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Arizona Cardinals: Five unrestricted free agents to target on defense

Upgrading cornerback and a potential reunion of two former Cardinals

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Carolina Panthers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

With Super Bowl LVI and 2021 season concluded, today is the first Sunday without football since August 8 of last year. Teams, players, and fans are in full offseason mode as speculations begin and predictions start going rampant.

The Arizona Cardinals ended this past season disappointingly as they were blown out against the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams 34-11 at SoFi Stadium. A positive takeaway is the fact that they clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2015 but that achievement was far from their ultimate goal of a championship. J.J. Watt could not have summed up Arizona’s 2021 season any better as he called it a “massive failure” during exit interviews. A team with Super Bowl aspirations that began the season 10-2 and looked like the best team in the NFL went 1-5 the rest of the way.

NFL free agency will begin on March 16 at 4 P.M. ET so we are only 24 days away from the start of the 2022 league year. According to Over the Cap, the Cardinals can have possible cap space between $39.1 million and $80 million depending on contract structuring and cap hit prorations.

Maybe cap space is a myth. Maybe it is real.

There will be lots of talent available in free agency and the Cardinals must be aggressive if they want any shot at reaching the Super Bowl under Kyler Murray’s rookie contract window.

Let’s start with the defense.

Here are five unrestricted free agents for the Cardinals to target in free agency with Pro Football Focus contract predictions:

Baltimore Ravens v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Calais Campbell - Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens

Campbell turns 36 in September but he is still widely considered one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL as an elite pass rusher and run defender. The former Walter Payton Man of the Year notched 31 pressures in 15 games this past season. However, his production on the stat sheet has dropped significantly with only 5.5 sacks over the last two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. At this point in his career, Campbell is best as a starter in rotation. He plans on playing another season and a nice sendoff for him would be playing in a place where it all began in Arizona as their former second-round pick in the 2008 draft. The Cardinals need consistency on that defensive line and Campbell fits the profile as consistently good.

PFF Contract Prediction: One year, $8 million fully guaranteed

Jacksonville Jaguars v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Sidney Jones - Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks

The Cardinals secondary took a huge beating in the second half of the season after Robert Alford sustained a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 14. Rookie Marco Wilson and Byron Murphy struggled after Arizona’s defense lost J.J. Watt. Malcolm Butler’s retirement in the offseason definitely hurt Keim’s plans going into 2021. In 2022, the Cardinals cannot afford to go into the season thin a cornerback. Sidney Jones has had an injury-riddled career but played in 16 of 17 games last season with 10 passes defensed. However, the 25-year-old’s injury history should prompt Keim to make other additions at cornerback as well. He was Budda Baker’s teammate at the University of Washington.

PFF Contract Prediction: One year, $4.25 million fully guaranteed

Carolina Panthers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

Haason Reddick - EDGE, Carolina Panthers

The Cardinals should have never let Haason Reddick walk out the door in free agency last season and this is their chance to bring him back if he is not franchise tagged. He is coming off his second-straight year with double digit sacks (11) after spending 2021 on a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. He has elite speed off the edge and can drop into coverage. He is everything Vance Joseph wants and had. Find a way to bring him back to the desert. Considering his production, the below contract prediction is a bargain deal for the 27-year-old edge rusher. Chandler Jones is also scheduled to be a free agent.

PFF Contract Prediction: Three years, $35 million ($11.67M per year, $18 million total guaranteed)

NFL: Washington Football Team at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Settle - Defensive Tackle, Washington Commanders

Settle has been a backup nose tackle in the nation’s capital over the last four years as Washington’s fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft. What is most intriguing about the Virginia Tech product is the fact that he had double digit pressures in each of the last three seasons while drawing only two starts in that time. Settle is only 24 years old and has plenty of upside. He would be considered a low-risk bargain signing.

PFF Contract Prediction: One year, $4.25 million, $2.25 million total guaranteed

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Charvarius Ward - Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs

After Carlton Davis, Stephon Gilmore, and J.C. Jackson, Charvarius Ward might just be the best available press-man cornerback headed to free agency. At 6-feet-1 198lbs and 4.43 speed, he has everything you want in a cornerback especially in a man-heavy scheme. He finished the 2021 season with 67 tackles, two interceptions, and a trip to the AFC Championship game. Ward certainly is not as popular as the three cornerbacks mentioned earlier but in terms of physicality, he really battles hard. Plus, he will not command as much money. The Cardinals are in desperate need of an upgrade at cornerback and Ward should be one of their primary targets.

According to Pro Football Focus, “[Ward] is one of the best pure tacklers at wide corner in the NFL, and his 5% missed tackle percentage is the lowest rate among the top 75 outside cornerbacks in total tackles since 2019.”

PFF Contract Prediction: Three years, $34.5 million ($11.5M per year, $19.5 million total guaranteed)


Calais Campbell would be a quality add on the defensive line to pair with J.J. Watt. Zach Allen, who is coming off his best season with four sacks, can rotate with the veterans to create a very formidable defensive line rotation. Tim Settle offers more intrigue as an interior rusher at nose tackle than Rashard Lawrence, who is a better run stuffer. Charvarius Ward and Sidney Jones would give the Cardinals two new cornerbacks out wide with size, speed, and man coverage prowess. Byron Murphy can stay in his natural position in the slot. Let Marco Wilson compete with Sidney Jones for the start. Haason Reddick is the ideal edge rusher for Vance Joseph.

It might be wishful thinking to believe the Cardinals can acquire all this talent but nothing is impossible. It can be done. Considering Keim has a tendency to push cap hit into the future, free agent adds of this magnitude and cost is very much manageable.