GLENDALE – It only took Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill eight days from the time the franchise announced that coach Kliff Kingsbury and General Manager Steve Keim would not return until he called a press conference to welcome the club’s new general manager.
Monti Ossenfort, the player personnel director for the Tennessee Titans, replaces Keim in a Cardinals front office which immediately went to work on the next task at hand – hiring Kingsbury’s replacement.
Keim stepped away from the organization after 10 years as general manager due to what the team described as health reasons. Ossenfort is the first general manager the Cardinals have hired from outside the organization since 1994, when Buddy Ryan was named head coach and general manager.
Ossenfort faces some major decisions about the future of the team, which is coming off of a disastrous 4-13 season. None is bigger than finding a replacement for Kingsbury.
“We are going to start on it (head coach search) right away,” Bidwill said during Ossenfort’s January 17 introductory press conference.
At that initial appearance, Bidwill confirmed that Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph would be interviewed for the job, but added that he planned on “casting a wide net” to find the right man for the position.
Since then, the names of at least seven other coaches have surfaced in various reports who have interviewed or are expected to soon.
They include: Former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Steelers senior assistant Brian Flores, former Colts coach Frank Reich, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
The coach the Cardinals ultimately hire could also affect the role Ossenfort plays with the team.
There are some head coaches, such as Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Payton when he was with the Saints, who prefer to have control over roster decisions.
Whoever the new coach is, Ossenfort will still have plenty on his plate.
One of the biggest strengths Ossenfort brings to the table is his 15 years of experience as a scout. Under Keim, the Cardinals had a reputation for poor drafts, especially in later rounds.
At the beginning of the 2022 season, the Cardinals’ 53-man roster included 21 players that were drafted by the team. Only three of those players have been with the team for more than the last three seasons, including left tackle D.J. Humphries (2015), edge rusher Markus Golden (2015), and safety Budda Baker (2017).
Ossenfort played a key role in the Patriots’ drafting process, which resulted in picks such as former Cardinals standout pass rusher Chandler Jones and quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, and Jarrett Stidham. All of them were starters at some point during the 2022-23 NFL season.
Ossenfort has some valuable assets to work with, including the No. 3 overall pick in April’s NFL draft. However, should the Cardinals hire Payton, they will have to compensate the Saints, although it is unlikely they would part with that No. 3 pick. It is more likely that the Cardinals would send later-round picks or a future first-round pick to New Orleans instead.
Ossenfort had a hand in New England’s drafts between 2010-21, when the Patriots made 46 draft-day deals, so he is familiar with shopping around to improve a team’s roster.
Before the draft, Ossenfort and the new coach first must decide what to do with the team’s current roster.
The Cardinals must decide whether they want to trade superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, whose name has surfaced in multiple trade rumors this offseason. He might be their most valuable trade asset, but a deal would also have salary cap ramifications the Cardinals will have to work around.
In the press conference, Bidwill said Hopkins’ situation is something he and Ossenfort have talked about and evaluated. He first wants to get Ossenfort settled in and will discuss further what to do with Hopkins in the coming weeks.
The Cardinals also have 28 players that are set to become unrestricted free agents, including three starting offensive linemen: Rodney Hudson, Justin Pugh and Kelvin Beachum. They also have to decide whether to re-sign three other key starters: wide receiver A.J. Green, cornerback Byron Murphy, and cornerback Antonio Hamilton.
However the roster shakes out, Ossenfort made it very clear that a culture change is coming to Arizona.
“We are not just collecting talent; we are going to build a team,” Ossenfort said. “We’re going to look for the right type of players. Ego will not be tolerated in this organization. We are looking for focused and driven people who are willing to put the team first every step of the way.”
Bidwill was asked if Ossenfort’s ego comment was in reference to a pointed meeting Bidwill had with the players following the season.
“It is related and it was described differently, accountably,” Bidwill said. “That is something that Monti and I talked about. It is clear that it is going to be an emphasis here to set egos aside, and it is all about accountability to the team.”
Ossenfort is familiar with the potential the Cardinals have as a team. He witnessed firsthand how dominant of a team Arizona can put on the field when the Cardinals dominated the Tennessee Titans on the road to open the 2021 season in a 38-13 beatdown.
Ossenfort paid his dues to arrive at his new position in Arizona.
He began his NFL journey as an intern for the Minnesota Vikings in 2001, then moved to the Houston Texans a year later to serve as a pro personnel intern.
Ossenfort spent a year as a personnel assistant with the Patriots during their Super Bowl XXXVIII run, then returned to Houston Texans in 2004 as a pro and college scouting assistant. He was promoted the next year to college scout.
In his second stint with the Patriots, which would span 14 seasons, Ossenfort started as an area scout and worked his way up to director of college scouting. He was part of the organization during four Super Bowls-winning seasons.
Ossenfort joined the Titans in 2020 as the director of player personnel under former Tennessee General Manager Jon Robinson, who he had worked with in New England.
Now Ossenfort takes on the biggest challenge of his career, turning around a Cardinals franchise that has lost 17 of its last 22 games.
“Our goal here is to win, to build a team that can win the NFC West, advance in the playoffs, and ultimately for everyone in this organization to enjoy what it feels like to hold that Lombardi Trophy,” Ossenfort said.