Well, we’ve finally reached the bye week which unfortunately means Kyler Murray doesn’t play football this Sunday.
So in an effort to pass the time in this increasingly frustrating season (outside of Murray), I’ve made a todo list of personnel moves I’d make this offseason that COULD catapult the Arizona Cardinals to the playoffs come 2020.
A quick disclaimer before we begin: I am working under the assumption that both General Manager Steve Keim and Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph will be retained by the team. As of the writing of this article, I get the strong sense that each will receive (especially Keim) another shot to remedy this competitive yet disappointing squad.
With that being said (cracks knuckles), lets get to it!
Number One: Franchise Tag LT D.J. Humphries
What has the world come to that I would suggest incorporating the ever disappointing Humphries into the team’s plans come 2020?
The cold reality is that Humphries, should he hit the open market, would likely be the top offensive tackle available given his age (25) and (gasp) his 2019 play.
According to Pro Football Focus, Humphries has a mediocre overall grade of 61 but does have a promising pass blocking grade of 70.6. That alone warrants another year for the big man and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been impressed by his play under Kingsbury. Kyler Murray’s development is the most important factor moving forward and Humphries is now a key ingredient to that recipe.
The biggest reason for optimism is that the former Florida Gator is a mere two games from matching his career high in games played (13) for a season (2016). Should Humphries finish the season healthy while not seeing his play unravel in the process, the Cardinals would be wise to bring him back via the franchise tag.
Beyond that is a different conversation.
(whispers) “Make him do it again.”
Number Two: Trade CB Patrick Peterson to Tampa Bay for TE O.J. Howard
I have long been an advocate that the Cardinals would have been best served moving off Peterson a year ago while maximizing his value. Now, as we sit here in late 2019, the once great corner is routinely beaten by marginal receivers while also carrying the burden of his early season suspension for PEDs.
Peterson is going into the last year of his deal and turns 30 years old prior to next season.
Meanwhile, former Cardinal head coach Bruce Arians has all but exiled TE O.J. Howard from the state of Florida. The former 19th overall selection in the 2017 draft has been a complete non factor in the Arian’s “tight-end unfriendly offense”. So much so that it looks increasingly unlikely that Howard will surpass his stats from the previous two seasons.
The once great tight end prodigy will certainly be available this offseason, given the commitment Tampa Bay has made in Arians. Anyone who has been around the Cardinal franchise during Arian’s time with the team knows that he had significant say in personnel (see Haason Reddick, Deone Buccanon, John Brown etc.).
This all adds up, in my opinion, as a slam dunk trade scenario for both teams. The Buccaneers have long lusted after Peterson dating back to this off season. Even with his 2019 struggles, reuniting with former DC Todd Bowles would be appealing for Peterson. Additionally, Tampa Bay currently fields the worst secondary in all of pro football and Peterson would be largely motivated in a contract season.
As for OJ Howard, General Manager Steve Keim reportedly considered the Alabama product at pick #13 back in 2017. Additionally, while the Cardinals recently locked up standout blocking TE Maxx Williams for two additional years, the team is still without a legitimate receiving threat at the position. Howard would also go a long way in solving the team’s redzone woes, as the former All American stands at a massive 6’6, 251 pounds.
The Cardinals, should they opt to pick up Howard’s fifth year option, would be trading one expensive year of service (Peterson) for a cap friendly rookie contract that would span 2020 AND 2021 (Howard).
Bryon Murphy has shown enough that the former Husky should be poised for a massive jump in year two. The team could also use a early round selection on an additional corner if they find similar value to that of Murphy. Free agency is also an option.
But the bottomline is that the team needs to move on from Patrick Peterson. They aren’t going to franchise him at 31 years old and it’s doubtful the former LSU product would consider resigning with Arizona given all that’s happened.
Oh, and it’s a complete fools errand to pay defensive backs big money post 30.
Number Three: Sign DT Arik Armstead
The Cardinal’s currently field one of the worst defensive lines, in terms of raw talent, in all of football.
That should come to no surprise as two of their three starters headed into this season, Robert Nkemdiche and Darius Philon, were both cut from the team before the preseason.
That has unfortunately left the team incredibly thin upfront and it’s shown as the season has progressed. Corey Peters has been the lone standout while former fourth rounder Rodney Gunter has been solid. Rookie DE Zach Allen was recently placed on injured reserved thanks to a nagging shoulder injury that’s kept him on the shelf since September.
