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Free Agency Primer: Players to Consider

If the Cardinals desire to stay afloat in the NFC and end the season strong, start by adding talent in free agency.

The NFL news circuit has been busy after the Scouting Combine. Big name and polarizing quarterbacks on the move via trades and free agency have not begun yet. It officially kicks off on March 16th. Agents for pending free-agent players are permitted to negotiate with prospective teams beginning March 14 at noon ET.

Heading into this period, Arizona has a little over 5.5 million in available cap space per Spotrac. There are a few moves that can be made to free up the additional cap, extensions, or releases. It will be interesting to see how to front office finagles the salary cap for free agency.

This roster has specific positions that must be addressed either in free agency or the draft. Let’s begin with free agency, but first the positions of need.

  • Running back
  • Wide receiver
  • Guard
  • Cornerback
  • Interior defensive line
  • Edge

Running Backs

James Conner and Chase Edmonds will be free agents. Leaving a clear void to be filled, it is to be determined if either will be resigned. There are two veterans that immediately come to mind. Melvin Gordon and Sony Michel, both backs can replace the between the tackles style Conner brought to this offense.

Gordon is an established veteran and locker room leader (which is needed). Those 11-personnel packages Kingsbury relies on will give Gordon ample space and light defensive boxes to run into. He is a reliable receiver out of the backfield also.

Gordon saw a 47.5 snap share with rookie Javonte Williams in Denver. Nonetheless, he was productive and reliable. He rushed for 918 yards on 203 attempts, averaging 4.5 ypc and eight touchdowns. PFF’s projected contract: 1-year $5.2 million

Sony Michel’s market value is similar to 5 million per year. The 27-year-old is a 2-time Super Bowl champion. He is a tough running back with adequate burst in through the second level of the defense.

He proved to be a valuable asset for the Los Angeles Rams as they dealt with injuries. With less than 50% snap share, Michel rushed for 845 yards on 208 attempts, averaging 4.1 ypc and six touchdowns. That kind of production would be more than welcomed in Arizona! PFF’s projected contract: 2-years 10 million ($5M per year)

Edge

Chandler Jones spent the last seven seasons terrorizing quarterbacks in the NFC West. At the moment, it appears he will not be returning to the desert. This is a big loss to an unreliable defense. Is a potential reunion in order through free agency?

Hasaan Reddick is hitting the open market for the second-consecutive off-season. After eclipsing 10 during both seasons. Not signing him to a long-term deal last season was a mistake, rectify that with a reunion.

Reddick played fewer snaps in Carolina coming 1.5 sacks shy of his 12.5 from the year prior in Arizona. He is only 27 years old and in his prime. Bringing him back would be great for Vance Joseph’s defense. PFF’s projected contract: 3-years 45 million ($15M per year)

Cornerback

The Achilles heel of this defense in 2021 was the secondary, specifically the cornerback position. Marco Wilson did not show enough flashes to warrant the team passing on adding talent to the group.

Bryce Callahan is an experienced sticky cover corner. He plays in the slot primarily but offers alignment flexibility. Byron Murphy offers similar flexibility. If Joseph desires Murphy more on the boundary going forward finding a high-quality nickel corner will be optimal. PFF projected contract: 2-years 20 million ($10M per year)

Another option that should not cost much, is Jason Verrett. Yes, I am aware of his injury history. Part of the reason I am suggesting this signing. When healthy for the 49ers, Verrett looked like one of the better corners. Sticking in coverage, high-FBI, and willing force player against the run. PFF projected contract: 1-year $3M

Guard

Conner Williams is a young guard with over 2,100 snaps played since 2020. Effective in both gap and zone runs. An upgrade over Max Garcia and Josh Jones is required to ensure Kyler Murray remains upright.

PFF has graded him over 70 in consecutive seasons. Signing Williams to a team-friendly multi-year deal will remove the need to select a guard on day one of the NFL Draft next month. PFF’s projected contract: 3 yrs 20M (6.67m per year)

A bit older, Oday Aboushi is a solid player that can play both left and right guard spots. The value of a reliable starter and performer in both run/pass actions cannot be underestimated. Due to recovering from a torn ACL, he is not projected to command brink’s truck type of contact. He has good length and hand placement to win consistently. PFF estimated contract: 1-yr 1.5M

Wide Receiver

Sammy Watkins is a low-cost option to fill the vertical role for the Cardinals offense opposite DeAndre Hopkins. He has battled injuries his entire career, but he has come up big also. Ask the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Regardless, A.J. Green is a free agent and a cost-efficient wideout can mitigate the loss.

Watkins started 9 of the 13 games he played for the Ravens last season. At worst, he adds another capable receiver for depth and someone to add leadership in the locker room. PFF estimated contract: 1-yr 5.5m

Another option to fill the WR2 role in Arizona is Marquez Valdez-Scantling. MVS has the height and speed to become a favorite target for Murray down the field. He understands his role and plays it well. His experience playing alongside an elite receiver in Green Bay shows his awareness and selflessness. He has averaged 15 or more yards per catch during each season in the league. When Hopkins went down, Murray lacked a reliable vertical threat and that capped the Cardinals' offense. PFF’s projected contract: 2-yrs 20M (10M per year)

Interior Defensive Line

DaQuan Jones is a consistent presence lined up over the center and guard. His big frame and long arms allow him to handle interior run-stopping duties well. His powerful and violent hands help disengage from blockers. In addition, he offers some interior pass rush giving him three-down value. PFF’s projected contract: 2-yrs 11.5M (5.75M per year)

Linval Joseph is a wily veteran known for his run-stuffing abilities. The 33-year old DL is not expected to play over 50% of the defensive snaps, but he is productive and effective. His wide and powerful frame operates as a space clogger and commands the attention of two OL. This will be an asset for Simmons and Collins to remain clean and flow to the football. PFF’s projected contract: 1-yr 6.75M

Steve Keim has his hands full to effectively work the salary cap and add talent to this roster. These next few days will be interesting to watch unfold. What are your thoughts on potential free agents?

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