With the NFL Combine in the books and the new league year set to begin on March 18th, I wanted to put together a prediction article composed of some tasty nuggets leading up to free agency.
Remember that the “legal” tampering period kicks off a week from today (March 16th) but teams and agents/players have likely been in contact following the conclusion of Super Bowl 54.
Come next Monday, contract details and handshake agreements will start to emerge with team’s officially announcing their moves later in the week.
The Cardinals, like most, plan to be active as they are set to have just under $40 million in cap space (this via overthecap.com). Remember that some of that will need to be allocated toward 2020 draft picks, as well as the annual “Keim Time” signings (taking place over the course of the summer/fall).
The Michael Crabtree’s of the world, and what not (wink)(wink).
With that being said, here are a series of moves I think have a more than decent shot at transpiring, beginning next week.
DISCLAIMER: I am passing along insight that has been shared with me via anonymous third parties. Of course not everything that I’m hearing will come to fruition (I mean, maybe!) but I’ll always do my best in sharing vetted information as I receive it. So let’s just have fun!
1. The Cardinals will resign OLB Markus Golden.
The Cardinals, outside of Chandler Jones, were dreadful at rushing opposing quarterbacks in 2019.
Their current crop of internal options, which includes the Haason Reddick reclamation project (or will it?!?!), don’t offer a lot promise. The same can be said for the upcoming group of edge rushers in the 2020 NFL Draft. There will always be players that emerge, but this current group pales in comparison to the studs seen in 2019 class (Nick Bosa, Josh Allen etc.).
That likely leaves free agency as the top source in finding Jones’s perimeter running mate and thankfully there are plenty of options.
The most attractive perhaps being former second round standout for the Cardinals, OLB Markus Golden. Arizona’s interest in reuniting with Golden has been in the works for sometime, even after the two parted ways last offseason.
Kicking off free agency a year ago by doling out $7 million dollars to then 36-year old Terrell Suggs ranks among the worst personnel decisions of the Steve Keim era.
Combine that with the fact that (via AzCardinals.com’s Mike Jurecki) Arizona actually offered Golden a one year extension that would have eclipsed the deal he eventually signed with the New York Giants, makes the decision that much more puzzeilng.
Golden went on to secure 10 sacks in a standout year for the otherwise horrifically poor G-Men defense. Like he has so many times before, Golden bet on himself and that gamble figures to payoff big at the start of free agency.
Futhermore, I’m told Golden is open to returning to the desert.
Via numerous media outlets, Markus Golden will likely command anywhere from $8-10 million a year once he hits the open market.
The Cardinals are said to be comfortable with that market and plan to leave free agency with a “starting caliber OLB, regardless”.
General Manager Steve Keim recently spoke out against big time free agent deals and the alarming bust rate the accompanies them. He went on to express the fear of the “unknown” (on local radio) when it comes to signing players from other organizations.
In this case, you could argue no one knows Markus Golden better than the Arizona front office.
Keim himself once famously alluded to Markus Golden eventually cashing in a mega free agent contract (due to his promise at the time), one that he would have happily rewarded him should his production not dwindled.
Golden, coming off a 13.5 sack season in 2016, tore his ACL in 2017 and was slowly phased out in 2018 thanks to Steve Wilks and his 4-3 scheme.
Arizona now has a chance to remedy their decision in allowing Golden to depart, something they have been unable to accomplish with the likes of Calais Campbell and Tyrann Mathieu.
2. Kenyan Drake signs with another team.
The Cardinals would like Kenyan Drake back for 2020.
Kenyan Drake would like to return to Arizona to play football.
So what’s the problem?
Following David Johnson’s contract debacle, the Cardinals are now (rightfully) spooked of big money free agent running back contracts.
Drake, who is set to see free agency for the first time, expects to captilize on a 2020 second half campaign that saw him run for 643 yards (at 5.2 ypc) while scoring eight touchdowns for the Redbirds.
Again, the Cardinals would like to have Drake back.
On their own terms.
Not on the terms that, according to SI.com, could see Drake commanding more than $8 million per season.
Austin Ekeler’s recent contract extension of 4 years, $24.5 million (including $15 million guaranteed) has likely set the market for a free agent group of running backs that includes former Pro Bowlers Melvin Gordon and Derrick Henry (both of whom could eclipse that figure).
Combine that with the fact the Cardinals are (pending a trade) saddled with David Johnson’s $14 million dollar salary in 2020 and Kenyan Drake has likely played his last down in the desert.
