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Cardinals’ 2022 free agents: To re-sign or not to re-sign

Some big name Cardinals are scheduled to be free agents in 2022 which includes Chandler Jones, Zach Ertz, and James Conner

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

With the 2021 NFL season officially over as the Los Angeles Rams are crowned as the Super Bowl Champions, we can now delve into the next exciting part about football and that is the offseason.

And as it stands, things do not look all too great on the cap space front for the Arizona Cardinals.

According to overthecap.com, they are in fact over the cap by $813.3K heading into the 2022 offseason.

However, Cardinals’ general manager Steve Keim can create more cap space with the releases of some of their potential cap casualties and they must do so if they plan on being aggressive in free agency.

With Kyler Murray entering his fourth year in the NFL next season, his rookie contract is nearly at an end with a fifth-year player option available if he has not already been given an expected lucrative extension.

The window to win a championship under Murray’s rookie contract is still open but it is quickly closing.

Arizona will not be able to re-sign every one of their top free agents especially with the limited spending pool that they have at the moment.

With that in consideration, here is the list of the Cardinals 2022 unrestricted free agents and the tough decisions looming:

1. Chandler Jones - EDGE

The Cardinals fleeced the New England Patriots in 2016 when they traded Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick for Chandler Jones. Jones went on to become the Cardinals’ all-time leader in sacks (71.5) this past season, surpassing the great Freddie Joe Nunn for that title. He also is the Cardinals’ single-season record holder in sacks (19). Jones is the best pass rusher in Arizona Cardinals history and is coming off a respectable season with 10.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. He will get paid during the offseason with quality pass rushers difficult to come by but I am not all too certain he will be back in the desert in 2022 with a substantial price tag that could be around $20 million per season.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

2. Zach Ertz - Tight End

With DeAndre Hopkins missing eight of the final 10 games of the 2021 season with hamstring and knee injuries, Kyler Murray relied on Zach Ertz heavily as his go-to target. Cardinals acquired the Pro Bowl tight end from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Tay Gowan and a fifth-round pick after Maxx Williams went down with a season-ending ACL tear in Week 5. In the final four games of the regular season, he amassed a whopping 43 targets. In only 11 games with Arizona, Ertz tied the single-season franchise record in receptions by a tight end (56) with Hall of Famer Jackie Smith, who set the mark in 1967. Arizona needs more weapons. He must return and continue that chemistry with Murray.

Prediction: Re-sign, Two-year $16 Million

3. James Conner - Running Back

James Conner had an incredible 2021 season with 1,127 scrimmage yards and 18 total touchdowns through 15 games. He easily outplayed the one-year $1.75 million contract that he received and is well deserving of a big payday. He is an excellent pass catcher that not many people praise him enough for and is a bulldozer of a running back that is more nimble than what his 6’1’’ 233lbs suggests.

Prediction: Re-sign, Two-year, $13 Million

4. Christian Kirk - Wide Receiver

Christian Kirk was moved to his natural position in the slot and that resulted in career highs in catches (77) and receiving yards (982) this season. At only 25 years old, he will be a highly coveted player in free agency. Although I believe the Cardinals will have interest in re-signing Kirk, they also drafted Rondale Moore in the second round of the 2021 draft for a reason. Moore was considered one of the most dynamic slot wide receivers in that draft.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

5. Chase Edmonds - Running Back

Edmonds has been a dependable pass catching running back with 96 receptions over the last two seasons. He set a career high in rushing yards with 592 and a total of 903 yards in only 12 games this season. The combo of Conner and Edmonds in the backfield was truly a work of art worth admiring. But it is difficult for me to imagine the Cardinals bringing both back. Edmonds is fully capable of a larger workload and one would think he is seeking a multi-year extension for a lot more than his rookie contract had to offer. Turns only 26 in April and offers so much to any team.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

6. A.J. Green - Wide Receiver

The Cardinals got their money’s worth out the 33-year-old receiver with 54 receptions, 848 receiving yards, and three touchdowns this past season while on a one-year $8 million contract. His effectiveness faded down the stretch when relied upon as the No. 1 receiver after DeAndre Hopkins went down with a season-ending injury and was held without a catch in the Wild Card game. Time to go a younger route.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

7. Maxx Williams - Tight End

Williams was having the best year of his career before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 5. Through five weeks, he had 16 receptions, 193 receiving yards, and a touchdown. He was well on pace to shattering his career best of 268 receiving yards that he had in his rookie year in 2015. Williams is the most underrated tight end in the NFL when healthy. Quality pass catcher and an even better blocker. He turns only 28 in April and pairing him with Ertz could really give the Cardinals offense a huge boost.

