As we continue through a free agency period unlike any other thanks to the growing presence of the corona virus, one thing remains clear.
The Arizona Cardinals have improved.
Steve Keim has put together perhaps his strongest free agency class to date, which includes All Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins was dealt to the Cardinals is a blockbuster move that shipped David Johnson and his salary to Houston along with pick 40.
Keim didn’t stop there.
Following the fleecing that was the Hopkins deal, Keim went on to secure a big time defensive disrupter in the form of Jordan Phillips. Phillips, a former second round pick out of Oklahoma, broke out in 2019 for the Buffalo Bills in tune of 9.5 sacks on the defensive line.
Next came newly released Devon Kennard, who has tallied 14 sacks in two years with the Detroit Lions. The Cardinals locked up the local product for a modest three year, 20 million dollar deal that likely elimanates them from the Markus Golden sweepstakes. Kennard is a former team captain and a tremendous locker room presence that should take some pressure off All Pro Chandler Jones.
In a 24 hour period, Keim has secured two key contributors that should fill in seemingness on a Cardinal defense that is starved for solid contributors.
So as we sit here on the evening of March 18th, Arizona’s free agency dollars are likely drying up. Sure, extensions will be done (hello Budda Baker) and players will likely have contracts restructured.
At the end of the day, Cardinal brass had a plan in free agency and executed it to near perfection.
A reminder that the trade for All Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not cost the Cardinals their first round selection.
The eighth overall pick still resides in desert and it has a reservation.
Right tackle, table for one.
Justin Murray remains the starter, for now, at right tackle. He was even given a nice little bump in pay thanks to his contributions as a second year pro in 2019.
But he’s not the answer.
Not when you’re selecting in the top 10 and there are four offensive tackles worthy of the eighth overall pick.
Those players of course being Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. and Louisville's’ Mekhi Becton.
Some are calling this class a historic group of offensive tackle prospects not seen in decades. When you consider that offensive lineman are restricted to limited contact until preseason, the Cardinals need a refined prospect ready to compete come July.
Too many prospects become overwhelmed early ala D.J. Humphries, but this group of players all seemed destine for quality play from the start.
I prefer Wirfs due to his background at the University of Iowa, as the former All State wrestler was the first ever true freshman to start upfront for oline savant Kirk Ferentz. He’s a weight room addict with a freakish body and a mean streak. No one stacks up against him in the run game.
Jedrick Wills Jr. is as polished of a prospect as there is in 2020, with the former All American drawing comps to that of Eagles standout Jason Peters. In a passing league, Wills Jr. is the best protector in this group and that alone should entice the pass happy Arizona Cardinals.
Andrew Thomas likely has the best positional flexibility in the class, as he could man either left or right tackle. We’ve heard whispers of Ronnie Stanley comparisons which alone should warrant a top 10 selection. Thomas does sometimes struggle to move in space, but makes up for it with his ability to maul in the run game. Of the top four tackles, I believe he has the highest floor.
That leaves Mekhi Becton, a complete wild card in this group. At 6’7 and nearly 370 pounds, the former Louisville Cardinal exploded onto the scene with a ridicuolous 5.1 40 time at last months combine. His wingspan is all time great as Becton has the physical traits to make up for the shortcomings in his technique.
On the flipside, montoring the big man’s weight may always be an issue. Can he keep it down at the next level or is this another Robert Nkemdiche?
Regardless, this is a historic offensive tackle class that could see two if not three (four!) reach the Cardinals at pick eight.
Sure, there’s the temptation to trade down for additional draft capital and I’m sure Keim will strongly consider that.
There’s also the possibility, albeit slim, that an elite defensive player (Isaiah Simmons/Jeff Okudah) falls into their lap thanks to a run on quarterbacks.
Regardless, following the initial waive of free agency, it’s clear that offensive tackle is a position Arizona would prefer to fill come late April.