Another week of NFL playoffs is in the books and we are now off to the conference championship games next weekend featuring the Bills-Chiefs in the AFC and the Buccaneers-Packers in the NFC.
Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns had a comeback that fell short against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round but wrapped up an incredible first season overall with first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. Drew Brees might have played his last snap in the NFL after the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and if true, the first-ballot Hall of Famer had a phenomenal 20-year NFL career.
Moving on to next matchups, two future Hall of Famers in Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will battle it out in the NFC as two rising young stars in Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes do the same in the AFC.
With that said, there are so many pending free agents on the remaining playoff teams that the Cardinals could sign to improve their team to bring a winning culture here to Arizona.
Without further ado, here are four players to target:
Andre Roberts - Wide Receiver/Return Specialist, Buffalo Bills
In an annual ranking of special teams units by Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin, the Cardinals ranked as the 10th-best unit in the NFL. But the high ranking had more to do with their punt and kickoff coverage over the return unit.
The Cardinals primary kick returner was Chase Edmonds while the punt returner was Christian Kirk. Edmonds had 18 returns for 417 yards with two returns of over 40 yards. He averaged 23.2 yards. Considering he was banged up towards the end of the season as one of the Cardinals’ top offensive players, it might be best to let someone else take his return duties. As for Kirk, he averaged on six yards on 22 returns. He also ran backwards a few times this season, pinning the Cardinals back near their own endzone.
An upgrade to improve both returner positions with a single player is Roberts. Despite being 33 years old, he is still one of the best return specialists in the NFL. He averaged 9.9 yards on 29 punt returns while averaging 30 yards on 32 kick returns. He had five returns of over 40 yards, which is tied for second-most in the NFL trailing only Cordarrelle Patterson (6). At his age, he should be an inexpensive player to sign and as the Cardinals 2010 third-round pick, it is always nice to bring a player back to where their NFL career started.
Corey Linsley - Center, Green Bay Packers
One of the Arizona Cardinals biggest offseason priorities is to find an upgrade at the center position to protect Kyler Murray and open up lanes for the run game in the interior.
Mason Cole, the Cardinals 2018 third-round pick, was one of the worst centers in the NFL this season. He allowed the eighth-most pressures (23) and was second-most penalized (8) player at his position. He finished the year with a 54.9 overall grade (32nd), 47.6 pass blocking (32nd), and 62.9 run blocking (22nd).
Linsley, the Packers 2014 fifth-round selection, is the best center in the NFL. He graded out with an 88.3 overall grade (1st), 81.4 pass blocking (4th), and 86.1 run blocking (1st). He allowed only four pressures and was not flagged a single time in the regular season. If the Cardinals are going to spend big bucks on a free agent outside of their own, this is the guy they should target.
For what it is worth, Linsley benched 36 reps at the combine compared to Cole’s 23. Cardinals need to get much stronger in the interior and Linsley fits the bill.
Ndamukong Suh - Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Cardinals defensive line was one of the more inconsistent units in the NFL as a result of the injuries to their starting nose tackle Corey Peters and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. Even with them healthy, the line had a difficult time pressuring the quarterback along with some inconsistencies at stuffing the run.
Angelo Blackson led the Cardinals’ defensive line with only 19 pressures. Zach Allen had 18, followed by Corey Peters’ 14 pressures and Jordan Phillips’ nine. Rookies Leki Fotu (7) and Rashard Lawrence (2) flashed at times but still have a long way to go. Their line finished with a combined 12.5 sacks. To make it worse for the Cardinals, Blackson and Peters are scheduled to be free agents.
One free agent that would improve the defensive line tremendously is Ndamukong Suh. The 34-year-old defensive tackle finished the regular season with 50 pressures, which is tied for ninth in the NFL among interior defensive lineman. His production alone is pretty close to that of all of the production from the Cardinals’ defensive line combined. He can stuff the run and is still effective as an interior pass rusher.
Sammy Watkins - Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
The Cardinals need a No. 2 wide receiver. Christian Kirk has been an inconsistent No. 2 over the last few seasons and is a better fit for the slot position. Andy Isabella struggled in the slot this year and is too small (5-9 188lbs) to be a No. 2.
Though not many of the Chiefs’ unrestricted free agents appealed to me that much, Watkins seems like a good enough player to man the No. 2 role for the Cardinals. At 6-1 211lbs, he would be another big target for Kyler Murray. Watkins turns 28 years old in June and is still plenty fast.
One issue with Watkins is he has only one season of over 1,000 receiving yards and that was back in 2015. Even then, with the Chiefs’ arsenal of speedy weapons and Mahomes involving all of his playmakers, it is not too surprising to see Watkins’ low production within their offense.
He has dealt with injuries throughout the year and so he might not be an ideal player for the Cardinals. However, the allure of reuniting Watkins with his former college teammate DeAndre Hopkins is very intriguing.