief was that the GM opening would make Arizona an attractive spot for Payton because he would become part of the search for the person that would ensure he gets the players necessary to be successful.

In addition, Ossenfort and Flores were with the Patriots at the same time, so that became an easy way connect the dots.

Now this.

Those in Denver are likely beside themselves and absolutely assume it’s a power play by Payton to leverage a better contract from the new Broncos’ relatively owners.

And while that could be accurate, how much does it really matter to Payton if he gets $20 million a year or $22 million or whatever dollars are tossed out there?

The dude is 59 years old and whenever he decides to coach again, it will likely be his last go-round. He will have all the money he ever needs. So what does he want?

Simple. The right fit, with the right owner and the right organization to give him the best chance of winning a championship. If he can pull that off, or at least taste another Super Bowl appearance, Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame likely beckons.

Surely, Payton has done his homework on Ossenfort and new assistant general manager Dave Sears. It’s always imperative that the coach and personnel leaders are on the same page and almost think as one. It doesn’t mean they have to agree on everything, but true respect has to be present.

So, step one is Payton having a good feeling about working with the new crew. He might believe it would be good to help a first-time general manager. For Ossenfort, success has a better chance of happening on his watch with an accomplished coach like Payton.

Money should be no object or draft picks (within reason). The NFL is littered with first-round picks and first-time coaches that failed to live up to expectations.

Of the top five players selected in the three drafts from 2016-2018, only five of the 15 picks are currently with the team that picked them. In the last 10 years, there have been 69 coaches hired in the NFL and 37 in the last five years with most having no NFL head coaching experience.

There are no sure things in the draft, so it’s worth trading some unknowns for a coach that has had consistent success and certainly knows his way around quarterbacks.

Still, the most important factor is owner and president Michael Bidwill selling himself to Payton. It’s Bidwill that has to show Payton he means business and convinces the fans he’s not teasing everyone pursuing this only so he can say he tried. Trying isn’t enough.

Payton knows the history of this organization when it comes to the coaching carousel.

There have been 90 seasons of Bidwill family ownership and since the Chicago Cardinals won the NFL championship in 1947, there have been 23 head coaches in 75 seasons and only four compiled winning records. One of those was Jimmy Conzelman, who led the team to that lone championship and departed after an 11-1 1948 season to devote his energy to the business world. No head coach has ever lasted more than six seasons and only 11, including Kliff Kingsbury, have lasted at least four full seasons.

Michael’s grandfather Charles Sr. was the owner from 1933 until passing away in April, 1947, after which his widow, Violet, was the owner until she passed in 1962. For the next 10 years, sons Bill and Charles Jr. (Stormy) were the co-owners until Bill bought out Stormy.

Charles Sr. is the Pro Football Hall of Fame (enshrined in 1967), while he and Bill are in the team’s Ring of Honor. Needless to say, it’s not because of a legacy of winning.

Michael now has the opportunity to legitimately change that. Two weeks ago, he claimed he was casting a wide net in search of the franchise’s next head coach.

He didn’t need much of a net to find Payton. Now, we’ll see if he is capable of hooking him and closing the deal.

Author

Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.

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