The 2019 Cardinals finished with a 5-10-1 record. Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray were the biggest stories of the year, along with a pretty poor defensive effort for the majority of the season that held back the offense to a point.
But they showed growth and now, the goal will be to build into a championship contender and “make the leap” similar to other teams such as the 49ers did this year.
So what are the 5 biggest questions this offseason for the Arizona Cardinals? Let’s begin:
Honorable Mention: Fitz Finished or Back Again?
It goes without saying but every single year, there’s a Larry Fitzgerald question. It’s almost like the offseason doesn’t truly begin until Fitzgerald makes his future plans known in a way as to if he will keep playing or not.
For my money, I think he showed he’s still got enough left in the tank, but after seeing a guy like Andrew Luck retire at 30 and the Cardinals starting to embrace a youth movement...who knows?
I think Patrick Peterson’s thoughts that he’ll be back might be the biggest (and most accurate) voice in the room. Speaking of P2...
#1. What happens with Patrick Peterson?
With the news that Defensive Vance coordinator is returning for 2020, the biggest question that many had going into this offseason in the first place has been resolved, as his status probably shouldn’t have been in doubt given the desire for a few years of stability following the “one and done” nature of Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy.
Now that that’s out of the way, the next biggest question will revolve around perennial pro-bowler Patrick Peterson.
Peterson’s contract is up at the end of this year, and he’s coming off of both the worst year of his career and his first year not making a Pro Bowl.
Peterson would have been ineligible to play in the Pro Bowl anyway s it was due to a 6-game PED suspension and had previously voiced displeasure with the organization both on social media and also in asking for a trade in 2018.
The Cardinals have seemed to want to extend him and keep him as a Cardinals for life similar to Larry Fitzgerald. The question is...will Peterson accept an extension? And will the Cardinals offer him what he wants this offseason after he seemed to tune out part of the season and wasn’t the same at age 29?
Perhaps his late push in the defense will make a difference as he looked like his old self again. I’d expect that they make an offer to extend for sure...but have no idea if Peterson will accept it or if they’ll wait a year or...really no one knows what to expect with him at this point.
But if AZ offers a deal and Peterson accepts, well, that determines a lot. They’ll wrap up CB1 for the next few years and hopefully he’ll play at his end-of-year level versus mid-year and won’t see future suspensions.
Should he decide to pursue free agency in a year rather than stay with Arizona to seek a payday, the Cardinals might be wise to deal him to another team as the max that they would receive for Peterson would be a 3rd round compensatory pick (and if they spend a lot in free agency, they probably wouldn’t even receive that.
Course, there’s other cornerbacks available they could pay in free agency should he leave with that money...but that will determine a lot as far as the team’s available money in free agency. And that’s why it’s the top offseason storyline.
#2. How will the team deal with David Johnson and Kenyan Drake?
David Johnson signed a megadeal that was set to pay him like a top 5 running back on the eve of the 2018 season. He then went out to have a good, but not great year on a team that was mired in offensive ineptitude.
He entered the 2019 season looking noticeably like he lost a step, but even in a pass-happy offense the first 6 weeks he was averaging around 50 rushing yards a game and 50 receiving yards, putting up 100 yards from scrimmage. Then he got hurt, and upon return...he couldn’t hit 50 rushing or receiving yards FOR THE SEASON.
Perhaps Johnson was playing hurt, or injured or just isn’t able to grasp what his role needs to be in a system that’s a far cry from Bruce Arians’ 2015-2016 offenses. Or maybe he just doesn’t have his heart in it anymore after having finally gotten paid and having a child to experience the brutal beating and risking life and limb that the NFL calls upon its denizens.
Either way, Kenyan Drake’s explosion upon being freed from Miami into a full-time workload showed how decisive of a playmaker he was, and Johnson didn’t even touch the ball down the stretch.
Problem is...paying Drake when David Johnson’s already got another year left on his current contract becomes an issue. A big one.
Jerick McKinnon got 4 years, $30M from the 49ers in 2018.— Jess Root (@senorjessroot) December 22, 2019
He had 159 carries in 2017.
That appears to be the top end of what Drake will get in free agency.