Prediction: Re-sign, One-year, $3.5 Million

8. Robert Alford - Cornerback

Alford was consistently solid in 13 games before going down with another season-ending injury. However at 33 years old, a third consecutive season-ending injury in three years in Arizona, and not bringing much value on special teams, it might be time to look at other options at cornerback.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

9. Colt McCoy - Quarterback

McCoy went 2-1 in his three starts this season. He recorded 740 passing yards, three touchdowns, and an interception with a 101.4 passer rating. He is everything the Cardinals expected him to be when signed. A good mentor and backup QB to Kyler Murray.

Prediction: Re-sign, One-year $2 Million

10. Dennis Gardeck - EDGE

Gardeck did not log a single sack in 2021 and the torn ACL the year prior is a big reason for the significant drop down in production compared to his seven sacks in 79 pass rush snaps in 2020. With Chandler Jones scheduled to be a free agent and Gardeck being only 27 years old, he is a player worth bringing back. He remains one of the top special teams players in the NFL and heads into the offseason fully healthy with a huge chance to bounce back in 2022 on a considerable bargain deal if he returns to form.

Prediction: Re-sign, Two-year $6 Million

11. Max Garcia - Guard

Garcia started 11 of 15 games in large part because Rodney Hudson was out with COVID, Justin Murray was on injured reserve, and Josh Jones was struggling at right guard. With all things considered, Garcia was a quality backup thrusted into the starting lineup with center and guard flexibility. With Justin Murray expected to make a full recovery and the Cardinals wanting to further develop Josh Jones, Garcia likely walks.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

12. Antonio Hamilton - Cornerback

Hamilton was relied on heavily when Robert Alford and Marco Wilson were out with injuries. Has slot and outside versatility in addition to special teams experience with a team-high seven special teams tackles in 2021. Made 38 total tackles during the season.

Prediction: Re-sign, One-year $2 Million

13. Aaron Brewer - Long Snapper

He joined the Cardinals in 2016 and has been mistake free.

Prediction: Re-sign, Three-year $3 Million

14. Andy Lee - Punter

There are quite a few talented punters in this upcoming draft with a cannon of a leg such as San Diego State’s Matt Araiza and Penn State’s Jordan Stout. Andy Lee turns 40 in August.

Prediction: Retires

15. Zeke Turner

Turner is arguably the best special teams coverage player on the Cardinals. He missed 12 games this past season but played in 44 of 48 NFL games prior to 2021.

Prediction: Re-sign, Two-year $3 Million

16. Corey Peters - Nose Tackle

Cardinals’ 2020 fourth-round pick Rashard Lawrence has been a serviceable nose tackle and there are talented ones in the draft including Georgia’s Jordan Davis, Devonte Watt, and UConn’s Travis Jones. Peters has been good in Arizona for a number of years since signing in 2016 but with him turning 34 in June, it might be time to move in a different direction.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

17. Chris Banjo - Safety

He is a veteran that knows the system and can start if need be. Possibly compete with 2021 seventh-round pick James Wiggins for a roster spot. Started for the injured Jalen Thompson in 2020 and led the team with 318 special teams snaps.

Prediction: Re-sign, One-year Veteran Minimum

18. Darrell Daniels - Tight End

Primarily a special teamer but does not offer much else.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

19. Demetrius Harris - Tight End

Just like Daniels, Harris is primarily a special teamer but was tied for second on the Cardinals with six special teams tackles. The eight-year veteran turns 31 in July.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

20. Charles Washington - Safety

Not much experience playing on defense but was one of the Cardinals best special teamers in 2020. Could land on another team that seriously needs special teams coverage upgrades. Wiggins could take his spot on the roster.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

21. Jack Crawford - Defensive End

Crawford was on injured reserve all season and turns 34 in September.

Prediction: Walks, Free Agent

Other free agents: DT Michael Dogbe (RFA, Veteran Minimum), OLB Kylie Fitts (RFA, Walks), RB Jonathan Ward (ERFA, Rights Retained), WR Antoine Wesley (ERFA, Rights Retained)