Whether it’s Detroit or elsewhere, the Cardinals will more than likely look toward a promising crop of draft eligible running backs come April to go along with Johnson and third year rusher Chase Edmonds.
Arizona could also recoup the fifth round investment they made at the 2019 trading deadline this time next offseason (via a compensatory pick) should Drake net the big contract he desires.
Regardless, Drake’s 2019 contributions are to be commended, as was the decision by Keim to deal for him.
3. The Cardinals will sign Safety Will Parks
Back in December, Blake Murphy and I were fortunate enough to welcome NFL Insider and Denver Bronco savant Benjamin Allbright on the Revenge of the Birds Podcast (subscribe today!).
During the interview, when previewing the 2020 offseason, I asked about the possibly of All-Pro safety Justin Simmons hitting the open market.
While Allbright was quick to dismiss the notion of John Elway allowing Simmons to walk (a fact that he has continually supported), he did tease the possibility of another impending Bronco safety jet setting to Arizona.
Will Parks, a 26 year old safety out of the University of Arizona, enjoyed a career year in 2019. Alongside Simmons, Parks was a versatile staple in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense.
Allbright has since reaffirmed Arizona’s potential interest in adding Parks.
Parks had a modest stat line in 2019, netting just one INT and sack in the Mile High City. However, with Arizona seemingly comfortable with both Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson in the back end, Park would fit the ideal model of “third safety” with the option to also dabble as a fourth CB.
With a market that is likely to command only $2-3 million per season, combined with his familiarity under Arizona DC Vance Joseph, the addition of Parks seems like a no brainer for the Cardinal front office desperately seeking quality depth at discount prices.
4. The Cardinals will sign several starting caliber defensive linemen
It’s no secret that the Cardinal defensive line is likely the least talented group on the entire roster.
More so than either OT and WR, Arizona seemingly has only one capable starting defensive linemen on the roster.
That of course being soon to be 32 year old DT Corey Peters, who is entering the final year of his contract.
The team still has high hopes for second year DE Zach Allen, but the former rookie only played in four games in 2019 before succumbing to injury. Allen also needs to add mass and endurance in order to be considered for a starting role in 2020.
After those two, it gets bleak real fast. So much so that the remaining internal “options” are unfortunately not worth mentioning considering the uncertainty surrounding their roster spot.
The upcoming draft should allow for a capable player or two to fall Arizona’s way, but similar to that of edge rusher, defensive line is not a strength in this class.
On the flipside, free agency is often a route that can lead to promising results upfront as this group of impending players should offer Arizona some relief for their 32nd ranked defensive woes.
From Houston’s D.J. Reader to Pittsburghs Javon Hargrave, the Cardinals will have quality options to choose from. Pro Football Focus currently has 17 defensive linemen ranked within their Top 100 NFL Free Agents, all of which have significant starting experience.
I expect Steve Keim to secure two starting caliber defensive tackles/ends during this coming free agency period.
One of those players could be former Bronco DE Derek Wolfe, who reportedly already has a free agent visit scheduled with the Cardinals.
The defensive line is a the lone position group that desperately needs to be flooded with talent, regardless of where it comes from.
Free agent signings, trades, the draft...whatever it takes.
Expect the Cardinals front office to be aggressive in addressing this unit this time next week.
5. The Cardinals will trade away LB Haason Reddick
After three seasons, it’s becoming more and more evident that the former 13th overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft could be on the oust in Arizona.
Haason Reddick has been a major disappointment since his rookie season, moving back and forth from several positions the process.
I’m told the Cardinals would prefer to ship he and his $4 million dollar salary out of Arizona and would settle for a mere day three draft pick.
Furthermore, the Cardinals no have intention of picking up Reddick’s fifth year option.
A team to potentially watch is the New England Patriots, who Keim has a history of dealing with. The Patriots have done well with linebacker reclamation projects, most recently with Lion’s castoff Kyle Van Noy.
Starting New England LBs Van Noy and Jamie Collins are both scheduled to hit free agency in search of bigger dollars.
There’s a void to be filled in Boston.
Reddick could also be dealt during the draft itself, allowing Arizona to move up in a specific round for a player of their choosing.
Perhaps even Reddick’s eventual replacement at linebacker.
Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph is said to have wanted to see Reddick over the course of an entire season to determine what kind of a role (if any) the young LB would have in his 3-4 defense.
Apparently Vance, like the rest of us, has seen enough.