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Can Cardinals Handle Being Popular in Free Agency?

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Arizona Cardinals Introduce Kliff Kingsbury - Press Conference Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Today I turned 65 and I can now avow that I am officially on Medicare.

As a Cardinals’ fan for the past 57 years, what I want to say to Michael Bidwill, is precisely this:

Tick, tick, tick, tick....

Last year while making the case for Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals to take QB Kyler Murray at #1, I proposed that it would suddenly make the Cardinals popular in free agency—-not just from past-their-prime veterans who want to “steal from the Cardinals”—-but from real ballers who want to win and be a part of something special.

Thus, it felt like a birthday present this week when Peter Schrager predicted the Cardinals would be “the hottest” team in free agency: (check the video!)

https://www.azcardinals.com/video/schrager-why-the-cardinals-are-the-hottest-free-agent-destination-this-offseason

What I appreciate the most about what Schrager said beyond the excitement of the Cardinals’ offense with Kyler Murray at QB—-is that players want to play for Kliff Kingsbury, because he treats them with respect and he encourages them to work, play hard and have fun doing it—-every single step, block, run, catch and tackle along the way.

As we know there are some coaches who make the daily grind unbearable and who, unfortunately, take some of the fun away from playing the game.

I love that our coach, Kliff Kingsbury, motivates through respect and the love of the game.

That said—-seeing as it is my birthday and that SB Nation has granted me ten wishes for the Cardinals’ off-season—-here they are:

  1. Hire Wade Phillips as an assistant head coach to oversee the defense and to serve as a mentor to Vance Jospeh and the defensive assistants.
  2. Move on from D.J. Humphries, unless he is willing to sign an incentives laden deal that gives him a yearly base salary of $10M that with games played and performance incentives could push it to the $13M range. Virtually everyone is saying that “someone is going to pay” D.J. Humphries $14-15M a year—-but i do not believe that will be the case—-yes, he’s the only young, somewhat experienced starting LT on the free agent market—-but the older free agents are better, more durable (43/82 games in 5 years for DJH cannot be ignored) and likely less expensive. Check the analytics:

81.8 (#7 T in NFL)—-Jason Peters (PHI)—-87.3 pass (#4 in NFL), 71.3 run (#17 in NFL)

81.3 (#8 T in NFL)—-Anthony Castonzo (IND)—-84.4 pass (#8), 70.2 run (#22)

72.8 (#29 T in NFL)—-Andrew Whitworth (LA)—-84.7 pass (#7), 55.3 run (#83)

67.1 (#50 T in NFL)—-Kelvin Beachum (NYJ)—-72.7 pass (#43), 56.6 run (#77)

64.5 (#57 T in NFL)—-D.J.Humphries (ARI)—-76.3 pass (#31), 52.3 run (#109)

  • While the Colts’ Le’Raven Clark most extended play came in 2018, in 363 snaps his grade was 67.6 (#47 T in NFL). Pretty solid, all things considered.
  • Thus if D.J. Humphries won’t sign an incentives laden deal with the Cardinals, then I wish that the Cardinals sign one of the older free agents and then look ahead to next year’s draft to select the LTOF, or that the Cardinals sign Le’Raven Clark to a prove-it deal.

3. Sign Connor McGovern to be the starting center.

  • 71.9 (#10 C in NFL)—-Connor McGovern (DEN)—-82.5 pass (#5), 64.0 run (#22)
  • 57.6 (#39 C in NFL)—-A.Q. Shipley (ARI)—-71.0 pass (#21), 50.7 run (#45)

4. Trade or release Gs Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy (saves a total of $9.5M on the cap) and sign G Joe Thuney to be the starting LG and start Mason Cole at RG.

  • When one looks at Justin Pugh’s and J.R. Sweezy’s play of the last 6 games, 4 of Pugh’s 6 games grades were in the 50s as were 4 of Sweezy’s (actually one of those was in the 40s). Their run blocking grades for the season were well below average, Pugh’s at 55.1 (#74 G) and Sweezy’s at 52.2 (#86).
  • Taking a close look at the analytics at the top 3 Gs in FA—-here’s why Joe Thuney stands out from a K-Raid perspective:

Joe Thuney (#6 G in NFL)—-#3 G in pass blocking, #24 G in run blocking.

