TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the 2013 season not even in the books for three weeks, it was time to decide who was the best of the best for the Arizona Cardinals this past year. My inaugural postseason awards were both standard and outside the box.
So, without further ado, I present my 2013 awards:
Offensive MVP: Michael Floyd, wide receiver. It may not be the popular choice, but Floyd was the most valuable player to the Cardinals offense. His breakout year eased the pressure on Larry Fitzgerald and caused teams to think twice about double or triple teaming Fitzgerald -- even though most did. And what did Floyd do? Just catch 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, setting career highs in just his second season. But that wasn't his most important contribution to the Arizona offense. For a team that was struggling to secure first downs, especially when the down marker ticked to third, Floyd was a beacon of first-down hope. Between weeks 10 and 16, he had 25 straight receptions that went for first downs. And of his final 34 catches, 30 moved the chains. There's not a bigger impact a player could have, with the exception of catching touchdowns, than giving his team a fresh set of downs. Add on the game-winning touchdown against Seattle and Floyd's contributions to the offense were worthy of him being the offensive MVP.
Defensive MVP: Karlos Dansby, linebacker. In his return to the Cardinals, Dansby proved age is just a number. He had a career season despite missing out on the Pro Bowl yet again. As the on-field conductor of the Cardinals' sixth-ranked defense, Dansby didn't just put his teammates in the right positions to make plays, he went out and made them himself, impacting games from all three levels of the defense. His career-high 114 solo tackles and four interceptions to accompany his 6.5 sacks proved his versatility. To top off a career year, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Dansby came into training camp slimmer than he's been and it was evident in his ability to get in the backfield and chase defenders from sideline-to-sideline. And when he dropped back in coverage, he got his hands on the ball. His overall impact from front to back and side to side made him worthy of being the defensive MVP.
Special teams MVP: Justin Bethel, gunner. This was almost a no-brainer but I did consider punter Dave Zastudil. But how many gunners have special teams game plans built for them? He was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 21 special teams tackles, four downed punts inside the opponents' 10 and two blocked field goals. He also recovered a muffed kickoff. Bethel's ability to get past double teams constantly made him a threat to kick returners. Opponents would normally double and often triple team Bethel, forcing him out-of-bounds before he had a chance to break free. When he had a step on his defenders, it was tough for them to catch Bethel, who'd often bring down kick returners within a few yards of them fielding the punt which, in turn, would give the Cardinals great field position.
Assistant coach of the year: Brentson Buckner, defensive line coach. Buckner had a tough task. For as well as the defensive line did in pass rush situations in 2012, it was equally as bad against the run finishing 28th. He challenged the defensive line in an early-season meeting and it responded by becoming the No. 1 run defense in the league. Buckner's experience as an NFL player and his honesty endeared him to his charges, who laid it on the line for Buckner.
Rookie of the year: Tyrann Mathieu, safety. He made an instant impact, forcing a fumble in his first game, and didn't slow down until a knee injury forced ended his season after Week 13. Mathieu's athleticism and nose for the ball earned him playing time and his versatility kept him on the field. Other Cardinals' rookies contributed but none had as large of an impact as quickly as Mathieu.
Best offseason move: Trading for Carson Palmer. Without Palmer, all the interceptions included, where would the offense have been? In the hands of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Capable, I'm sure, but Stanton hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010. Palmer's addition gave the Cardinals a reliable thrower who made passes that hadn't been completed in Arizona since the Kurt Warner days.
Best in-season move: Trading Levi Brown. Signing tight end Jake Ballard, receiver Brittan Golden or linebacker Marcus Benard were also considered. But trading Brown set the Cardinals up for future success. He was moved after Week 4 and was instantly replaced by second-year tackle Bradley Sowell, a more athletic and nimble tackle, who found his footing along with the rest of the line midway through the season. Sowell brought athleticism and the ability to slow down an outside pass rush.
Veteran of the year (8-plus years): John Abraham, linebacker. Initially signed to be a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was thrown into the starting rotation after Week 3 and proved to everyone, including himself, that at 35 he still had what it takes to be an every-down player. All he did was have 11.5 sacks, to move onto the top 10 in history and earn his fourth Pro Bowl nod.