The Cardinals currently possess a bottom third roster in all of football and unfortunately wont be able to fill all of their needs this offseason. But increasing the talent level on both lines of scrimmage should be a top priority for a team that is routinely pushed around.
Enter Arik Armstead.
Largely thought of as disappointment heading into his fifth year option, the former first rounder out of Oregon has produced like an All Pro in 2019.
Yes, the 6’7 specimen in surrounded by perhaps the best collection of defensive line talent in all of football but that shouldn’t diminish his production.
Via Pro Football Focus, he has an overall grade of 88.4 which would lead the ENTIRE Cardinal defense at the writing of this article. Armstead is only 26 years old and the San Francisco 49ers would be wise to lock him up.
But with big time deals incoming for both TE George Kittle and fellow DT/DE DeForest Buckner, money may be sparse around the Bay Area this March.
I’d be comfortable shoveling out big dollars to the (hopefully) improving Armstead and locking him up for what you’d expect would be the prime years of his career.
Number Four: Sign Safety Justin Simmons
The comments above could also be correlated to the Cardinal safety unit but to a lesser extend given the youth and potential on the roster. Budda Baker should be in line for a contract extension this offseason but is much more suited to play near the line of scrimmage.
Fifth round supplemental selection Jalen Thompson looks like a keeper, has he recently secured his first interception this past Sunday against San Francisco. Deionte Thompson should also improve with an additional offseason of development.
With all of that said, the team is still greatly lacking the prototypical ballhawking safety that every NFL franchise urns for.
Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos is quickly establishing himself as one of the best young safeties in all of pro football. He currently sports a sparkling grade of 90 via PFF, including a ridiculous 90.3 in coverage.
The Cardinals have been a complete embarrassment when attempting to cover opposing tight ends in 2019 and Simmons would instantly remedy that tire fire.
Similar to that of Armstead, Simmons is young (26) and constantly improving for a Denver defense that rarely succeeds.
It would be wise for the Broncos to extend this young cornerstone defender but we’ve seen how GM John Elway operates and it usually results in poor decisions being made.
Number Five: Draft CeeDee Lamb in the Top 10
This one is a little more difficult to predict, not due to the player but is more so dependent upon how the Cardinals finish the season..
As I write this, Arizona is currently scheduled to pick 9th overall in next April’s NFL Draft. Should they win 3-4 more games, that would likely bump them out of the top ten, thus (theoretically) eliminating the Cardinals from the Lamb sweepstakes.
With that being said, given their current play defensively, it’s difficult to envision many more Sunday victories in 2019 for the Arizona Cardinals.
With all of that out of the way, assuming Arizona lands a top 5-7 selection next April, they would be wise to target a playmaking receiver worthy of that draft slot.
And boy oh boy is CeeDee Lamb ever worth a top 10 selection.
If you’re reading this article, I’ll assume you’re familiar with Lamb and Cardinal quarterback Kyler Murray’s friendship that blossomed into a 2018 breakout for both Sooners.
Since that magical Heisman campaign, both players have raised their game’s to new levels. Murray is producing one of the finest rookie seasons in recent memories for a quarterback and CeeDee Lamb has cemented himself as (one of) the best college football players in the country, regardless of position.
Even after his absence in last Saturday’s win against Baylor, Lamb is averaging a ridiculous 22.3 yards per reception this season. Throw in a 109 yards per game receiving average and 13 touchdowns (through nine games) and Lamb has clearly established himself as big time playmaker. One that, in many draft analysts eyes, should translate beyond the Lincoln Riley Oklahoma Offensive Machine.
Pairing Murray and Lamb would be unprecedented given their history and (likely) draft positions. A quarterback/wide receiver college combo has never (to my knowledge) been paired (to the same franchise) in back-to-back drafts (with the team selecting each player in the top 5).
Lamb possesses everything that the Arizona Cardinals are lacking at receiver. He is a true deep threat with legitimate 4.4 speed but unlike Andy Isabella, can win his 1-on-1 matchups thanks to his 6’3 200 pound frame. His ability to snatch the ball from the air over helpless Big 12 defensive backs is one of the best things going in 2019 college football.
He is also deadly after the catch, looking more like a running back than receiver.
In my opinion, the Oklahoma product is in a class of his own next May and should only be discussed with former top 10 receiver prospects such as Mike Evans, Julio Jones, AJ Green and Larry Fitzgerald.
This selection would likely be the easiest decision Steve Keim and company make this entire offseason.