Brandon Scherff (#8 G in NFL)—-#34 pass, #6 run

Graham Glasgow (#10 G in NFL)—-#43 pass, #7 run

  • Therefore, make Joe Thuney, who is an upgrade at LG in a division with Aaron Donald, etc. a priority signing on a long-term deal and give Mason Cole his chance to start. Cole graded well in the 3 games where he took all or most of the RG snaps—-68.1 vs. SF—-55.7 at TB (80.7 pass)—-76.7 vs. PIT (84.0 run).
  • Thuney will likely command a salary in the #12-13M a year range—-thus saving $9.5M on the cap by releasing Pugh and Sweezy would make up much of that salary.
  • This was purely a football decision, because I like both Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy (as players and teammates) and if the Cardinals can’t sign Joe Thuney, then I am happy keeping both Pugh and Sweezy for 2020.
  • Thuney is durable and consistent—-has only given up 1 sack in his last 24 games.

5. Sign DI Javon Hargrave to a multi-year deal worth $12-13M a year.

Here’s why Hargrave jumped out at me when I compared the analytics of the top 5 UFA DIs.

86.7 (#5 DI)—-D.J. Reader (ATL)—-#5 run defense, #94 in tackling, #15 pass rush

84.9 (#6 DI)—-Chris Jones (KC)—-#36 run, #105 tackling, #2 pass

83.4 (#8 DI)—-Javon Hargrave (PIT)—-#19 run, #3 tackling, #13 pass

76.8 (#20 DI)—-Shelby Harris (DEN)—-#56 run, #54 tackling, #21 pass

74.6 (#27 DI)—-Michael Brockers LA)—-#7 run, #101 tackling, #104 pass

Javon Hargrave is the most well rounded and efficient. We want good tacklers and he brings it.

6. Sign LB Nick Kwiatowski to be the starting WILB at 3 years for $12M.

Kwiatowski’s 2019 grades across the board are good: 72.6 (#20 LB) overall, 67.1 vs. run, 72.6 tackling, 81.8 pass rush, and 68.7 pass coverage.

By comparison, Jordan Hicks’ grades: 61.1 (#76), 69.1 vs. run, 61.3 tackling, 67.7 pass rush, 53.8 pass coverage.

I would be delighted if the Cardinals could sign WILB Cory Littleton, but his projected salary is around $12M a year and that’s a little too pricey, imo.

Two other veterans who appeal to me are Kevin Pierre-Louis (CHI) and Josh Bynes (BAL), both of whom graded very well in 2019. And I am still high on Tanner Vallejo and Joe Walker as depth guys and plugs-in starters.

7. Trade Patrick Peterson (save $12M on cap) and put that toward signing CB Byron Jones to a 4 year $60M contract.

Byron Jones is outstanding at everything the CB position requires. He can play press man, cushion man, zone, run support, screen busting—-and get this—-if and when needed he can cover top level TEs.

If not Jones, then Chris Harris Jr. (DEN) or Darqueze Dennard (CIN) would do just fine.

8. Sign RB De’Andre Washington to a 3 year $10M deal to be part of a RB by committee with David Johnson (time to coach and fire him up) and Chase Edmonds.

9. Re-sign ERFA RT Justin Murray, RFA K Zane Gonzalez, WR Pharoh Cooper, G Max Garcia, DT Zach Kerr, LB Joe Walker, ERFA CB Kevin Peterson and S Charles Washington.

10. Draft (#8) WR CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma):

(#40) OLB Bradlee Anae, Utah:

(#72) S/CB Kyle Dugger, Lenoir Rhyne:

(#114): DE James Lynch, Baylor:

(#202): CB DeMarkus Acy, Missouri:

(#223): G Zack Johnson, North Dakota St.

The Cardinals—-are they prepared to be popular in free agency?

To do so, they need to add to the cap space they already have—-and, imo, they need to make some tough decisions at several key positions—-and, ultimately, invest in the toughest, most reliable players who want to compete for championships as Arizona Cardinals.