Mike Iupati is a familiar name to NFC West aficionados. He was a Pro Bowl left guard for the 49ers before the Cardinals poached him from their divisional rival in 2015. He wasn’t quite the same dominant force in the desert, but he did make a Pro Bowl in 2015. When it was time to replace him, the Redbirds again went back to the NFC West well by snagging J.R. Sweezy from the Seahawks—who then replaced him with Iupati. Both players played well enough in 2019.
Intradivisional free agent signings like these will ideally strengthen your team while weakening a rival. That was certainly the case when we signed Iupati in his prime. (The Iupati/Sweezy swap last season seems to have worked out for both teams.) Can the Cardinals do it again in 2020?
Each of our divisional rivals has several impact players who could fit a need for the Cardinals. Let’s take a quick swing through the NFC West to see which former opponents could be wearing Cardinals red next season.
Los Angeles Rams
Offense: None of note, unless you have visions of Blake Bortles backing up Kyler Murray in your head. (If so, you should get your head checked.)
Defense: DT Michael Brockers (29), OLB Dante Fowler Jr. (26), ILB Cory Littleton (26)
Fit: All three of these guys are young and talented and fill an obvious need for the Redbirds. We need more talented bodies on the D-line, and Brockers (74.6 PFF grade) would be a nice get. Chandler Jones needs pass rush help in a bad way, and Fowler (72.1 PFF grade) had 11.5 sacks in 2019. Finally, Littleton (78.9 PFF grade), who has been on a lot of Cardinals fans’ wish lists, would look great next to Jordan Hicks as an athletic coverage ILB.
Attainability: Unless we get creative with the salary cap, I worry that Fowler and especially Littleton might be out of our price range after the D.J. Humphries resigning. But snagging either would severely hamper the Rams defense while strengthening ours. Hopefully Steve Keim has their agents on speed dial if some money opens up (or they prove cheaper than I’m thinking they’ll be). Brockers could be more attainable, however, and would be a versatile piece on the D-line—big enough to play inside and quick enough to play outside in some packages. It’d have to be a shorter deal, though, as he’s almost 30.
San Francisco 49ers
Offense: WR Emmanuel Sanders (33)
Fit: The WR corps underwhelmed last year, while Sanders (78.4 PFF grade) was productive as the 49ers’ #1 WR after a midseason trade from Denver. He’s older than you’d like, but still clearly has plenty left in the tank. He’d be an upgrade in 2020, but he’d also likely stunt the development of our younger WRs.
Attainability: Sanders figures to have no shortage of suitors, and is probably looking to land with a contender anyway. I don’t see him coming to the desert next season.
Defense: DE Arik Armstead (26)
Fit: Armstead is exactly what the Cardinals need: an all-around foundational stud (89.8 PFF grade) on the D-line. He’s always played the run well, but he improved dramatically as a pass rusher during the 49ers’ Super Bowl run (10 sacks). He’d be the best Cardinals defensive lineman since Calais Campbell—and his ceiling might be even higher.
Attainability: Armstead figures to be one of the most sought-after free agents, so Keim and Michael Bidwill would have to be prepared to back up the Brinks truck to land him. But would we have enough to plug the rest of the holes on the roster if we shelled out, say, $18M-$20M for Armstead? Hopefully the Cardinals’ capologist is working on that problem as we speak.
Offense: RT Germain Ifedi (26)
Fit: Ifedi was a weak link on the Seahawks O-line in 2019 (56.2 PFF grade), but he’s still young and has a ton of starting experience (60 starts in his four seasons in the NFL). He actually graded out worse than Justin Murray last season (62.9 PFF grade), but he’s more of a known quantity.
Attainability: Someone figures to pay starting money for Ifedi given his combination of youth and experience. And while RT is still somewhat of a need, it isn’t clear that Ifedi would actually be an upgrade. If we can get him on the cheap, we’d be incredibly deep at tackle, but Keim shouldn’t proactively go after a player like him.
Defense: DE Ezekiel Ansah (31), DE Jadeveon Clowney (27), DE Quinton Jefferson (27), OLB Mychal Kendricks (29), DT Jarran Reed (27)
Fit: The Seahawks have a host of defenders the Redbirds would love to get their hands on. Clowney is one of the best edge defenders in the NFL (87.3 PFF grade) and would form the best pass rush tandem in the league across from Jones. Kendricks (62.7 PFF grade) would probably have to move inside in our defense, but would be a capable partner for Hicks. The other three guys would all bolster a D-line that needs an infusion of talent in a hurry.
Attainability: You can cross one name off the list right away: Clowney. He’s an outstanding player, but we can’t afford to pay $20M to two edge rushers. Kendricks probably also won’t be on Keim’s list—he’s more of a 4-3 linebacker and might bristle at moving inside. But the other three D-linemen are all various degrees of intriguing. Ansah (59.0 PFF grade) isn’t a double-digit sack guy anymore, but he could be a useful rotation piece and would be far cheaper than the other two. Reed (60.4 PFF grade) is the bigger name, but Jefferson (72.5 PFF grade) might be the better value. Both should be within our price range and Keim will definitely take a long look at them.
Whether or not the Cardinals are able to land any of these players, one thing is certain: the defenses in the NFC West figure to be a lot less imposing in 2020 given the number of talented free agents on the other teams. And if the Cardinals could land one or two, it could go a long way toward the team rising out of the basement next season.
I don’t see any of the big-ticket guys (Fowler, Littleton, Armstead, Clowney) coming to the desert this offseason, but I could see Keim luring one or two of the mid-tier guys (Brockers? Jefferson?). I’d love to be wrong about the former, though—can Keim land one of the big fishes? If so, it could be the beginning of a shifting of the balance of power in the NFC West.
What do you think about the free agents within the division, Cardinals fans? Anyone you especially want to see swap jerseys? Any Cardinals free agents you don’t want to see go to the enemy? Let us know in the comments.