Over the last decade and with the exception of Kyler Murray, the Arizona Cardinals have struggled to find game-changing playmakers with their first round draft selections.
Whether it was his poor evaluation of “the heart and the mind” or his absurd fascination with finding the next great inside linebacker, former Cardinals’ general manager Steve Keim ultimately failed to sustain the success this team had in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Out with the old and in with the new, current GM Monti Ossenfort still has his work cut out for him with a big offseason coming up to overhaul a roster that needs better talent. And to start it all off, he has a big decision looming regarding 2021 first-round pick Zaven Collins and whether or not to pickup his fifth-year option.
Collins, 24, will be entering his fourth season in the NFL following a year where he made a position switch from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
In his first season playing under Nick Rallis, Collins registered 41 tackles, six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and an interception.
Per Pro Football Focus, he finished the year as the Cardinals’ highest graded defender with a 72.1 overall grade. Though he was graded as a top-20 run defender (73.9) and generated 30 total quarterback pressures at this position, he was among the worst as a pass rusher ranking 88 out of 120.
The position switch was a surprise to many considering he made significant progress as an inside linebacker in 2022.
For what it is worth, Ossenfort has already dealt some of Steve Keim’s selections this past year.
- 2020 first-round pick: ILB Isaiah Simmons (traded - Giants)
- 2020 third-round pick: OT Josh Jones (traded - Texans)
- 2020 fourth-round pick: DT Rashard Lawrence (released)
- 2021 fourth-round pick: CB Marco Wilson (traded - Patriots)
- 2022 third-round pick: OLB Myjai Sanders (released)
- 2022 sixth-round pick: RB Keaontay Ingram (released)
- 2022 sixth-round pick: OG Lecitus Smith (released)
- 2022 seventh-round pick: CB Christian Matthew (released)
Zaven Collins has made an impact against the run but the primary job of an EDGE rusher is to rush the pass rusher.
Was his performance this past season enough to justify picking up his fifth-year option? Might the Cardinals move him back to inside linebacker with some big name pass rushers set to be available in free agency?
With the over $13 million in dead cap space due to the faults of the previous management and Collins’ projected fifth-year option value of $12.75 million (per Over the Cap) for the 2025 season, it might not be wise financially to invest in Collins with consideration of his overall production.
Ossenfort did not splurge in free agency in 2023 due to having a roster that needed further evaluation, Kyler Murray’s ACL injury, and needing cap space fixes with all eyes set for competing in 2024.
The fifth-year-option window for the first-round class of 2021 opened Jan. 8, with the final deadline set for May 2.