clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cards Free Agency Should Tip Draft Plans

New, comments
NFL: New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals fans and pundits have been engaged in some heated and intriguing debates as to which player the team should draft with the #8 pick.

The names that have been most bandied about are:

LB/S Isaiah Simmons, Clemson—-made to order for covering TEs

DT Derrick Brown, Auburn—-would add size and strength to the defensive interior

WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma—-would have instant chemistry with Kyler Murray as WR1

WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama—-quite possible the most polished all-around WR1 candidate

WR Henry Ruggs—-would meet Steve Keim’s “take the top off the defense” criterion

T Tristan Wirfs—-would add a physical and athletic presence at RT

T Jedrick Wills—-would bring high football IQ and textbook fundamentals at RT

T Mekhi Becton—-would add an unprecedented level of physical domination at RT

The odds are very much in the Cardinals’ favor that all of these top prospects will be available for the Cardinals at #8, save most likely for Isaiah Simmons, who is a defensive unicorn.

If the Cardinals have similar grades on all these prospects, it is possible that they will entertain trade offers to move down in order to acquire an extra Day 2 pick.

But—-here’s the rub:

Right now—-it is a moot point to project which prospect the Cardinals are going to set their sights on in the 1st round of the draft until we know which players the Cardinals add in free agency.

Cases in Point:

LB Cory Littleton—-if the Cardinals sign him, then the urgency to draft Isaiah Simmons is considerably lessened. Littleton is one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL and he has the length and speed to cover TEs.

DT Javon Hargrave, Shelby Harris, D.J. Reader or Derek Wolfe—-adding a talented starter at DT to the defensive line, lessens the urgency to draft Derrick Brown.

WR Robbie Anderson, Brashad Perriman—-adding a veteran 4.2-4.3 home run threat to the returning talent at WR would virtually preclude the Cardinals from taking a WR at #8.

RT Jack Conklin or Brian Bulaga—-if the Cards sign Conklin or Bulaga, that would take drafting a tackle at #8 out of the equation. Even if they decide to sig Marcus Gilbert to compete with Justin Murray for the starting RT job, that would be a sign that the Cards are looking to address another position at #8.

Gambo and Burns are convinced that the Cardinals want to draft a tackle at #8—-and if that’s the case, then the Cardinals should make a strong pitch to bring Robbie Anderson or Breshad Perriman to Arizona.

In a couple of ways, signing Anderson or Perriman could be the best scenario for the Cardinals:

1—-adding a veteran home run threat to the WR group would take the pressure off of trying to get immediate results from another rookie WR. No one should expect any rookie WR to step right i n and play like a #1 WR. That would take some time. And because of the preponderance of youth at the WR position, adding a veteran feels, like they say in my parts, wicked smaht.

2—-making it a priority to add big-time talent to the Cardinals’ offensive line at this point in Kyler Murray’s development and the evolution of the K-Raid is just plain too smart to ignore.

Sportrac estimated that to sign Robbie Anderson it will take a 4 year $52.5M contract with $28M guaranteed. That amounts to $13.1 M a season. The Cardinals could justify allocating $13M a season to Anderson by virtue of what they would save in trying to sign Jack Conklin.

Therefore, instead of a combination of RT Jack Conklin (at $17M a year) and WR CeeDee Lamb/or/Jerry Jeudy at #8. the Cardinals would be adding WR Robbie Anderson (at $13M a year) and T Tristan Wirfs/or/Jedrick Wills (who bring greater athleticism and long-term potential than Conklin).

What kind of a chance would the Cardinal have to sign Robbie Anderson?

It’s quite possible that the Jets will place the franchise tag on Anderson (@ $18.5M) in order to ry to work out a long-term deal or to trade him. Per the rumor mill, both the Eagles and the Packers are very interested in signing Anderson. Landing with the Eagles might be very attractive to Anderson who could in effect stay in the New York metropolitan area and go back to Philly where he played his college ball at Temple.

In the f-tag and trade scenario for Anderson, the Cardinals would likely have to offer the #40 pick (2nd Round)—-is that a deal you could support?

The problem is, the free agent WR pool is not rife with deep threats. Amari Cooper is going to command a yearly salary of $20M. That would be too steep a price for the Cardinals.

Perhaps the most intriguing alternative to Robbie Anderson is Breshad Perriman (6-2, 215, 26) who is coming off his best season: 36/645/17.9/6 TD. His 2019 PFF grade of 72.8 was 4th highest of the Bucs’ regulars on offense. This is a kid who ran a 4.24 and 4.27 at his University of Central Florida pro day—-and, while it has taken Perriman 5 years to start finding his stride—-he seems to be hitting it at just the right time.

