CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Arizona Cardinals finished their season with a 49-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. Here are five questions facing the team this offseason:
How will Carson Palmer's body hold up at age 36? For the first month (he turned 36 in December), Palmer looked good. He was coming off an MVP-caliber season in which he threw for a career high 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns. His left knee -- in which he tore his ACL in Week 10 last season -- held up all season and during his rehab. He worked on eliminating unnecessary movements and tightening his throwing motion. Can it continue as he gets nearer to 37?
How quickly can the Honey Badger return to form? For the second time in three years, Tyrann Mathieu's season ended because of a knee injury. Unlike his 2013 injury, the one suffered in Week 15 in Philadelphia was a clean ACL tear. He learned what it takes to come back from a serious knee injury once as an NFL player. If Palmer could return to the field by OTAs, Mathieu, who's 23, will be expected to be back in around the same amount of time.
Can the Cardinals keep the secondary intact? Two of the most important pieces in the Cardinals' secondary -- cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Rashad Johnson -- will become unrestricted free agents. Both are critical to a group that allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the past five seasons. The Cardinals and Powers' camp started talking about an extension before the season, but negotiations broke off as the season kicked into high gear. Johnson has been the quarterback of the secondary for the past few years and developed a reputation as being one of the smartest players in the locker room.
Will the Cardinals draft a quarterback or re-sign Drew Stanton? Stanton is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Do they part with the veteran whom coach Bruce Arians picked to be Palmer's backup? Or do they re-sign him to keep continuity in the quarterbacks room? Stanton made $3.2 million in 2015 and played a big part of keeping the Cardinals afloat during an injury-ridden 2014 season. If the Cardinals choose not to re-sign Stanton, another question arises: Will they draft a quarterback to back up (and eventually replace) Palmer?
Can the Cardinals be a Super Bowl contender again? As long as Palmer stays healthy and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald continues playing at a Pro Bowl level, the Cardinals enter 2016 as a Super Bowl favorite. The primary pieces on defense -- Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell -- are signed through 2016. And Arizona has a stock of young players who matured in 2015.