The Arizona Cardinals have been heavy spenders in free agency over the last two seasons, signing players such as J.J. Watt, Jordan Phillips, and Jordan Hicks that add up to $95 million in total contract value.
General Manager Steve Keim made Budda Baker the highest paid safety in the NFL at the time of his extension last year and extended All-Pro center Rodney Hudson after acquiring him from the Las Vegas Raiders via trade this offseason.
Without question, the Cardinals have made many significant additions that makes their current 2021 roster better than the rosters they have had in previous years in the Kliff Kingsbury era.
Just as there are quality players with massive salaries, there are many quality veterans on cap-friendly deals as well.
Excluding players on rookie contracts, here are my top-5 bargain contracts on the Cardinals roster:
5. James Conner - Running Back (one-year, $1.75 million)
It was not that long ago when the Cardinals allocated lots of money to the running back position when they gave Kenyan Drake the transition tag ($8.4 million) last year and extended David Johnson with a three-year $39 million deal.
With Johnson and Drake both off the roster, the Cardinals have the least amount of money allocated to the running back position in the NFL. They signed James Conner to a low $1.75 million contract from the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had 936 total scrimmage yards last season and fits the mold for what Kingsbury wants in a No. 2 running back as a big bruiser (6’1’’ 233lbs) capable of converting in short yardage situations. At only 26 years old, Conner will be an excellent compliment to the speedy and versatile Chase Edmonds.
4. Malcolm Butler - Cornerback (one-year, $6 million)
The Arizona Cardinals’ biggest need this offseason was cornerback with both of their 2020 starters in Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick departing in free agency on expiring contracts. The Cardinals went out and signed one of the best free agents at the position in Malcolm Butler, who was released by the Tennessee Titans.
He got a $2.175 million signing bonus along with a minimum base salary of $1.075 million fully guaranteed for the 2021 season with a voidable year in 2022. If Butler hits all of his incentives, then he can reach the max value of his contract of $6 million. These are relatively low contract numbers for a starting cornerback in the NFL considering his production last year, when he led the NFL in tackles (100) and was tied for seventh in the league in interceptions (4).
3. Dennis Gardeck - Edge Rusher (one-year, $3.384 million)
Gardeck had seven sacks in only 79 pass rush snaps last season. He earned an 89.6 overall Pro Football Focus grade with an 84.4 in pass rush. Talk about capitalizing on opportunities, the Sioux Falls product was one of the most consistent sources of pass rush on the Cardinals’ roster.
Not only is he an ascending pass rusher, Gardeck is also a special teams standout and was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2019. Gardeck suffered a torn ACL in Week 15 which likely means he will start the 2021 regular season on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) but his recovery is ahead of schedule. Taking into consideration his production, role as a rotational pass rusher, and turning only 27 in a few weeks, the second-round tender that he signed was a bargain.
2. Kelvin Beachum - Offensive Tackle (two-year, $4 million)
Kelvin Beachum was a free agent longer than expected in 2020 until he signed with the Cardinals last July. He played every snap (1,126) as a starter at right tackle and exceeded expectations in his admirable play. He was one of the better right tackles in the NFL last year, allowing only three sacks and 25 pressures in his first season with the Cardinals.
Beachum was rewarded with a two-year, $4 million contract this offseason, with $3.075 million in total guarantees and $2.325 million guaranteed at signing. His average of $2 million per season is ranked as 72nd among offensive tackles. His contract is very cheap for a veteran starter keeping Kyler Murray upright. If offensive tackle was considered a skill position, he would be No. 1 on this list.
1. Markus Golden - Edge Rusher (two-year, $9 million)
Finding an established pass rusher is already tough as it is and when teams normally get one, they have to pay a substantial amount to keep them. The Cardinals acquired Markus Golden via trade from the New York Giants last season and did not disappoint with 41 pressures through nine games with the Cardinals. Not only is he back, Golden returns on a multi-year team-friendly deal.
Golden would earn $250,000 in per-game ($15,625) bonuses each year. He has a base salary of $1 million this year with a $1.5 million signing bonus and $2 million base salary in 2022. He can earn an additional $4 million through incentives. So basically, he signed a $5 million contract with $4 million in other potential earnings. Markus Golden created 64 pressures in 2019 and 55 pressures last year. A pass rusher like him on a cap-friendly contract makes Golden’s deal the biggest bargain on the Cardinals.
Markus Golden ranks at edge last season:— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) March 15, 2021
Pass rush win rate: 25th / 46
Run stop win rate: 13th / 40
Recorded 4.5 sacks, -.7 over expectation, 4 sacks created.
(ESPN / Next Gen Stats)
Honorable Mentions: Justin Murray, Brian Winters, Shawn Williams, Colt McCoy
Not a bargain but great value
D.J. Humphries - Offensive Tackle (three-year, $44.25 million)
Humphries may have the highest cap hit among offensive tackles ($19.93 million) this season but his average of $14.583 million over three seasons is ranked only 14th at his position. Last season, he had a cap hit of only $5.74 million which allowed the Cardinals to extend Budda Baker and add other veterans.
Humphries was the fourth-highest graded offensive tackle (88.3) in the NFL, third-highest in run blocking (90.8) and allowed only three sacks in 16 games. After a slow start in his career since being a first-round selection out of Florida in 2015, he has played to expectation over the last two seasons. Comparing his contract to the likes of Trent Williams (six-year, $138.06 million) and 12 other offensive tackles with higher averages than Humphries, the Cardinals got a great deal here. He only has $15.1 million remaining in guarantees on his contract.