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Cardinals 2022 UFA Priorities

NFL: Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals have a number of key needs to address during the 2022 UFA signing period. Here is this fan’s attempt to prioritize the needs and to suggest the most nifty fits.

As you all know very well by now, my focus is on how the Cardinals can reverse the Arians Curse on the Los Angeles Rams. Thus, a focus on Ram matchups is a deciding factor in how to rank the team need priorities.

  • #1 Team Priority—- sticky cover CB who can dawg Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel and Tyler Lockett. It’s extremely perplexing as to why the Cardinals have not made this a priority, because of how dominant the top slot WRs in the NFC West have been versus the Cardinals.
  • Best UFA fit: Bryce Callahan, DEN

Per PFF: STARTING SLOT CORNERBACK: Callahan stepped up and played some outside cornerback for Denver in 2020 when he was called on, but that’s not where he’s at his best. Callahan has been one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the NFL with a 96th percentile slot coverage grade since 2017. Brandon Staley’s defense in Los Angeles stands out as a scheme fit for Callahan if the Chargers aren’t planning on re-signing Chris Harris Jr. this offseason.

PFF contract projection: 2 years, $10M ($5M per season)

  • #2 Team Priority: starting guard. Justin Pugh at LG has done a solid job blocking Aaron Donald. Pugh’s absence was felt very mightily in the Cardinals’ home loss to the Rams in which Aaron Donald had 3 sack and 14 QB pressures. Do you know how many sacks Justin Pugh has given up over the past two seasons? One. None in 2021 and one in 2020. That’s why his pass blocking grade compared to other NFL guards have been near the top of the NFL the past three years (82.2, 74.4, 73.4). Thus, the team should try to get Pugh to rework his contract again in order to create more cap space. However, as we saw repeatedly this past season, Aaron Donald was wreaking havoc on the Cardinals’ RG. Now, Justin Murray was off to a very good start this season before he was injured. The past two season in over 400 snaps, Murray has only given up 1 sack and his pass blocking grades have been 73.7, 76.5. Thus, how about signing a combo G/C who can compete with Murray (who has valuable G/T versatility_ for the starting RG job and be the backup C if needed. Here is a guy who fits that bill to a tee:
  • G Ted Karras, NE
  • Per PFF: STARTING GUARD/HIGH-END BACKUP WITH POSITIONAL VERSATILITY: Karras’ 2021 season with the Patriots marked the first time he cleared a PFF grade of 70.0 in a starting role, and it was by far the best season of his career in pass protection of his three years as a starter. At worst, he’s a high-end depth piece for an interior offensive line with starting experience at multiple positions.

PFF Contract Projection: 3 years for $13M (4.3M a year)

Wild Card: G Rodger Saffold (31 year old Pro Bowler who was just released by the Titans, 68.9 PFF grade in 2021) to which I tweeted:

  • Team Priority #3: Edge Pass Rusher/34 OLB. I hope that the Cardinals re-sign Dennis Gardeck to continue on as captain of special teams and as a nickel pass rusher. Markus Golden, Devon Kennard and Victor Dimukeje give the Cardinals three good role players at 34 OLB with Golden as an edge rusher, Kennard as edge setter versus the run and Dimukeje as depth behind Kennard. What the Cardinals need is to fill the void on the edge created by Chandler Jones’ potential departure. The most nifty fit here is a player they know very well. The team should have Budda Baker, Markus Golden and J.J. Watt reach out to recruit:
  • OLB/Edge Pass Rusher Haason Reddick, CAR
  • Per PFF: OUTSIDE LINEBACKER IN AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE: Reddick is at his best on blitz-heavy defenses like Carolina’s and Arizona’s that can create unblocked opportunities and pass-rushing reps against tight ends and running backs. Reddick hasn’t matched his 2020 pass-rushing production this year for the Panthers, but he has earned positive grades against the run at one of the highest rates at the position.
  • PFF projected contract: 3 years for $42M ($14M a year).

