Let me start this piece by saying something just about everyone who follow this team knows: the 2023 season is going to be a rough one for the Arizona Cardinals. We’re breaking in a new head coach and GM, the regime they are replacing left the roster in shambles, and we don’t know when starting QB Kyler Murray will be back from a torn ACL. (To say nothing of the various ongoing off-field issues plaguing the team.)
Go ahead and mark it down: the Cardinals will be picking in the top 10 in the 2024 draft, if not the top 5 again. That’s fine; that’s just the reality of a rebuild.
So, today, let’s take a look ahead to 2024, the earliest this team could look somewhat competitive again. What players currently on the roster project as starters for that 2024 team? (Offense and defense only; I’m not looking at special teams.) I took a look at this dismal roster and made some educated guesses, broken into a few groups. Let’s start with a group of players who almost certainly won’t be 2024 starters.
No: Too Replaceable or Too Old
Center, One Guard Slot, One D-Line Slot, One Corner Slot
Even the 2023 Cardinals likely don’t know who will be starting at these positions right now, so it’s exceedingly likely that the 2024 starters at these positions aren’t even on the roster yet. But for completion’s sake, here is who ESPN is showing as the “starters” at these positions right now, along with some possible backups:
- C: Hjalte Froholdt (S)
- OG: Elijah Wilkinson (S), Rashaad Coward, Lecitus Smith
- DL: Jonathan Ledbetter (S), L.J. Collier, Kevin Strong
- CB: Rashad Fenton (S), Antonio Hamilton, Christian Matthew
Could one of these JAGs come out of nowhere and prove themselves worthy of a 2024 starting gig? Sure, I guess. But it’s highly, highly unlikely and not really worth discussing at this point.
OT Kelvin Beachum
Beachum has been a stalwart O-lineman in his three seasons with the Cardinals, but he’ll be 34 when this season starts, and 35 when the 2024 season begins. He did just sign a 2-year extension last month, but he’s not someone a rebuilding team should be looking to start beyond this year.
RB James Conner
Like Beachum and the guy below, Conner is also locked up through the 2024 season thanks to former GM Steve Keim (typing that still hasn’t gotten old) overpaying him following a solid 2021 season. But he’ll be 28 when the season starts and 29 when the 2024 season starts, which is basically nearing 40 in RB years. And he’s never been the picture of health. Conner has been a good Cardinal, but something will have gone very wrong with the rebuild if he’s still starting in 2024.
TE Zach Ertz
Almost everything I wrote about Conner above applies to Ertz. He’s been a good leader and has been productive when he’s on the field, but he’s aging (32), injury prone, and overpaid. The Cardinals can get out from under both Conner’s and Ertz’s contracts after this season, which the team will almost certainly do. Both these guys have a better chance of being off the roster entirely than starting for the Cardinals in 2024.
Depends on 2023
DTs Leki Fotu/Rashard Lawrence
Both of these guys would seem to have the inside track for starting positions on the Cardinals’ revamped 4-3 D-line. But they are both on the last year of their rookie deals and will be free agents after the season. Neither has really distinguished themselves as pros as they enter their fourth seasons, but the possibility does exist that at least one of them takes a massive leap forward and puts the onus on the team to resign them.
OL Josh Jones
Let’s move onto another guy from the 2020 draft class who’s in a similar position to Fotu and Lawrence. Jones has 21 starts for the Cardinals under his belt at both tackle and guard, but he hasn’t really shown that he’s someone the Cardinals need to resign to a starting role after his rookie deal ends. He doesn’t even have a clear role right now, with both tackle positions spoken for and uncertainly at guard. Can he grab that second guard spot and run with it this season?
LBs Kyzir White/Dennis Gardeck/Victor Dimukeje
While we don’t know exactly how much Isaiah Simmons will play at LB under Jonathan Gannon and new DC Nick Rallis, he figures to play there a good deal on one side of Zaven Collins. This trio will be backing up those two and filling the third LB slot in some combination. With all three of these guys under contract for the next two years, that could very easily continue into 2024. There’s a good chance one of these three is starting in 2024, in rough order of likelihood as listed above.
DEs Cam Thomas/Myjai Sanders
Same story, different position. One (or both?) of Thomas and Sanders figures to start at DE, while the other should see significant snaps. Odds are that one of them will seize the role and be starting in 2024. Both of these two are under contract through the 2025 season, and hopefully both will become key contributors, whether they start or not.
OG Will Hernandez
Hernandez is a dependable veteran with 69 career starts on the O-line, but he’ll still be only 28 when the 2023 season starts and 29 when the 2024 season starts. He also signed a 2-year deal this offseason and should still be in the mix for a starting gig in 2024. But, again, this is a rebuilding team and the new regime has no ties to Hernandez (or most of the guys currently on the roster, obviously). The team can get out of the second year of his deal next offseason and may just decide to go in a different direction.
WR Rondale Moore
Moore might be the biggest question mark of anyone on this list. He was drafted by a different regime for a different offense and the depth chart ahead of him is among the murkiest on the roster. He only played in 7 games last season due to injuries, but he had 41 receptions for 414 yards in those games, a 100-reception/1,000-yard full-season pace. That certainly sounds like a player capable of starting, but it all depends on how the new regime views him in OC Drew Petzing’s new offense.
Yes… If They’re on the Roster
WR DeAndre Hopkins
Let’s start this mini-group with a player almost certainly to off the roster by the end of the month, much less still on it in 2024. Right now, it seems like it’s more when than if D-Hop will be traded—although the market certainly hasn’t heated up the way new GM Monti Ossenfort has probably hoped it would due to his huge cap number. It’s possible that no team offers the right package of early picks for a player who still profiles as a WR1—could Ossenfort simply decide to keep the soon-to-be-31-year-old? Unlikely, but perhaps. But then the whole process would repeat itself next season. There’s almost no way D-Hop is a Cardinal in 2024, but if he is, he’d obviously be a starter.
WR Hollywood Brown
Let’s move on to the WR2 to D-Hop’s WR1. Hollywood Brown will be playing the 2023 season on the 5th-year option of his rookie deal for about $13.4M. He’s due for a sizeable extension, but thus far there has been no word of one forthcoming. Does the new regime view him as worth the money he’d be making? He’s clearly talented, but he’s undersized and has had plenty of injury trouble in the past. But it’s also hard to imagine the team letting him walk after this season. Could he possibly be a trade candidate just a year after the team acquired him for a 1st-round pick? His future is up in the air but if the team extends him, he’ll back as a WR1/2-type for the 2024 Cardinals.
S Budda Baker
It pains me to include Budda in this group—he’s easily my favorite current Cardinal. But he’s obviously not happy with his contract and the team and has requested a trade. It remains to be seen if Ossenfort 1) gives into Budda’s request and 2) finds an acceptable offer… or else gives him a new contract. I hope it’s the latter but I’m steeling myself for the former. Like the two WRs above, if Budda is still here in 2024, he’ll be a starter and one of the best safeties in the league.
Very Likely Starters in 2024
OT D.J. Humphries
Let’s kick off this final group with the longest-tenured Cardinal. Hump has 83 career starts for the Cardinals and is signed through the 2025 season. Still just 29, there’s no reason to think he won’t still be a starting-caliber OT in his age-30 season.
TE Trey McBride
Let’s go a lot younger with McBride, who might take over from Ertz at TE as soon as this season. The rookie more than flashed down the stretch last season after Ertz was hurt and looks like a starting-caliber player going forward.
CB Marco Wilson
The talented but inconsistent Wilson will be entering his third season(!) as a starter in 2023. He’s far from an ideal CB1, but Ossenfort could grab a new CB1 in the 1st-round of next week’s draft if he finds a trade down he likes, allowing Wilson to slide over to the CB2 slot he’s better suited for. Whether he does or doesn’t, Wilson figures to enter the final year of his rookie deal in 2024 as a starter (or nickel back at worst).
S Jalen Thompson
Whether he’ll still be playing alongside Budda remains to be seen, but Thompson will be entering the first year of a 3-year extension in 2023 which will keep him in a Cardinals uniform through the 2025 season. He’ll be one of the two starting safeties in 2024… hopefully still next to Budda.
LBs Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins
Assuming the Cardinals pick up Simmons’ 5th-year option by the May 1st deadline, these two should still be playing linebacker for the Cardinals in 2024. Neither has yet to truly live up to their draft position, but both have flashed playmaking skills while the previous regime figured out how to use them best. Now it’s up to Gannon and Rallis to help these two harness their talents and prove themselves as NFL starters.
QB Kyler Murray
That leaves us with a name that I know some Cardinals fans would love to see the team move on from, but that’s not happening anytime soon due to his contract. For better or worse, we’re likely stuck with Kyler as our starting QB through at least the 2028 season. I still have belief in Kyler’s skills, but he needs to 1) recover from his ACL tear with his athleticism intact, and 2) address the maturity issues that have thus far prevented him from making that leap to elite status. Can this new regime get Kyler’s career back on track? The answer to that question will determine the direction of this franchise for the next half-decade.
This exercise has really shown just how dire the Cardinals’ roster situation is, hasn’t it? This is a roster with a ton of holes and very few surefire future starters. Ossenfort and Co. have their work cut out for them in the next year and a half to start getting this team back on the path to contention.
Fortunately, we have a plethora of picks in next week’s draft, including 5 in the top 105. (At the moment, anyway. Multiple trades are almost definitely forthcoming.) And the best part? Steve Keim is NOT the one making the picks. And there’s no way Ossenfort will be worse at drafting than Keim, right?
The 2023 draft will produce multiple 2024 starters, right?
Your turn to weigh in, RotBers. What are your thoughts on 2024 Cardinals starters? Any diamonds in the rough on the current roster I overlooked? Anyone I have projected to start that you don’t think will be? Let’s hash it out in the comments.