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NFLPA survey shows where Cardinals culture must improve

Howard Balzer Avatar
March 6, 2023

The last two Scouting Combines have not been good ones for the Cardinals.

One year ago, the opening of the Combine was highlighted by the all-caps manifesto from Erik Burkhardt, the agent for quarterback Kyler Murray. Burkhardt’s over-the-top approach came a few days after owner Michael Bidwill publicly stated the team was committed to signing Murray to a new contract, but emphasized it likely wouldn’t happen until summer.

That wasn’t good enough for Burkhardt, who followed his diatribe with a handful of shots at Bidwill on social media questioning his commitment to winning.

Of course, Bidwill stunned the football world within 48 hours of Burkhardt’s post by announcing general manager Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury had been signed to contract extensions through 2028. One year later, neither is part of the organization.

Last week, the Cardinals were again being talked about for all the wrong reasons when the NFLPA released a player survey that ranked the organization 31st in the league in a combination of eight categories: treatment of families, food service/nutrition, weight room, strength staff, training room, training staff, locker room and travel. In five of the categories, the Cardinals received grades of F or F-minus from its own players.

NFLPA president JC Tretter wrote, “One of our core jobs as a union is to improve the overall working conditions for our players. Often, you see our advocacy on ‘big’ issues — like our push for better field surfaces at stadiums or standardized safety protocols that limit the risk of workplace injuries — but it also includes the daily experience of players at the team facilities away from the lights and cameras.

“For many years, players have brought up the idea of creating a ‘Free Agency Guide,’ which would contain information that can help illuminate what that daily experience is like for players and their families from team to team. If knowledge is really power, then providing players with information about each club would not only help them make important career decisions, but it would also help raise the standards across each club.

“Here is a more detailed look as to why we took on this project and created club report cards, along with what we hope they will accomplish and what comes next:

What were our objectives?

Highlight positive clubs: It was really important to highlight the teams that are doing things well and where players are happy. It makes a big difference when players go to work feeling supported by their club, and we want our members to know which clubs make players feel that way based on the responses from some who were on that club during this past year.

Identifying clubs that need improvement: For players who have been on one team and are looking to move elsewhere for whatever reason, there is currently no centralized resource to compare some players’ feelings and opinions about their working experiences from one team to another.

Highlight best practices and standards: Players who have only played on one team for their entire career may accept their team’s standards as the norm and often think conditions are the same everywhere else. Making more information and opinions available can not only inform players about best practices, but also hopefully help raise the standards across all clubs.

What are our desired results?

Educate our membership: Our goal as a union is always to bring value to our members, and getting feedback from them is a classic union tool to get a better understanding of what membership feels about certain issues. We hope this can be a resource for all players.

Information will lead to action: No problem can be fixed until it is identified and acknowledged as a problem. We hope that teams will take this feedback and improve the facilities and players’ experiences, where needed.

What’s next?

We don’t want this to be a one-year project. Our intent is to continue to field player opinions and feedback every year. As we have carefully noted, these Club Report Cards are a snapshot of opinions during one period in time, and those opinions can change if the clubs make decisions that impact the player experience in the workplace.

Here is the overview of what the Cardinals reported:

The Arizona Cardinals rank second to last in their overall score among the 32 NFL clubs. The locker room does not have confidence that owner Michael Bidwill is willing to invest to upgrade the facilities, as he ranks the lowest in that category across the league. The responses that provide the basis for that characterization include: the worst-ranked weight room, which some players feel is a safety hazard; an outdated training room and locker room; and a policy of deducting dinner from players’ paychecks should players want to get food from the facility.

The consistent sentiment in players’ responses was that ownership does not provide high-quality workplace facilities, and Club policies reflected the lowest rate of confidence that current ownership is willing to invest to make upgrades.

Breakdown of Key Categories

Treatment of families: F, T29th (tied for last)

One of 14 teams that do not offer a family room

One of 11 teams that do not offer day care

Post-Game Gathering Area: Ranked 30th

Food service/nutrition: F-minus, T30th (tied for last)

Quality of food: Ranked 32nd

If players would like dinner, it will be boxed up for them, but players reported that the team will charge you via payroll deduction. This is apparently the only Club that does this.

Players reported that if you work out at the facility after the season is over, the team charges you for every meal eaten at the facility (again, apparently the only team in the league that does this).

69% of players say there is enough room in the cafeteria.

