Sunday’s win over the Browns was a nice reprieve from the losing, but the surprise release of Terrell Suggs two days before the game tells you everything you need to know about the mindset of the Cardinals’ front office here almost at the end of the regular season.
They’re looking ahead to next season.
Suggs was old, unproductive, and on a 1-year deal. Releasing him made sense, as he clearly had no chance of being part of the team’s future plans.
That got me wondering—how many other would-be free agents are part of the Cardinals’ future? There are a lot of them—28, according to Spotrac (including players on IR). Let’s take a quick peek ahead to the offseason and see how many of these guys the team should actually try to bring back, grouping the players into general tiers.
Note: (H) denotes a holdover from last year’s roster, and (A) denotes an offseason acquisition.
Bottom of the Roster
This tier is made up of injury cases, third-stringers, special teamers—in another word, expendable players. Maybe one or two of these guys will be back on a minimum deal, but their presence or absence won’t really impact the 2020 Cardinals in any meaningful way.
- S Chris Banjo (29) (A)
- CB Jalen Davis (23) (A)
- RB D.J. Foster (26) (H)
- DT Clinton McDonald (32) (A)
- OT Jordan Mills (28) (A)
- OLB Brooks Reed (32) (A)
- DT Caraun Reid (28) (A)
- CB Josh Shaw (27) (A)
- S Charles Washington (26) (A)
- CB Brandon Williams (27) (H)
Time to Move On
These five veterans might still have some production left, but it’s probably not worth trying to find out for what it would cost to bring them back—they all made at least $1.75M this season. Clay has been overshadowed by Maxx Williams, neither Gilbert nor Garcia have played a single offensive snap, and Gunter and Shipley both are what they are at this point in their careers—average to below-average players at their positions. The team should probably move on from all five of these players.
- TE Charles Clay (30) (A)
- OG Max Garcia (27) (A)
- OT Marcus Gilbert (31) (A)
- DE Rodney Gunter (27) (H)*
- C A.Q. Shipley (33) (H)
*Gunter was a free agent after last offseason, but he wound up signing a 1-year deal to remain with the team.
For the Right Price
The guys in this tier have all been occasionally productive and are young/cheap enough for the team to consider bringing them back under the right circumstances. The five defenders here have all played between 25% and 42% of the defensive snaps so far and make $1M or less. On offense, Byrd and Cooper have had their moments, and Hundley thankfully hasn’t really played but looked decent in the preseason. These guys could all potentially be competent backups or rotation pieces next year—but no one should sweat if any of them aren’t brought back.
- DE Jonathan Bullard (26) (A)
- WR Damiere Byrd (26) (A)
- WR Pharoh Cooper (24) (H)
- QB Brett Hundley (26) (A)
- DT Zach Kerr (29) (A)
- OLB Cassius Marsh (27) (A)
- CB Kevin Peterson (25) (A)
- LB Joe Walker (27) (H)
Priority Free Agents
Of the 28 potential free agents on the roster, there are only five the Cardinals should strongly consider re-signing. Let’s quickly discuss each of the five, in ascending order of priority.
OT Justin Murray (26) (A)
Offseason waiver claim Murray has been a pleasant surprise at RT this season. He hasn’t blown anyone away, but he’s been steady enough, committing only 2 penalties and giving up 4 sacks on 646 offensive snaps per Pro Football Focus, good for a solid grade of 61.5. He’s reminiscent of Korey Cunningham last season—whom the team gave away for a song in the offseason. Murray is a player worth bringing back as at least a swing tackle. This team needs all the competent offensive linemen it can get.
K Zane Gonzalez (24) (H)
Former Sun Devil Gonzalez has been more than a pleasant surprise this season—he’s been one of the best kickers in the league. He earned his status as a Pro Bowl alternate by going 28/31 on FGs and 28/29 on XPs. Still just 24, Gonzalez should be the Cardinals’ kicker for the foreseeable future and the team should lock him up this offseason.
RB Kenyan Drake (25) (A)
Drake probably made himself a decent chunk of change with his monstrous 4-TD performance against the Browns on Sunday. He proved he could handle a 20+ carry workload against a solid defense—kudos to Steve Keim for stealing him from the Dolphins and to Kliff Kingsbury for figuring out how to use him so quickly. But can the Cardinals afford to pay him the raise he rightfully earned with DJ’s $14M+ cap figure on the books next season? Especially with Chase Edmonds waiting in the wings with 2 years left on his cheap rookie deal. The RB question will be a tricky one to answer this offseason, but it’s pretty clear the team is better off with Drake toting the rock. Can the team find a way to bring him back?
OT D.J. Humphries (25) (H)
Hump will be another tricky question this offseason. He’s not a perfect player by any means—he doesn’t dominate in either the passing or running game, and he’s committed 12 penalties this season per PFF. But he’s been good enough (grade of 63.1) and has been a picture of health this year. He’s not a franchise tackle, but he’s going to be paid like one—whether by the Cardinals or someone else. And remember what I said about competent O-linemen above? That goes doubly true for left tackles, which don’t exactly grow on trees. Unless they fall in love with one of the tackles in the draft class—and are sure he’s going to be there—the team should seriously consider re-signing Hump.
WR Larry Fitzgerald (36) (H)
The franchise. The legend. I’m not going to waste time debating this—pay the man whatever he asks if he wants to come back. The goodwill it’ll bring to the fanbase and the intangibles he brings to the locker room will more than offset the diminishing production on the field. If Fitz wants to come back, bring him back. Simple as that.
One thing above all others is apparent after going through this exercise—there’s going to be a lot of turnover on this roster this offseason. Again. But I suppose that comes with the territory when you change head coaches twice in two seasons.
Fortunately, Kliff Kingsbury isn’t going anywhere. And if Steve Keim can bring in more players that fit his system, the team will continue to improve. Let’s just hope the improvement in Year 2 is more than the incremental improvement we’ve seen so far in Year 1.
What are your thoughts on these players, Cardinals fans? Anyone you think deserves more serious consideration of being brought back? What do you think of the top five? Let us know in the comments.