For as long as I can remember, tight ends on the Arizona Cardinals never put up huge numbers on the stat sheet.
Throughout the Bruce Arians era in Arizona, he prioritized blocking from his tight ends over being a threat in the receiving game.
The same can be said about Kliff Kingsbury but he seems more willing to get tight ends involved in the offense.
Dan Arnold, or “Big Dan”, seems to be breaking the norm of the standard production from a Cardinals tight end.
He was signed late in the 2019 season but was praised by his coaches and teammates as soon as he arrived in Arizona. After the touchdown catch against the Cleveland Browns a couple years ago in route to the Cardinals win, the hope was for Arnold to be a key offensive weapon for them and things seemed to be trending that way last season.
Arnold had a career year in 2020, setting career highs with 31 receptions, 438 receiving yards, and four touchdowns. The passer rating when he was targeted was a 128.9.
Though the statistics itself are not impressive, the Cardinals have not had a tight end eclipse over 400 receiving yards since Rob Housler in 2013.
He turns only 26 in a week and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Arnold seems like a player the Cardinals would like to bring back as a potential long-term red zone threat at the tight end position. His return will depend on his asking price.
In 2019, the Cardinals signed Maxx Williams to a one-year contract and was one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.
Though he only has 23 receptions, 304 receiving yards, and two touchdowns in his two years in Arizona, his 82.1 pass blocking grade in 2019 was the second-best among tight ends that played 40 or more snaps as a blocker. Williams run blocking paved the way for productive seasons from Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds, who averaged 5.2 and 5.1 yards per carry respectively.
In the same season, he signed a two-year contract extension but the first year into it was not a pretty one.
This past season, Williams missed seven games due to an ankle injury and the run blocking suffered without him. Drake only had a 4.0 yards per carry average in 2020 compared to the 5.2 he had the year before.
He missed 24 games in his time with the Baltimore Ravens (2015-18) and had another injury-plagued season just last year.
Williams’ future in Arizona is uncertain with one year remaining in his contract but he is more likely to stay than not. His cap hit for this upcoming season is around $3.22 million and the Cardinals can save most of that by releasing him.
Darrell Daniels and Seth DeValve are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next week. Daniels filled in for Maxx Williams when he was sidelined with an injury and had some inconsistent performances. Both can be brought back for cheap but are replaceable players.
Aside from Maxx Williams the only other tight end under contract for the Cardinals is Ian Bunting, who was signed to a futures deal in January.
I do not expect the Cardinals to break the bank for a tight end in free agency. Some of the top tight ends that will be available include Rob Gronkowski, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith but will likely be out of their price range. Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert, and Kyle Rudolph are also available but I would assume the Cardinals like the youth they currently have.
There are many intriguing options in the NFL Draft as well with guys such as Florida’s Kyle Pitts, Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, and Boston College’s Hunter Long.
Considering Maxx Williams turns only 27 in April, it might be best to keep him in the final year of his contract over signing some of the older veterans available in the free agent market.
Though Larry Fitzgerald has not made a retirement decision yet, he could be an option at tight end as well. I would not be surprised to see Dan Arnold return but also would not be surprised to see him sign elsewhere. Though he struggled against the 49ers in Week 16, Arnold had a very solid year.
Free agency starts next week on March 17th.