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Making moves: Quick reactions after the first week of free agency

What a first week of free agency. Here are my first impressions of the latest Cardinals roster moves.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
Former Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson is now a Cardinal after another shrewd trade by GM Steve Keim.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I knew the offseason was going to be wild after the surprise J.J. Watt signing, but even I was surprised at how eventful the first week turned out to be. Signings, defections, yet another great trade by Steve Keim—a ton happened.

Today, let’s take a breath and react to the first week of free agency, starting with the players who won’t be returning to the desert in 2021.

Gone, Baby, Gone

CB Patrick Peterson (signed with Minnesota 1 yr/$8M)

I wasn’t worried about Pat Pete leaving—in fact, I figured he would—but I was worried about him leaving without Keim bringing in an adequate replacement. But that’s exactly what looks like is happening right now. I wish PP21 well in Minnesota, but I am VERY concerned about our CB situation now. I’d almost rather have Peterson back for $8M than watch Keim continue to flounder in the CB market. Or does he have another trade up his sleeve?

OLB Haason Reddick (signed with Carolina for 1 yr/$8M)

This one stung, especially considering the lowball deal Reddick signed with Carolina. I know cap space is tight after the Watt signing, but Keim couldn’t find a way to at least match Carolina’s offer? Markus Golden is fine, but we’d have been better off retaining Reddick instead of him. Oh well. I hope Reddick plays well enough to earn a big-money deal with someone next year.

RB Kenyan Drake (signed with Las Vegas for 2 yr/$11M)

Okay, I actually laughed out loud when I saw this news. For one, it’s actually more money than I thought Drake would get. And two, the Raiders already have Josh Jacobs. So this didn’t make any sense at all. The Raiders claim they want to use him in the passing game.. but he only caught 25 balls for 137 yards last season. Uh, sure. Good for Drake for getting paid, but he’s not going to be anywhere near worth what they’re paying him.

TE Dan Arnold (signed with Carolina for 2 yrs/$6M)

I would like to have seen Arnold brought back—and this is a pretty affordable deal—but I don’t exactly think we’re going to miss him much either. We still have the serviceable Maxx Williams, and we should be able to find a similar player to Arnold without much trouble—after all, he was originally a waiver claim. I’m not too worried about TE at this point.

DT Angelo Blackson (signed with Chicago for 2 yrs/$5.5M)

This is another player I thought we’d bring back—he was solid enough and this is another relatively cheap deal. But we do still have young players like Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence on the D-line. Blackson is far from irreplaceable, although we still do need another body or two on the D-line.

The Boys Are Back in Town

OLB Markus Golden (re-signed for 2 yrs/$5M)

Golden was always the fallback option for Reddick, so when he came back I all but knew we’d be losing Reddick. Golden is a fine player and should have a solid year, but his ceiling is nowhere near as high as Reddick’s. But he’s also a ton cheaper, so I understand the thinking. Can he return to double-digit sack production with Watt and Chandler Jones demanding the majority of the offense’s attention?

OT Kelvin Beachum (re-signed for 2 yrs/$4M)

I thought for sure that someone would offer Beachum more than we’d want to pay, as he showed himself to be an above-average starting RT. And I was curious to see if Josh Jones was ready to step into a starting role. And he still might—albeit at guard. But this was a super cheap deal for Beachum and will be well worth it if we get even average play out of him the next two years.

ILB Tanner Vallejo (re-signed for 2 yrs/$4.1M)

OLB Dennis Gardeck (tendered at 1 yr/$3.4M)

ILB Zeke Turner (tendered at 1 yr/$2.1M)

OLB Kylie Fitts (tendered at 1 yr/$850,000)

These four LBs are all valuable on special teams, with both Vallejo and Gardeck having value on defense as well. I don’t know if we’ll get another 7 sacks out of the Barbarian (especially coming off injury) but he should still be able to chip in a handful behind Jones, Watt, and Golden. I wonder if we might see more of Vallejo at ILB this season at the expense of Jordan Hicks (assuming he’s still on the team). Neither Turner nor Fitts have shown much ability to play on defense but they both have speed and athleticism to potentially do what Gardeck did last year and offer situational pass rush help.

CB Robert Alford (re-signed for 1 yr, terms undisclosed)

Yawn. I have literally no expectations for Alford in 2021, as he hasn’t even played so much as a preseason snap in his two season as a Cardinal. But… he’s also the only other corner of note besides Byron Murphy on the current roster. So unless Keim can somehow find several CBs in his couch cushions, we might actually need him to contribute. Yikes.

New Kids on the Block

DE J.J. Watt (signed for 2 yrs/$28M)

I know this wasn’t a new signing last week, but I actually haven’t had the chance to write about the Watt pickup yet. This is obviously a big deal. Watt is clearly chasing a ring at this point in his career, so he likes the direction this team is heading, and Keim and Michael Bidwill were able to sell him on this team contending in 2021. On the field, he’ll make life easier for his teammates on all three levels of the defense—as long as he’s on the field, that is. Will we get 16 games out of him? Regardless, I’m excited to have this future Canton inductee on the team.

C Rodney Hudson (acquired for 3rd-round pick, 2 yrs/$20.8M remaining)

I was a little bummed when we missed out on Corey Linsley, but I didn’t think we’d actually land the top free agent option at center. Instead, we went out and traded for someone potentially just as good when the Raiders inexplicably decided to implode their offensive line. Center has never been a position of strength for the Arizona Cardinals, but Mason Cole has been decidedly below average in each of his two seasons as starter. Hudson brings strength, intelligence, and leadership to a line that has a chance to be a top-5 unit in 2021 (depending on what we do at RG). Another home run of a trade for Keim.

WR A.J. Green (signed for 1 yr/$6M)

I really hope I’m wrong about this, but I’m not expecting much out of Green this season. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that we finally have a WR2, but Green wasn’t even a WR2 in Cincinnati last season. While he did play all 16 games to somewhat assuage injury concerns, his line was utterly underwhelming: 47/523/2. Although that includes several games with a backup QB and he’ll absolutely have better QB play here in the desert with Kyler Murray, there’s a very real chance that the 33-year-old is washed. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong and have a bounce-back year, but I hope Keim has another plan for our WR2 in 2021.

K Matt Prater (signed for 2 yrs/$6.5M)

Now THIS is a signing I love. I was a little worried we were headed toward one of those Cowboys/Patriots/Titans-type seasons where we cycle through several subpar kickers. But, like center, Keim recognized this was a position of need and went out and addressed it with the best option available. Prater had a bit of a down year in 2020 (21/28 FGs), but has otherwise been an accurate kicker with a very strong leg and a knack for clutch kicks. He’ll be an upgrade over Zane Gonzalez/Mike Nugent in every possible way.

Final Thoughts

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with what Keim has done so far. I’ve been a very vocal critic of him in the past, and I still have my reservations about him, but Watt, Hudson, and Prater are all dynamite pickups, and it’s possible that Green proves to be a bargain as well.

This team still has a glaring hole at CB, as well as questions at WR and RG, but the offseason is young. I expect Keim will use the #16 pick—whether in a trade or just taking a player—to address CB, and there are still options available at WR and RG. Even with those roster holes, I like the way this offseason is going.

How about y’all, RotBers? Do you like the moves Keim has made so far? What concerns do you still have? Give us your offseason thoughts in the comments.