  • Team Priority #4: Starting WR opposite DeAndre Hopkins. A.J. Green was superb at times, but was inconsistent. The ideal WR2 for the Cardinals is a receiver who can stretch the defense with his speed, but also one who can attack the intermediate area between the 2nd and 3rd levels. Kyler Murray likes WRs with length, speed and a big catch radius, thus here is a nifty, reasonably affordable fit:
  • WR Marquez Valdez-Scantling, GB
  • Per PFF: DEEP THREAT: Valdes-Scantling has excelled as a size/speed downfield mismatch in his four-year career, and that’s his best bet to produce going forward. He’s not polished in other parts of his game, but his career 17.5 yards per reception show that he’s capable of flipping the field in a hurry.
  • PFF projected salary: 2 years for $20M ($10M a year). I think that 2 years for $16M is more likely. If Marquez holds out for more, then the Cardinals could offer 2 years for $16M to D.J. Chark —- if neither accept the Cardinals’ offer, then the Cardinals should make drafting a WR at #23 a priority, assuming other top needs have been met in free agency. As we know, the WR pool in this year’s draft is deep and very talented.
  • Video:

  • Team Priority #5: stud DT run stuffer. Here is a baller who would be the perfect fit:
  • DT Foley Fatukasi, NYJ
  • Per PFF: EARLY-DOWN RUN DEFENDER: Fatukasi was one of the best run defenders in college football at UConn and he’s developed into one of the NFL’s best over the last three years.
  • PFF projected contract: 3 years for $30M ($10M a year)

  • Team Priority #6: TE. Rumor are that the Cardinals have been working very diligently to re-sign Zach Ertz prior to the start of free agency. Rumors are that Ertz is expected to be wooed by his former head coach in Philadelphia in Doug Pederson (JAX). Regardless of what free agent TE the Cardinals sign, they very much need to re-sign Maxx Williams to a deal with attractive incentives based on his 2022 production coming off his ACL injury. I think everyone, especially Kyler Murray would love to have Zach Ertz return. Perhaps the uncertainty revolving around Kyler’s ransom note is giving Ertz some pause. Plus, one has to wonder whether at this point in his career, Zach Ertz warrants a $10M+ a year contract —- which is in the same $10.5M range that TEs who were just given the f-tag are scheduled to make. If the Cardinals were willing to offer Ertz $10+M, then they would have put the f-tag on him. Therefore, Ertz may not accept a contract for less, at this point and could want to test the market. If it begins to look like Ertz is going to sign elsewhere, here is a UFA TE with untapped upside whom I believe would make a nifty fit:
  • TE O.J. Howard, TB
  • per PFF: BACKUP TIGHT END WITH STARTER POTENTIAL: Potential has been the key word for Howard who has had two good seasons and three below-average ones. He can be a vertical threat with his size and speed and he’s shown to be a capable run blocker, it’s just a matter of getting it out of him every week.
  • PFF projected contract: 1 year for $4.1M,

  • Team Priority #7: RB1. The Cardinals are going to try to re-sign James Conner and/or Chase Edmonds. I do not think that the contracts offered to UFA RBs this year will be as high as PFF and others are projecting. Thus, I can see the Cardinals handling the situation like this —- they will offer 3 years for $14M with $10M guaranteed and the first player to accept it, will be the one they sign. The UFA RB whom I believe the Cardinals would offer the same “first one to take it” contract is:
  • RB Sony Michel, LAR
  • Per PFF: EARLY-DOWN ROTATIONAL BACK: Michel has now posted 70.0-plus PFF rushing grades in three of his four NFL seasons across multiple schemes. He will get downhill and move the chains on the ground, but he’s provided little reason to send him out on many routes through four seasons.
  • PFF projected salary: 2 years for $8.5M ($4.25M a year)

  • Team Priority #8: QB2. Colt McCoy is the nifty fit. If for some reason he elects to sign elsewhere, here is another backup type QB who could be valuable in that vital role, especially if he is needed to start for a few games:
  • QB Jacoby Brissett, MIA
  • Per PFF: BACKUP QB: Brissett has two full seasons as a starter, grading at 62.4 in 2017 and 59.2 in 2019. He’s settled in as a high-end backup who generally takes good care of the ball.

Brissett has North Carolina State ties to Steve Keim. He would likely command the kind of salary that the top backup QBs make.

  • Team Priority #9: Punt/Kickoff Returner. Are the Cardinals ever going to acquire a return man who relishes the role? The most nifty fit (who played for Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech):
  • WR/PR/KR Jakeem Grant, CHI

PFF UFA Rankings:

  • QB Colt McCoy —- 208
  • QB Jacoby Brissett —- 145
  • RB James Conner —- 72
  • RB Chase Edmonds —- 79
  • RB Sony Michael —- 81
  • WR Marquez Valdez-Scantling —- 99
  • WR D.J. Chark —- 52
  • TE Zach Ertz —- 60
  • TE Maxx Williams —- 96
  • G Ted Karras —- 134
  • DT Foley Fatukasi —- 70
  • Edge Haason Reddick —- 32
  • CB Bryce Callahan —- 67

What are your thoughts about these UFA choices?