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Day 3 FA: Cards at Center of Attention

Las Vegas Raiders v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The Patriots and Bucs dominated the free agency buzz on Monday and Tuesday, but with the arrival of St. Patrick’s Day on the start of the new NFL year, the Arizona Cardinals created quite a buzz of their own when they added their J.J. Watt of the offense in All Pro center Rodney Hudson.

Early yesterday morning I took to Twitter to ask why the Raiders were simply releasing Rodney Hudson and not trying to trade him. The way I figured it, Hudson was going to go back to the Chiefs, his original team (which was later corroborated on Twitter by a friend of his who heard it from him) —- thus why would the Raiders just let Hudson go and let him sign with their division rivals who have dominated them and the AFC West for the past 4 years?

The only way the Cardinals were going to have a chance to acquire Hudson to be their “rock” (Rock Hudson!) at center was if the Raiders would put him on the trade market.

Apparently according to a number of reliable sources, the NFL called the Raiders to ask them the same question —- why aren’t you at least trying to trade Hudson when clearly there would be a robust market for him?

The Raiders heeded the NFL’s suggestion. They put Hudson on the trade market and that’s when Steve Keim, the Cardinals trade guru, said LFG, and got the deal done with the swap of Hudson and the Raiders’ 7th round pick for the Cardinals’ 3rd round pick.

With the addition of Rodney “Rock “ Hudson and in light of the Cardinals’ re-signing of RT Kelvin Beachum to reunite with fellow starters D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh and Justin Murray/Mason Cole/Josh Jones (RG competition), the Cardinals might now boast their most talented veteran-filled offensive line since the 1970s and the years of T Dan Dierdorf, G Conrad Dobler, C Tom Banks, G Bob Young and T Roger Finnie. Those dawgs were a dandy!

One of the Cardinals’ top priorities this off-season was to fortify the offensive line. having done so at the start of free agency, they may not be completely finished. We know that there are a few offensive tackles in the 2021 draft that the Cardinals have high grades on, thus there’s a chance that they will draft their RTOF come April.

In light of the Cardinals giving up another one of their draft picks, unless a “can’t miss” prospect is on the board at pick #16, it would seem very likely that Steve Keim will try to trade down into the 20s in order to recoup the 3rd round pick the Cardinals used to acquire Rodney Hudson. For example, if one of the top 5 QBs in the draft is still on the board at #16, the likelihood of the Cardinals getting trade offers should be very high.

Before the Hudson trade transpired, the Cardinals signed their first UFA player from another team in WR A.J. Green. Green’s contract is a $6M base (g-ted) with $2-2.5M in bonuses and incentives. This summer the 3 time 2nd team All Pro and 7 time Pro Bowler will be turning 33 after coming off the worst two seasons of his career, one lost entirely to an ankle injury in 2019 and the other this past season when he caught 47 passes (on 75 targets) for 523 yards (11.1 lowest ypc ave. of his career) and 2 TDs (lowest of career).

What the Cardinals are hoping is that Green will be rejuvenated given the opportunity to play opposite and along side of DeAndre Hopkins by forming a good chemistry with Kyler Murray. Apparently (according to Pats’ beat writer Mike Reiss), Green chose the Cardinals over the Patriots (who were trying to woo him to New England).

The curious context of the Cardinals’ signing of A.J. Green is that Green has long hailed Larry Fitzgerald as his mentor and inspiration.

With Larry Fitzgerald still deciding on whether he will play in 2021 and/or with what team, if Larry already knows he is not coming back to the Cardinals, would he have recommended Green to Steve Keim? And would Larry have recommended the Cardinals to Green? Or —- does the addition of A.J. Green provide added incentive for Larry to re-sign with the Cardinals?

Whether Larry returns or not, neither Larry nor A.J. solve the Cardinals need for speed at the WR position. We know that the Cardinals are very high on the receivers in the 2021 draft. Steve Keim has already said that there are 5-6 “game changer WRs” in Round 1.

There is also the possibility of the Cardinals coveting one of the top three RBs in Travis Etienne (“my dream scenario is to be picked by the Cardinals at #16”), Najee Harris and Javonte Williams. It would seem highly unlikely that any of these three major talents are going to be on the board when the Cardinals pick at #49 in round two.

If the Cardinals address the RB position in free agency, then that would signal that they are targeting another position in round one.

The other key addition the Cardinals made on St, Patrick’s Day was signing K Matt Prater, formerly of the Lions and Broncos (where he worked with Cardinals STC Jeff Rodgers). His deal is for 2 years at $6.5M with FG and Pro Bowl incentives. Prater, who turns 37 in August, has the powerful leg of a 25 year old. He has an 83% career field goal percentage and set the record for the longest field goal in NFL history at 64 yards while a member of the Broncos in December of 2013. I don't know about you, but I have always felt that Matt Prater is one of the very best and most talented kickers in the NFL. It feels good to have him on our side.