Former Cards RB Chris Johnson said he saw a trade forthcoming for David Johnson and if those numbers above happen, Arizona will have to make something of DJ on the trade market otherwise they might not only have to watch their top running back leave...but also might need to then find a new starter because unless there’s some miraculous recovery they don’t have a starter on the roster.
#3. Does DJ Humphries walk, get franchised or extended?
While right tackle will be something fans watch in the offseason with great interest given the cap space, market and the status of a guy like Justin Murray as well as the first few rounds of the NFL draft.
But what they do with Humphries might be a big-time story to watch as he’s just finished his first healthy season in his career after 5 years in the league...yet is a 26 year old free agent who’s been competent at left tackle when he’s played. And those don’t grow on trees.
Humphries has said he’d like to be back and finish his career in Arizona, and the Cardinals seem to be looking to enter negotiations to keep him. But will a desperate free agent market that saw Trent Brown get paid to the tune of a 4-year, $66 million deal be too much for the Cardinals to want to keep him? Or could the franchise tag potentially be in effect as well if they doubt his injuries are behind him?
The upcoming draft seems deep with tackles while the free agent market is quite bare overall, so there’s leverage on both sides potentially. If Humphries isn’t tagged and walks, the Cardinals are in a bit of a bind at the tackle spot, so you’d guess this would get worked out within a brief period of time. A.Q. Shipley and Justin Murray are also free agents, but not nearly the caliber of the Murray’s blindside protector as far as that goes
#4. What impact players do they add to fix the defense?
Arizona this year really, really had struggles in three different areas:
- Impact defensive lineman in addition to Chandler Jones to rush the passer.
- Linebacker partner to be the Robin to Jordan Hicks’ Batman in coverage
- A deep safety in the middle of the field able to play consistent coverage and allow Budda Baker to be used all over the field.
All in all, when adding these three pieces together, the Cardinals became a team that:
- struggled to rush the passer outside of Jones without blitzing and playing cover zero
- was athletic and able to guard tight ends or cover running backs on screen passes
- garner takeaways with robber coverages that could prey on quarterbacks trying to take advantage of one-on-one coverages down the field
As a result of each of these things, you’ll notice a pattern. Vance Joseph likely didn’t feel he had the personnel to do what he wanted. As a result, he played “soft zones” to try to keep things in front of him and the team got picked apart by tight ends and screens, something that goes back to even the 2018 roster.
Joseph’s lack of aggression often turned to over-aggression in order to make a play, which ended up in blown coverages after sending everybody and left some guys wide open (think the end of the 2nd Niners game). It might continue in 2020.
Or, it might see a few quick tweaks lead to major improvement if the outside corners can hold up without safety coverage and the team’s able to get pressure with just 4-5 guys...you might still see some tight end issues but not nearly as much as long as the outside corners aren’t getting beat every other play.
At least...you’d hope so. Fans will be watching the free agent market carefully, and not just former Broncos players who were under Vance Joseph’s watchful eye the last few years.
#5. What will they do with a top 10 and a top 40 pick?
The hope is that this is the last highest pair of picks the Arizona Cardinals will have for quite some time. The hope is that Murray and the flexibility of a rookie contract with Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive brilliance will lift the Cardinals into contenders from pretenders.
As a result, you’d hope they will be picking 16th or later in following drafts for the years to come...meaning this year might be the “last year” they can nab a more obvious or even ‘elite’ talent in the draft inside the top 10. It’s why some fans, skeptical of Keim after so many 1st round disappointments, feel that this is almost a “last shot” for the team given the expectations for Murray.
I think it’s going to be key indeed, though it’s not the end of the world or the most important selection of all-time. A hit, on offense OR defense, would be sorely needed for a team that’s looking to be on the rise.
Based on how free agency at that time has shaken out there’s plenty of needs still likely to be had at tackle for the future, wide receiver, linebacker, corner or even maybe at running back. And the team not only will have a top 10 pick but also a high pick in the 2nd round to work with.
There’ll be more time to break all that down but essentially the draft is when the Cardinals’ 90 man roster is finally fleshed out with the last big influx of incoming talent before training camp hits and the roster blueprint is set so the team construction for that season can begin proper.
What are your biggest questions for this offseason, Birdgang?
Sound off below in the comments section!