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Work left to do: Evaluating the Cardinals’ needs after the first wave of free agency

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The Cardinals’ roster is looking a whole lot better now than it did a couple weeks ago. But it’s still a work in progress. What needs remain?

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Although Kenyan Drake is back in the fold for the 2020 season, the team still has a decision to make on his long-term future.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt about it: the Cardinals’ roster was improved dramatically over the past week or so. GM Steve Keim acquired one of the league’s best WRs in DeAndre Hopkins to fill a huge need, brought in multiple new starters on defense (Jordan Phillips, De’Vondre Campbell, Devon Kennard), and re-signed several bit players for depth (Brett Hundley, Max Garcia, Jonathan Bullard, etc.).

But he’s not done, not by a longshot.

This roster still has several needs on both sides of the ball, so there’s still work to do in the second wave of free agency, the draft, and the trade market. Let’s take a look at some of the team’s biggest remaining offseason needs, roughly in order of priority.

Right Tackle

The O-line is still in a bit of a state of flux. Both guard spots are set with the returning Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy, and D.J. Humphries is now locked in LT with a pricey new contract. That leaves two spots up in the air: center and right tackle. Addressing the latter position seems pretty straightforward—the Cardinals will almost certainly take the top one available at #8 in next month’s draft, such as Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs. Unless a QB run allows one of the draft’s defensive mega-talents (Isaiah Simmons, Jeff Okudah) to drop to us, that is. In that case, Justin Murray and a mid-round pick might have to suffice in 2020. Although, as Walter has mentioned, trading back a few spots and still getting one of the top tackle prospects could work as well. To me, that idea is looking better and better as we get closer to the draft.

Center

Many Cardinals fans were hoping former Bronco Connor McGovern would plug the hole at center, but his $9M a year price tag was probably too rich, given the team’s shrinking cap space. He was by far the best free agent option available, and the free agent pool for centers is looking pretty dire—there’s not a true pivot left among PFF’s 100 best remaining available free agents. And it’s doubtful that Keim would spend one of our precious few early-round draft picks on the position either. So it seems that the team’s starting center in 2020 will be a familiar face. Might Keim bring former starter A.Q. Shipley back on a one-year deal? Or have Mason Cole and Lamont Gaillard duke it out in training camp? Let’s hope one of the youngsters locks this position up in training camp.

Defensive Line

The makings of a solid D-line rotation are there, with Corey Peters, Jordan Phillips, Jonathan Bullard, and 2019 draft picks Zach Allen and Michael Dogbe. But this group still feels 1-2 bodies short, especially at DE (unless Allen makes a leap in Year 2). Grabbing Phillips was a good start, but Keim needs to add at least one more free agent here, a lower-tier guy with experience as a 3-4 DE. There are several such players available per the PFF list linked above, although Keim might need to free up some cap space to sign one of them. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend another mid-round pick on the D-line.

Pass Rush

Devon Kennard was a nice get (7 sacks in each of the past two seasons), but he’s not enough help for Chandler Jones. (No, I’m not counting on Jordan Phillips getting another 9.5 sacks—his previous career high was 2.) Remember, this is a team that had only 21 sacks by players not named Chandler Jones in 2019—and the next-highest total after Jones’s 19 was Terrell Suggs’s 5.5, followed by Rodney Gunter’s 3 and Cassius Marsh’s 2.5. None of this guys is on the roster anymore. The only other potential pass rusher of note behind Jones and Kennard is Haason Reddick, and who knows what to expect from him in 2020. Can he salvage his career somewhat as a situational pass rusher? Either way, Keim will need to find some help on the edge. Perhaps another vintage “Keim Time” signing late in the offseason?

Running Back

Yes, we got a lot of clarity at this position when Keim shipped out David Johnson and used the transition tag on Kenyan Drake, but the reality of the situation is that we still don’t have a long-term solution at RB. Drake is currently only under contract for the 2020 season, and the only other RB on the roster is Chase Edmonds (with two years left on his rookie deal). For all the big plays he made last season, I’d still be leery of signing Drake (or any RB) to a big-money deal—and it’s no given that he’ll be able to keep up the eye-popping production he gave us over half a season last year. Remember, he’s never been a full-time player going back to his college days at Alabama. So Keim will still need to invest in this position, hopefully later in the draft as well as bringing in a UDFA or two. Fortunately, this is a fairly deep draft for running backs. He will also likely make a long-term offer to Drake, although he should be wary of offering him much more than Austin Ekeler’s new deal.

Final Thoughts

Steve Keim has done a solid job of improving this roster so far, but his work is still far from complete. He needs to continue to fortify both lines, add pass rush help, and cement the RB position. Not to mention ensure we have adequate depth and solid special teams (who will be returning kicks and punts?).

Given all these needs, it’s starting to look to me like trading back toward the middle of the first round to add a few extra picks would be our best bet. As long as we can come away from the 1st round with a starting-caliber right tackle, we’ll be in good shape. We could then continue to add to the defense and add another RB with the added picks.

Do you agree, Cardinals fans? What do you see as our biggest remaining needs? What should we do with our 1st-rounder? Weigh in in the comments!