Weight room: F-minus, 32nd

Players describe it as a health and safety risk just to walk through the weight room. The flooring is nearly a unanimous complaint: The floors are uneven. The floorboards are peeling up.

73% of players think they have enough strength coaches; that percentage is the lowest in the league.

Strength coaches: A, T17th

When asked whether “Strength Coaches add to their success,” they ranked 16th in the NFL. 16th sounds average, but that is because players on most teams rated their strength coaches positively. The Cardinals players gave overall high marks to the strength staff, which is why the overall grade is still high.

88% of players believe they receive an individual plan, which is 25th overall.

Training room: F-minus, T30th (tied for last)

Survey responses included several complaints of being outdated.

Staffing: 67% of players think they have enough ATC (2nd lowest in the league). 48% of players think they have enough PTs (2nd lowest in the league).

Steam room/sauna: There is a steam room (80% feel it is big enough). There is a sauna (65% feel it is big enough).

Tubs: 90% of players feel they have enough hot tub space. 63% of players feel they have enough cold tub space.

Training staff: B-plus, T22nd

When asked about the “Training staff adding to their success,” they tied for 22nd in the NFL. That may sound slightly below average, but that is because most teams rated their training staffs positively. The Cardinals players gave moderately high marks to their staff, which is why the overall grade is still good.

Locker room: F, 31st

Only 30% of players feel like they have enough space. Complaints that it is old and needs a renovation.

Team travel: B-plus, T12th

Only 48% of players feel like they have enough room to spread out.

Positives are: No roommates, a lot of first-class seats.

Players reported that in previous years, the team used a large plane so that all players had lay-down seats. This past season the Club switched to a smaller plane, which limited the number of lay-down seats so many players have worse seats and less space now.

The Minnesota Vikings ranked first overall and received no grades lower than A. There were four of A-plus, three A and one A-minus. The Miami Dolphins opened a $135 million facility in 2021 and ranked second with five grades of A-plus, two with an A and a C-plus for treatment of families.

Vikings second-year coach Kevin O’Connell was asked at the Combine about the team’s ranking and said, “It’s a huge priority for us, it really is. One of the things that I look back on a year ago and I think about using words like connecting with our players and the collaboration that goes into what pro football should be at this level. It goes so much beyond those words and people kind of chuckle sometimes as you use some of these cliché-like words; well, they’re not cliché when you go to work every day and try to join with a great group of people and a great support staff at every level of our organization. It’s not a cliché when people make that our mission statement, to provide the premier place to go to work and improve both personally and collectively as a team in our league means a lot to us. I mentioned it earlier, but I don’t think you can say all of that without thanking our ownership. Our beautiful facility and both our training facility and our home stadium. In my opinion, one of the best home atmospheres in our league and then it’s the people.

“Talk a lot about culture; culture is people and it’s something we strive to work on every single day, and I think our players feel that. Whether it’s the different elements that go into that survey and I’m not clear on a ton of the details on it, but I can say I’m not surprised and I’m thankful for our players and their communication with us to help make that happen.”

During the Cardinals search for a general manager and coach, there was no shortage of unflattering comments circulated about the organization. That included the notion that some candidates weren’t interested in the jobs. It has also been reported that the team’s first choice for general manager, Ian Cunningham, turned down an offer because of the salary offered.

Coach Jonathan Gannon told Peter King of the Eagles offered him a “new offer” to stay as defensive coordinator and the team said, “It’s gonna pay you more than being a head coach. That’s cool and I loved it there, but I wanted to be a head coach.”

The Cardinals haven’t commented on the NFLPA survey, but Bidwill apparently acknowledges improvement is necessary.

When Gannon was introduced to the Arizona media, Bidwill was asked about things that were said by candidates during the interview process.

He said, “Well, there was a lot of noise out there (as) there tends to be. A lot of it was inaccurate. I think a lot of people came in and liked our facility. In fact, Jonathan and the Eagles got a chance to be here last week and use the facilities (during Super Bowl week). We talked a lot about areas of improvement that were just not football, but also football operations and about areas where we could be improving things. We’re very open about that.”

In an interview on ArizonaSports 98.7, Bidwill also said, “What I think we learned was not only different ways to coach but also different ways to acquire talent and different ways to look at talent. And then lastly, where is this player performance development and sports science space today and are we lagging? Where do we need to make additional investments? That’s sort of the next area we’re really going to be focused on.”

Judging by the NFLPA survey, there should be no “sort of” when analyzing how the Cardinals must improve their culture and strive to get more in lock step with the competition.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me:

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