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Arizona Cardinals’ Contract Questions

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Some of the Cardinals’ players have been urging the front office to keep the continuity on the offensive line and in the secondary.

The good news—-it appears that the players are now excited with the new direction of the team and they want to stay in Arizona, particularly, if the money is right.

The concern is—-the money and whether it would be in the team’s best interests to overpay at some positions in order to maintain the continuity the players are pleading for.

Recently, Patrick Peterson has been imploring the front office to keep the same secondary together because in the second year of being together and in the same system he feels confident that the group can improve and begin to thrive.

This would include keeping CB Robert Alford, who spent the season on the IR after suffering a broken leg in training camp. Peterson and Alford are good friends and they have longed for playing in the same secondary.

During exit interviews, Justin Pugh was effusive in his praise of his fellow offensive linemen and was outspoken in his wish that the Cardinals re-sign LT D.J. Humphries and C A.Q. Shipley. Humphries has indicated a desire to remain with the Cardinals, but he has emphasized that he expects to be given top level LT money. Shipley wanted his agent to move quickly on a new contract—-but, seeing as nothing has happened yet, the two sides may not be on the same page as to what the salary figures should be—-or maybe the Cardinals have other plans at center.

Then, of course, there is the pressing concern as to what the Cardinals should do with RB David Johnson and his lucrative contract.

These are difficult questions for Steve Keim because he likes all of these players, not just as players, but as personalities.

However, imo, these questions are not as difficult as they seem.

Let’s start in the secondary.

  1. Now is the time to trade Patrick Peterson, especially after the team foolishly refused to do so at last season’s trading deadline.

it’s ironic that Peterson is now lobbying to keep the secondary together when he has been the one most eager to leave and he was the one who deprived the team of his participation for 6 games thanks to his PED and cover up violations. Even worse, if he was so concerned about developing the continuity in the secondary why did he choose to skip OTAs last season and why did he return to the field after his 6 game hiatus in poor shape?

While it is tempting to take the bait and now believe that Peterson is thinking team first, particularly after his strong performance the last three games—-the best news it that his improved performance was a blessing to Peterson and the Cardinals because it re-established Peterson’s trade value.

Trading Peterson is the smartest thing the Cardinals could do. It will save them close to $12M on the cap, which they could use to help sign 27 year old UFA CB Byron Jones to a multi-year deal. The Cardinals would get younger and more well-rounded at the position, while solidifying the position for the next 4 years. Plus, the Cardinals should be able to pick up a Day 2 draft pick—-which helps in a draft where the Cardinals have only 2 Day 3 picks.

2. Releasing CB Robert Alford is a no-brainer.

Steve Keim constructed Alford’s contract so that there would be an relatively easy out after one year in case things didn’t work out. While the dead money is $3M, by releasing Alford they would gain $4.5M in added cap space. If Alford is still on the roster on March 18th, Alford is guaranteed his base salary of $4.5M. That’s the problem.

The medical red flags on Alford are impossible to ignore. He had his worst season as a pro in 2019 while battling through a host of injuries. Now he’s coming back from a broken leg after missing the entire 2020 season. It’s just way too risky to guarantee him the $4.5M which would set his 2020 cap figure at $7.5M.

Now—-one thing the Cardinals could do, is negotiate a new incentives laden contract with Alford, if he and is agent are amenable to that. But, the current contract is untenable.

The Offensive Line:

3. The Cardinals cannot afford the risk of paying D.J. Humphries top LT money.

The medical red flags on Humphries are too daunting—-yet apparently he believes those red flags should be ignored. The fact is that Humphries has started only 43 of 82 games over his 5 seasons with the Cardinals. 2020 was the only season in which he started all 16 games. Even then, if you look at the analytics, his 64.7 PFF grade ranked him as the #47 T in the NFL this season.

Per rumors, there have been lingering concerns about Humphries’ right knee. And while some pundits are convinced that Humphries will get a lucrative multi-year contract from some team, if not the Cardinals, the medical red flags are bound to give all teams a cause for concern.

But what about the franchise tag? There has been some strong sentiment that the Cardinals should keep Humphries another year and pay him the $14M guaranteed by the franchise tag. Again—-that has to give the Cardinals pause.