While the Cardinals made three acquisitions yesterday, they have also had three recent defections as SAM OLB Haason Reddick signed with the Panthers and his old college coach Matt Rhule (for a 1 year deal with a $6M base and $2M in incentives), Patrick Peterson signed with the Vikings (for a 1 year deal that can net him $10M) and DI Angelo Blackson signed a 2 year deal with the Bears.

Haason Reddick’s signing with the Panthers ends what I consider to be one of the most mystifying and embarrassing 4 year tenure of a Cardinals’ 1st round pick. Badly miscast for 3 years at a position he had never played and from the get-go never had the instincts to play (and thereby was branded locally and nationally as a colossal bust), to finally moving over to his natural position where he thrived for 20 games in ways that few fans would have ever imagined —- yet all the while never receiving a vote of confidence from Steve Keim in the form of a 5th year option, having to watch Keim sign Devon Kennard to be the starter in front of him, or being offered a t-tag or f-tag distinction or, as it turns out, even a contract offer that would exceed the $6M base + $2M incentives he received from the Panthers.

As it turned out I was dreadfully wrong about Haason’s market value —- it’s rare that an edge player who posts 12.5 sacks doesn’t get an offer in at least double figures —- especially coming off a season where he had more sacks that Shaq Barrett, Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoe, all of whom cashed in this week on heavy long-term double figure millions.

However, I have been wondering just how much the Cardinals’ lack of commitment to Haason affected his market —- I think that when teams saw the Cardinals were not willing to at least t-tag Haason, that became a red flag for other teams. I believe that had the Cardinals placed the t-tag on Haason, he would have gotten some attractive offers. But, I sense that teams were wondering that something must be awfully wrong about this player for the Cardinals to be so willing to let him go.

And maybe that’s just the point. Maybe it’s a personality thing or maybe just a tough business decision —- who knows? No one has ever questioned Haason’s commitment, his attitude or his wok ethic. In fact his success this year is a testament to those qualities and the admirable fact that he never stopped believing in himself.

I understand the argument of he has only produced for one year, but to me it was the WAY he produced. It was his overall command of the 34 SAM OLB position and the textbook fundamentals that would allow him to achieve at such a high level.

From this point forward, whenever I think of Haason Reddick I will always remember him having that good, long cry all alone at the end of the bench in New York after his epic 5 sack performance versus the Giants. This was a salient catharsis from a player who had to pull himself up time and time again and overcome immeasurable odds and obstacles in attaining the kind of success he so richly deserved -— and that so many other people doubted. Doubts that ultimately he could never erase from his GM and his coaches (who obviously didn’t pound on the table for him) in Arizona.

The reality for the Cardinals is, they now have a glaring void at the SAM OLB position. The two athletes on the current roster who can rival Haason’s athleticism at that position are Isaiah Simmons and Dennis Gardeck. Maybe the coaches feel that when Dennis is fully recovered they can move him into the SAM slot. In the meantime, do they move Isaiah into the SAM? If so, then who plays WILL ILB? It would not be a surprise if the Cardinals re-sign De’Vondre Campbell to either stay at WILL or perhaps they could believe he would do just fine at SAM.

In my opinion, with finally seeing a 34 SAM OLB play the position the way it is supposed to be played (first time ever that I have seen as a Cardinals’ fan after years of watching slower players frequently crash inside on ball fakes and continually lose and abandon contain and frequently proving to be liabilities in pass coverage), Haason Reddick left some big and nifty cleats to fill.

What no one can take away from Haason Reddick is the fact that on a defense that really needed finishers —- he emerged as one of their best in 2020. Budda #1, Haason #2.

As for Patrick Peterson, I am extremely impressed that he chose the Vikings because:

If Patrick Peterson masters the nuance of Mike Zimmer’s Cover 2 defense by responding well to the coaching, not only could he thrive in that system, he could seal the deal on his life-long dream of wearing the yellow jacket.

Obviously, Patrick Peterson leaves a big void at the CB position, a position in Vance Jospeh’s press style defense that this time around needs to be re-defined. My hope is that the Cardinals sign Brian Poole to interchange with Byron Murphy on the boundary and in the slot, depending the weekly matchups and then sign Malcom Butler (the Pats’ Glendale hero in Super Bowl win over Seahawks) or J.C. Jackson (with Cards giving up their 2nd round pick to the Pats if they don’t match the Cardinals’ offer) to play LCB.

Many of us wanted to see the Cardinals re-sign Angelo Blackson in order to keep him in the DI rotations. Good for him that Bears did their film work, because he flashed very well at times in 2020. The Cardinals have good young depth on the defensive interior, thus it may serve them well to bring back Corey Peters, Domata Peko or sign another veteran to fill out the rotation.

As I imagine with you, but the thought of seeing Zach Allen and J.J. Watt cause havoc and mayhem at the 34 DE positions is beyond exciting!

It’s also very exciting to know how passionate Markus Golden and Kelvin Beachum are about staying with the Cardinals for the next two seasons. They are precisely what good veteran leaders look like —- they work hard every day —- and on game days they get after it.

if the Cardinals have found another leader in A.J. Green what a bonus that would be. Thanks to @marblekyle for posting this play on Twitter: