The Arizona Cardinals are coming off their best season in some time.
It’s also a key point in their development as a franchise with a young, productive quarterback on the roster in what are likely the waning years of his rookie deal.
So, how should or will they address some of their needs this offseason? Let’s take a look at each position on the roster and one possible route they could take at each position, including some of the moves they have already done with a little game called Sign, Draft, Trade or Stay?
Sign=signing a free agent from outside the organization
Draft=draft a player (with what pick in what round)
Stay=Arizona keeps a current free agent that they had from a year ago or rolls with players currently on the roster
There is another option to add players, of course, and that is via trade. However, with how players have to be available foremost and have a set value that is known, this isn’t really a predictable option for this type of exercise. With that, let’s begin looking at a mock draft from Pro Football Focus’s Mock Draft Machine that added talent to the Cardinals and also how they can address other positions to build a complete offseason:
Moves: Extending Colt McCoy (Done). Extending Kyler Murray’s current contract
This has been a hotly debated topic, but in this scenario as described Arizona could look for long-term stability by extending him to a long-term deal. This would free up anywhere from $4-7 million in cap room for signing or extending players and would also link up Murray with his head coach and general manager.
This isn’t a move that I think the Cardinals have to do immediately, but given how the quarterbacks of other teams have moved around and others have moved on from long-time starters, this could help the Cards out in the present and future.
Running Back: Stay, Sign
Moves: Extending James Conner (Done), Sign RB Darrel Williams, More Eno Benjamin snaps
The Cardinals went and kept their touchdown machine from last year in house on a 3 year, $21 million deal. They did lose Chase Edmonds in free agency but it stands to reason that if Eno Benjamin can replace some of his production in the run game, they could move to Conner as the “RB1” and Eno filling some of Chase’s touches. They could (and I would say should) add a running back to take over for Conner and get some touches during this year’s draft.
Round 3 seems like a decent “sweet spot” for backs they’ve found in the past anywhere from David Johnson to Chase Edmonds as a 4th rounder, and there’s several options that should be available there, though they could potentially trade back/add one late as well or even as early as pick 55. I like Eno enough to have him split reps with a veteran back but there’s a possibility that if they draft a player he might not be on the roster.
Some players who I liked at that spot, however, weren’t as valuable as a pass rusher. And it feels like with how Darrel Williams was such a good pass catcher that if they can get him on a good deal, it pushes Running Back to a draft pick next offseason given the needs on defense and in the pass-rush game. Building the lines and keeping Conner was the emphasis. I added Ty Johnson as a round 6 pick late to push Eno.
Tight End: Stay
Moves: Extending Zach Ertz (Done), Extend Maxx Williams (Done), sign Stephen Anderson, Draft a Tight End potentially with Day 3 pick late
It would be possible for Arizona to add a Tight End with a pick on Day 2 but...with how they’ve already extended Zach Ertz as their “big money” TE1 in the passing game, adding a body behind Maxx Williams for the future is probably the best bet. With no tight ends early as solid players, and no 4th or 5th round pick, in this scenario they’d be adding someone late as a developmental player
Wide Receiver: Stay, Draft @ 55
Moves: Extend/re-sign A.J. Green, Tendered Antoine Wesley (Done) Draft WR Christian Watson at 55
The mock draft in which I simulated through Pro Football Focus (See at the top of this article) had Chris Olave and the other top 3 wide receivers off the board in the first round. Fortunately, this is a deep enough draft at receiver that there are possible options for an outside receiver there. Looking at pick 55, there were other interesting guys but not the edge rusher types of a Nik Bonitto or seeing a DeMarvin Leal versus the upside of the receivers who fell to this spot.
Frankly, it might be upon Arizona to have to sign a receiver after June 1st or make a trade mid-season for their Wide Receiver 2 and go defense to add a run-stopper and an edge but when looking at this draft there was quite a bit of talent there at pick 55.
The name that stands out the most here is Clemson’s Justyn Ross from Clemson Championship games, but his health injuries has hampered productivity. His fit after Green, if healthy, might be the best of this list with big play and big school ability.
Other names are intriguing from small schools: Christian Watson is a physical freak but has had drops issues and production questions (never had 600 yards at NDSU) while Jalen Tolbert isn’t as big as other receivers but had 1,400 yards in his final season at Southern Alabama.
Another intriguing option who was available was Alec Pierce, who caught passes at Cincinnati from Desmond Ridder and is a big, fast body. I like the fit the most of what Watson might be, and while Tolbert might be the most productive, he’s at a small school and Pierce might be the “safest” player as a result. I would lean Tolbert over Watson but if developing Christian Watson behind Green for a year and having him in on some snaps and deep targets it might be a solid fit, and he has the athletic ability to run on jet sweeps and be used in more ways than just as a “Z” receiver as well.
I’ll roll with the ceiling of Watson and fact he’s already a decent fit for AZ’s scheme under Kliff and can take over for A.J. Green outside with his size and vertical speed.
Offensive Tackle: Stay
Moves: Extend D.J. Humphries
It seemed inevitable a few seasons ago that Arizona had work to do at their offensive tackle position needing D.J. Humphries to stay healthy and a gaping hole at right tackle. This year? It’s maybe their strongest position outside of safety on the team, with Humphries on the final year of a successful deal at $15 million, veteran Kelvin Beachum across from him for another year and Josh Jones as the swing OT (back at offensive tackle after some early season success led to late season struggles at guard but a bounce back game at RT cemented his future vs. Dallas).
Cardinals could theoretically draft Humphries’ replacement to sit for a year on the roster, but it’s hard to see in this scenario that they’d take that over other holes. I would rather try to extend Humphries now, see some cap relief and have the offensive tackle locked up given that if he is a free agent next season...the cost to retain (and only Jones under contract at right tackle) will be pricy.
Interior Offensive Line: Sign, Stay
Moves: Restructure Justin Pugh (Done), Sign Will Hernandez (Done)
This was a tough choice to pass on the likes of a Zion Johnson on the offensive line, who I think fills a need both now and in the future since he might indeed be a player who could beat out one of Justin Pugh or Will Hernandez in camp with his athletic upside...but on the other hand might sit for a year.
That isn’t an issue as Arizona has a need for an OG and also would be heading into the last year of the deal they gave to Rodney Hudson after this season. But it seems as though Arizona’s needs in finding a guard aren’t as critical as it is to finding a pass rusher, receiver and a run stopper.
It’ll be a big thing for 2024, however. If Humphries is NOT extended and Josh Jones doesn’t end up seizing a starting tackle job, then Arizona will be looking for 4 starters around Rodney Hudson in a year’s time. Taking OG Zion Johnson was an option here at pick 23 but I passed on him for the next option...
Defensive Line: Draft @ 23
Moves: Re-Sign DL Michael Dogbe (done), re-sign DL Corey Peters, draft DL Devonte Wyatt at pick 23, more snaps for Allen/Lawrence/Fotu
The Cardinals have a quandary in their team-building after seeing Chandler Jones and Christian Kirk walk.
Because there’s a definite need on the defensive line as well, especially given how the Cardinals’ run defense and pass defense struggled down the stretch. They gave up 140 yards on the ground to the Rams in the playoffs and while they have never been good vs. the run under Vance Joseph, they didn’t need to be. They just needed to be effective.
Now? Do they move up for an edge rusher or take a wide receiver? When mocking the Cardinals’ offseason it ended up where neither of those players ended up falling to Arizona. One option that was there? It wasn’t Jordan Davis, the stud DT out of Georgia, but it was the next best thing:
Devonte Wyatt, a defensive tackle with pass rush upside (not production) who tested off the charts with his athleticism. So here is how I figured to build the Cardinals:
- focus on stopping the run and having a guy next to, learning from and replacing J.J. Watt long-term
- a defensive tackle frees up Arizona’s athletic linebackers to make tackles and blitz, rushing the passer, putting teams in long down & distance
- Arizona has veterans in Markus Golden and Devon Kennard, so signing a veteran pass rusher might mirror their 2015 defense where they can find their next Dwight Freeney for a year
The Cardinals also have the option to see if Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu and Zach Allen will finally “hit” or if they’ll be looking at paying a big extension to a veteran similar to when they brought Jordan Phillips into the fold a few years ago. It didn’t work out. Wyatt is a bit older as a prospect but will be far cheaper than that option and it’s better taking DT2 than Edge5 in my opinion.
I would also look at re-uniting Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt as a possibility here, but in this case I took a defensive tackle, will play Allen and the others at defensive end and stay put, with a signing at Outside Linebacker.
Outside Linebacker/Edge Rusher: Sign & Draft @ 87
Moves: Re-structure OLB Devon Kennard, Sign Melvin Ingram, Draft Edge Myjai Sanders @ 87 to rotate in
In Arizona’s scheme the Cardinals have three positions at linebacker: Bandit or the main pass-rusher role that gets 1v1 matchups, SAM or strong-side (on the tight end), WILL weak-side (outside the main edge rusher who can move around, make plays) and MIKE who’s in the middle of the field calling the defense.
This is the BANDIT role which was previously Markus Golden’s role. Devon Kennard is athletic enough to help cover some tight ends, and he’ll get some help from Isaiah Simmons in this role, but Arizona needs a guy who can add to Golden in order to rush the passer.
Enter a plethora of aging, 30+ pass rushers who can be added on a one-year deal.
The one I picked was Melvin Ingram, for a 1 year $7 million deal with sack incentives. He might be costlier, but in that range there will be good rotational players
Also in the mock draft, Cincy pass-rusher Myjai Sanders was there in round 3. I think a veteran plus someone of his athletic upside who can rotate will be a solid addition where it might not be “optimal” but...there isn’t an optimal formation for Arizona to meet all their needs. Add an Edge/DT or a DT/Edge round 1 and 2 and there’s no solution for Kyler Murray in the passing game without Rondale Moore becoming a 1,400 yard player.
This felt like the best option with who was on the board in this simulation, and it might not “fix” the problem but at least you can get by for a year.
Inside Linebacker: Stay
Moves: Sign Will LB Nick Vigil, Re-Sign Ezekiel Turner
Arizona added a Will linebacker and will be finally seeing major playing time for their middle linebacker and playmaking strong-side linebacker in Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons.
If they struggle to play this season or Arizona sees issues, it will be a lot of frustration toward GM Steve Keim. Adding a DT and a pass rusher will give them the best chance to move all over the place and succeed in this Vance Joseph scheme.
Moves: Sign CB Jeff Gladney (done), re-sign CB Robert Alford
Very self-explanatory. There’s definitely the option to add another cornerback for the Cardinals, however, in the draft in the first round. I added a defensive tackle but the Cards could see some fits in CB Trent MacDuffie (already have Budda Baker and Byron Murphy from Washington) or a Florida alum like Marco Wilson in CB Kaiir Elam.
For the time being, however, staying put and playing their starting corners and giving a chance to see if Byron Murphy can blossom into a CB1 or if he hits a high-end CB2 role will be key.
I think it’s possible for Arizona to extend him, but I would wait a season and see how well he plays given that his early season success in forcing turnovers saw struggles down the stretch when he had to play more coverage for longer without J.J. Watt’s impact and Robert Alford being a veteran from the slot and outside.
I feel you don’t pay CB2’s in this league as you can find them via the draft or free agency. It’s the shutdown/#1 cornerbacks that are worth paying. If he is one of those guys by the end of the year? They can keep him. Otherwise, he might be a candidate to become a Christian Kirk-type of player who walks in free agency and Arizona can evaluate Gladney/Marco or look to draft a guy to be that next top outside cornerback that they can leave isolated & force turnovers.
Moves: Re-sign S Charles Washington, extend S Jalen Thompson
I think out of all of the picks from Arizona’s 2017-2020 classes, the only other one thus far who has proven themselves to be worth re-signing to a large deal besides Kyler Murray has been S Jalen Thompson.
I would extend him this offseason and keep him and Budda Baker the long-term safety tandem for Arizona given that in a pinch they need to show that they can make draft picks earn second deals in Arizona. If Baker reaches the end of his deal and his age seems to be a factor, Arizona could hand off the reins from Baker to Thompson easily and I feel like that’s continuity that you’d want to see from Mathieu to Baker to Thompson over the course of a single decade in the desert.
Special Teams: Stay
Moves: Re-sign P Andy Lee, LS Aaron Brewer
This is pretty self-explanatory. Arizona has already re-signed their specialists and you’d hope that Andy Lee can stay healthy enough to where the Cardinals are able to see the excellent kicks from Matt Prater continue rather than a shifting of players that seemed to throw off and lose them some points in a few games this season.
Continuity is key.
So, to recap, here were the major outside the organization moves in Stay, Sign, Draft for this offseason:
- DT Devonte Wyatt
- WR Christian Watson
- Edge Myjai Sanders
- OLB Melvin Ingram
- OG Will Hernandez
- TE Stephen Anderson
- RB Darrel Williams
- LB Nick Vigil
- QB Colt McCoy
- WR AJ Green
- TE Zach Ertz
- TE Maxx Williams
- OLB Devon Kennard (re-structured)
- OG Justin Pugh
- Multiple special teamers
- QB Kyler Murray
- S Jalen Thompson
- OT D.J. Humphries
Thoughts on the game and this offseason, Arizona Cardinals fans?