If the Cardinals think they can f-tag Humphries and trade him, then they are once again fooling themselves. What does it say to the other teams if the Cardinals put him on the trade market? the combination of Humphries wanting top LT money and a team having to trade a draft pick to be able to give him in excess of $15M a year is inconceivable.

Another point to consider is that with a mobile QB like Kyler Murray, each of the 5 OL are essentially of equal importance. When you look at the job Sean Kugler did with RT Justin Murray, it makes you wonder what he could do with UFA LT Le’Raven Clark (67.6 PFF grade in 2018). And there is another UFA LT on the market who could be a great, affordable fit.

When Sean Kugler was in his last year with the Steelers in 2012, he helped to develop rookie LT Kelvin Beachum (pictured at the top), who is coming off three good seasons in a row with the Jets (67.1, 68.1 and 69.3 PFF grades). The Cardinals could sign Beachum to a deal similar to the one had with the Jets, 3 years for $24M with $12M guaranteed. Beachum has started 60 of 64 games the past 4 season—-that’s more than a whole season more—-17 games—-than Humphries. Beachum earned higher grades each year, as well.

Which would you prefer—-Humphries on the f-tag in 2020 at $14M—-or Le’Raven Clark or Kelvin Beachum for $8M or under? Or—-drafting a tackle such as Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills or Tristan Wirfs at #8 (4 years/$19.9/$5M a year)?

If the Cardinals sign Clark or Beachum, then they could draft a promising young tackle on Day 2 of the draft and develop him. This draft is loaded with good young tackle prospects. Here are some of the Day 2 notables: Josh Jones (Houston), Austin Jackson (USC), Prince Tega Wanagho (Auburn), Matt Peart (Connecticut), Hakeem Adeniji (Kansas St.) and Ben Batsch (St. John’s).

Plus Day 3 is deep with tackle talent: Saahdig Charles (LSU), Yasir Durant (Missouri), Colton McKivitz (West Virginia), Ezra Cleveland (Boise St.), Alex Taylor (South Carolina St.), Charlie Heck (North Carolina), Robert Hunt (LA-Lafeyette) and Terence Steele (Texas Tech).

4. The Cardinals have to get younger and more athletic at center.

A.Q. Shipley deserves a ton of credit for his comeback season. The guy is a true warrior.

But, he’s turning 34 in May and the Cardinals have drafted 3 centers in the past 4 years. To Shipley’s credit, he fended off the draftees this year and back in 2017 and 2018 when Evan Boehm was the competition (oh wait, Boehm wasn’t getting reps at center, he was playing guard).

If Sean Kugler wants to keep Mason Cole at guard and feels that Lamont Gaillard is not quite ready, then UFA Connor McGovern, Kugler’s former center in 2018 with the Broncos, makes sense.

5. The Cardinals have to try to get their money’s worth from David Johnson.

Make him part of a 3-4 RB committee and play him as a receiver in favorable matchups. Plus, put him back in as the kickoff returner. He can be dynamic in that role, like he was as a rookie.

It’s not like D.J. is a locker room problem. His motivation in 2020 should be off the charts.

The odds of trading him at his salary are so low—-and it would be a PR disaster to release David Johnson at the cost of $16.2M in dead cap money. In 2021 the dead cap figure is $3M.

Recap:

  • Trade CB Patrick Peterson (save close to $12M) for a Day 2 draft pick and release CB Robert Alford (save $4.5M) to sign CB Byron Jones (76.1, Cowboys) or CB Chris Harris, Jr. (69.9, Broncos) or Troy Hill (76.4, Rams) to play opposite LCB Byron Murphy. Plus, sign CB Kevin Johnson (73.1, Bills) (gave up only 261 yds, and 0 TD on 19/35 targets @ 53.4% in 2019).
  • Do not re-sign or f-tag T D.J. Humphries (save $14-15M) nor A.Q. Shipley (save $4-5M) and sign T Le’Raven Clark or T Kelvin Beachum, and C Connor McGovern (if he’s preferred over Mason Cole and Lamont Gaillard), plus draft a tackle on Day 2 or 3.
  • Keep RB/slot WR David Johnson (if you can’t trade him) and make him part of a talented 3-4 RB committee with Chase Edmonds and either UFA RB DeAndre Washington and/or a draft pick.