Updates: on OL and WR menus (written up a couple of weeks ago)
- RT Justin Murray earned the highest RT grade for Week 11 per PFF. Murray is a 2020 ERFA (Exclusive Rights Free Agent) and should be easy to keep at a salary slightly above the veteran’s minimum. What a boon it would be for the Cardinals if Murray is the long-term answer at RT. He’s 26 and heading into his prime.
- Looks like the Cardinals will add some depth at tackle this season, as the Cardinals have designated T Jordan Mills for a return off of the IR. Mills started 2 games at RT prior to his injury. His PFF grade was poor at 38.0. But he only gave up 1 sack and 2 other pressures and incurred 0 penalties.
- WR Pharoh Cooper is carving a niche with the Cardinals as a return man and rotational WR in the offense. Cooper scored his first NFL TD at WR in Week 11 against the 49ers. He is a 2020 UFA. At this point it would seem likely that the Cardinals would welcome him back on a deal likely in the $1.5—-$2M range per year.
- David Johnson (2020 cap figure: $14.25M—-dead money $16.2M if released)—-the Cardinals need to find a way to coach Johnson up. His contract makes him virtually untradable and they lose a ton of money this year by releasing him. Despite his most recent woes coming back from injury, Johnson has been productive in the offense, earning a good 74.2 PFF grade. However, It has become very apparent that Kliff Kingsbury stresses speed and quickness at the RB position. Therefore, Johnson needs to pick up his pace.
It’s hard to understand how Johnson, while he was injured, watched Chase Edmonds and Kenyan Drake bust out for 100+ yard rushing games by hitting the holes with a bang and yet when he had the opportunity to return to the field, he ran slower and more deliberately than ever. One would think he would would have been on a mission to reclaim his starting job and to make a statement to Edmonds and Drake, “don’t forget about me.”
Instead, Johnson has found himself spending a good deal of time on the sidelines. Giving up the 16th fumble of his career versus the Bucs did not help his and his team’s cause.
One of the biggest 2020 dilemmas the Cardinals could have to wrestle with is whether they can afford to pay Johnson his $14.25M and WR Larry Fitzgerald his customary $11-12M at the expense of not being able to add key free agents in areas of great need. The NFL salary cap this year is at $188M and probably will increase to $190M in 2020. Paying David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald a combined $26M would take up 1/7th of the entire cap.
Perhaps, the Cardinals could try to rework Johnson’s contract the way they tried with Tyrann Mathieu, but it would be hard to imagine that D.J. and his agent would be amenable to such a proposal. The prospect of David Johnson’s deal going down the tubes the way Tyrann Mathieu’s did would be devastating for the Cardinals—-and would perpetuate the national perception of dysfunction and distrust within the Cardinals’ organization.
Somehow, some way, the Cardinals are going to have to work things out with Johnson. Blake and Johnny have been proposing a trade with Bucs involving TE O.J. Howard and a draft pick from the Cardinals for David Johnson. And perhaps the Bucs could sign Johnson to a new deal—-but the Cardinals would still be on the hook for the remaining $16.2M of his guaranteed money. Adding a potentially outstanding TE in O.J. Howard could be a boon (kudos to Blake and Johnny), but, no matter what, trading Johnson would be costly.
When Blake, Johnny and I (ROTB podcast posting Wednesday AM) discussed what’s going on with David Johnson, the gist of my comment was that, thus far, Bruce Arians has been the only coach to press the right buttons on Johnson and, as we know, BA rode Johnson like a thoroughbred.
But the current offense and coaching style of Kliff Kingsbury is something that D.J. has to adapt to—-Kingsbury expects his players to motivate themselves (and rightfully so)—-and if they don’t deliver, he goes on to the next guy—-plus in Kingsbury’s offense, it is designed to spread the ball around. Ergo, D.J. needs to realize that his 2,000 yard combined rushing and receiving goal is highly unrealistic.
I have long wondered what David Johnson would like like playing the vast majority of his snaps at WR. I believe that—-because of his size, strength, acceleration, ball skills and nose for the end zone—-he could be outstanding. Could Johnson be a 800--1,000 yard receiver in this offense? I believe the answer is yes. Hopefully the next 5 games will shed some light on Johnson’s ability as a receiver.
- Chase Edmonds (2020 cap figure: $773K)—-what we have seen thus far from Chase Edmonds is what coaches hope for in 2nd year players. Edmonds is mature beyond his years in terms of his professional work ethic and attention to detail. His 124 yard, 3 TD game in the rain at the Meadowlands versus the Giants was a work of art.
Edmonds relished his heavy workload at Fordham where he shattered all of the school’s rushing records. And he looks tailor made for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense because he shows an impressive balance of burst and finesse. Plus, he is a reliable, diligent blocker and a chunk yard play waiting to happen as a receiver. Best of all, like Kyler Murray, whom Chase has been creating a special bond with, he’s a team first kind of player.
- Kenyan Drake (2020 UFA)—-K.D., as Kingsbury and his teammates call him, has found a home in this offense. His versatility is impressive in that he appears equally talented and aggressive as a runner and a receiver. To possess his kind of quick feet and sneaky strength at his length is a bonus. And—-best of all—-K.D. is tough nosed. Like Tom Petty, he won’t back down.
It would appear right now that K.D. has earned the starting job. Kingsbury does not typically substitute at the RB position the way the 49ers and Ravens do—-although that may change now that David Johnson and Chase Edmonds are back. But there is certain kind of clutch to Drake’s game that is difficult to ignore.
The question is—-what kind of deal can the Cardinals make with K.D. in order to keep him for 2020 and perhaps beyond? I am thinking that somewhere between $4.2-$5M a year gets it done, similar to what Tevin Coleman got with the 49ers (2/$8.5M/$5.2g) or what Mark Ingram got with the Ravens (3/$15M/$6.5Mg).
The Cardinals have already indicated that they were interested in Drake as a 2020 UFA, even before the trade. Chances seem pretty good that they will get a deal done.
- D.J. Foster (2020 UFA)—-Foster is a popular teammate, local college star and solid ST player, although his 40.8 PFF grade for the 6 games he played does not reflect the kind of stability he brought to the punt team, for example, as Andy Lee’s protector. The Cardinals learned this the hard way the first game Foster was out, as Lee suffered a punt block thanks to a missed block by the new protector.
It is going to be harder for Foster to make next year’s team—-but, if he re-signs with the Cardinals, he will give it his all. You never want to bet against players like Foster.
While I am hoping the Cardinals re-sign Kenyan Drake to a multi-year deal, I think the Cardinals already have a winner in Chase Edmonds—-and Johnny said it best on the upcoming ROTB podcast, if the Cardinals are unable to sign Drake, it’s worth it to draft RBs and develop them, rather than spend too much of the cap on them.
The RB in the 2020 NFL Draft class that I am most enamored with is LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire—-if you haven’t checked him out—-check this game he had in LSU’s upset of Alabama:
I think Clyde “The Spin and Glide” would dynamic next to Kyler Murray in the shotgun.
The other RB who might be a natural fit is 2020 UFA DeAndre Washington (Raiders). Washington was an All-American in Kliff Kingsbury’ offense at Texas Tech. if anyone knows how to maximize Washington’s strengths, it’s his mentor with the Red Raiders. Here he is with the Oakland Raiders:
What 3 RBs do you want for the 2020 season? What would you do with David Johnson?