Perriman was the Ravens’ 1st round pick (#26) in the 2015 NFL Draft. On the first day of training camp his rookie year, he sprained a PCL and then reinjured it, had a knee scope and then was put on the IR in Week 11, having not played a single snap. John Harbaugh said he had never seen a PCL injury recovery take so long and he questioned whether Perriman had grown comfortable with being on the sidelines.

Perriman’s next two years with the Ravens were underwhelming: 2016—-1 start, 33/499/15.1/3td; 2017—-3 starts, 10/77/7.7/0td. He was cut in 2018, claimed by the Redskins, was cut 5 days later and then in October he was signed by the Browns where he wound up starting 2 games and catching 16 passes for 340 yards (21.3 ave.) and 2 TDs.

Last season. after the Bucs traded WR DeSean Jackson to the Eagles, they signed Perriman to a one year $4M deal (stats mentioned above). He are the highlights of his breakout 3 TD game versus the Lions, while starting in place of an injured Mike Evans:

Sportrac predicts that Perriman will likely sign a 1 year $7M contract this season. Such a “prove it” type contract may be appealing to Steve Keim, although it’s possible that Keim has seen enough growth from Perriman to feel good about signing him to a multi-year deal.

What draft options would the Cardinals have if they don’t add a deep threat in free agency or with the #8 pick? Here are the WRs who ran sub 4.5s at the Combine:

4.35 Quez Watkins WR So. Miss (6-0, 185—-1st team All USA Conference)

Last two seasons: 136 catches for 2,067 yards (14.9 ave.) and 15 tds.

4.38 Darnell Mooney WR Tulane (5-11, 175—-some comp him to John Brown)

Career: 154 passes for 2,572 yards & 19 TDs.

4.38 Denzel Mims WR Baylor (6-3, 215—-2019 1st team All Big 12)

Had breakout season this year with 66 catches for 1,020 yds. (15.5 ave.) and 12 TDs.

4.39 Antonio Gibson WR Memphis (6-2, 221—-plays like Laviska Shenault)

In 2019, Gibson haled in 38 passes for over 700 yards and 8 touchdowns AND added 368 yards rushing (11 yd. ave per carry) and 4 touchdowns.

4.39 Devin Duvernay WR Texas (5-11, 210—-Kyler Murray’s cousin)

In 2019, Duvernay caught 103 passes for 1,294 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Watkins, Mooney, Gibson and Duvernay all might be on the board when the Cardinals are picking in the 4th round. Mims is now being projected as a late 1st, early 2nd round pick, but in this deep draft might be there at #40.

On top of that, at #40, there may be a surprise player available in WR/RB Laviska Shenault (6-2, 224, Colorado), who is having surgery to correct a core injury that may have been the reason for Viska’s disappointing 4.58 40 at the Combine. On tape Viska looks like an explosive, 4.4 guy. WR Brandon Aiyuk (6-0, 208) may also be on the board at #40. Aiyuk’s 4.5 at the Combine was solid and it’s clear from Aiyuk’s game tapes how explosive he is.

Conclusion:

As the Cardinals make their free agent signings, their draft plans at #8 should become more clearly defined. But—-there’s no getting around it—-their decision at WR is key.

If they sign a UFA WR like Robbie Anderson or Breshad Perriman, then if they take a WR in this draft at all, it would most likely be on Day 3.

If the Cardinals address the RT position in free agency and not a WR, then it would indicate that a WR at #8 or on Day 2 is all the more likely.

Interestingly, there have been reports that Cardinals’ assistant WR coach Jerry Sullivan has been banging the table for WR Justin Jefferson (6-1, 202, LSU), who with a little added weight ran a 4.43 at the Combine coming off a stellar 111 catch, 1,540 yard (13.9 ave.), 18 td season for the NCAA Division 1A Champions. Sullivan coached Jefferson at LSU in 2018.

The wild card here could feature a trade down from #8 for the Cardinals to pick up an extra Day 2 pick and then to select Justin Jefferson, assuming that they do not trade back too far. Watching Jefferson’s slippery, stop and go with ease speed in the WR drill at the Combine was a treat. Plus, Jefferson is outstanding at shaking free on broken plays, something the Cardinals’ WRs struggled with last season.

What stands out about Jefferson is what a smooth, effortless and under-control runner he is and how adept he is at catching passes in tight windows. He reminds me a lot of Stefon Diggs when Diggs came out of Maryland: