As we wind down to the start of the season, now is the time to keep an eye on any last minute additions via General Manager Steve Keim.
Via OverTheCap.com, the Arizona Cardinals have roughly $6 million dollars in cap space left to finagle their final 53. Keim has his strengths as a GM (hello trade market!) but one of his obvious weaknesses has been his handling of the team’s salary cap.
Sure, the Cardinals aren’t currently tied to any single crippling contract but the amount of dead cap that Steve and company have put together over his tenure is borderline embarrassing.
The Cardinals ranked third in that department back in 2019 with over $30 million designated to players who were no longer with the team.
Thankfully for Keim, he has managed to widdle that amount down to just over $8 million for 2020. We are approaching a year in which the NFL and it’s 32 franchises with undoubtedly take a financial hit due to the ongoing effects of the national pandemic.
Which means when and how teams spend their money will be ever more critcal in the next calendar year. The Arizona Cardinal executive team must put more ownership on “bang for their buck” when it comes to the contracts they distribute.
Pay the top players their money but be every weary of over paying the middle ground.
That doesn’t mean the Cardinals don't have a few aces up their sleeve when it comes to underpaying some choice NFL talent. With that being said, I thought it was time to check on three best bargain contracts on Arizona’s roster in 2020.
1. Budda Baker - S - 2020 Cap Hit: $2,173,172
We’ll get things going with the player most likely to receive a lucrative extension in the coming months. Baker, a former second rounder out of the University of Washington, has been one of Steve Keim’s most successful draft picks.
Keim was bullish enough on the former Husky to deal additional draft capital to move up for Budda during the 2017 Draft.
To Keim’s credit, Budda has developed into one of the more physical safeties in all of football. While he lacks an affinity for interceptions, he more than makes up for it with his ability to tackle (143 led the NFL in solo tackles in 2019) and deflect passes.
Budda is a two time Pro Bowl selection, earning honors in 2017 for outstanding special teams play and 2019 for his work at strong safety.
He figures to be a staple in the Cardinal defense for years to come, but for 2020 he remains grossly underpaid for his production.
Future projected deal: Four years, $60 ($15M yearly average) with 40 million total in guarantees.
2. DeAndre Hopkins - WR - 2020 Cap Hit: $12,500,000
Is it in poor taste to call someone underpaid when they’re making eight figures?
It is when they’re unarguably a top three player at a ever growing premium position.
DeAndre Hopkins is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, thanks to his work back with the Houston Texans. After he was jetsetted by coach Bill O’Brien, thanks to his appetite for a new deal, Arizona knew what they were getting into when acquiring the three time All Pro receiver.
The following nugget came from SI’s Howard Blazer at the time of the trade:
It’s no secret that Hopkins used the wedge of wanting a new deal to expedite his exit out of Houston. It’s also been made clear to SI.com that when general manager Steve Keim consummated the trade and president and chairman Michael Bidwill signed off on it, the team assured agent Todd France that Hopkins would be taken care of.
Translation: Hopkins is going to get paid, sooner rather than later.
For the time being, however, his 2020 cap hit puts him behind the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, and Alshon Jeffrey.
That’s quite a list.
Houston extended Hopkins back in 2017 for what looks like a modest five-year, $81 million dollar deal. Following the 2020 season, Hopkins still has two additional years left on his deal set to pay him $13.5 and $13.915 million. Only some of that money is guaranteed, however. The Cardinals are currently looking to add years on the back end while upping his base salary.
Speculation is abound as to when the Cardinals will extend Hopkins, but make no mistake, Arizona acquired the four time Pro Bowler to spend his prime years catching passes from young Kyler Murray.
Future projected deal: Three year extension at $20 million per year with 60 million total in guarantees.
3. Kyler Murray - QB - 2020 Cap Hit: $8,080,601
Was there a more obvious choice given the position and the player?
There is no arguing that the quarterback is by far the most valuable position in terms of total impact on the field. In fact, according to Vegas, no other player in the NFL is worth more than a single point on the spread outside of a starting NFL QB.
Kyler Murray, with each passing day, has more and more value to a franchise that has been desperately in search of a young star quarterback.
It was just over a month ago that the Kansas City Chiefs locked up star QB Patrick Mahomes to a record setting deal.
Many of us speculated at the time to what affect, if any, did Mahomes’ deal have on someone like Kyler Murray? While Mahomes has seen three full seasons in the NFL (two as a starter), Murray is just now entering year two of his modest rookie contract.
There’s also the notion that the Chiefs wanted to secure Mahomes at some what of a “discount” given the ridiculous trajectory he’s been on since the start of 2018.
Kyler Murray chose the life of an NFL starting quarterback over the potential riches that come with the top 1% of Major League Baseball. Due to this, there’s already an expectation that Murray will one day become one of the highest paid players in all of football.
That is, of course, assuming his on the field play continues to ascend.
If that is the case, expect Cardinal Owner Michael Bidwill to happily cut the check to Murray for likely whatever it takes.
For now, however, my recommendation would be to just enjoy the benefits that come with Murray and his rookie contract. There wouldn’t be acquisitions such as a DeAndre Hopkins if not for the benefit that the rookie contract affords Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim.
Future projected deal: Ten year extension with over $200 million in guarantees.