I personally don’t believe the Arizona Cardinals are a million miles away. I think they have a lot of the right pieces in place, and as a result have themselves an important off season coming up. The NFC West might be the toughest division in football right now. I’d argue all four teams are playoff calibre teams. So the Cardinals need to be competitive in that division.
I’m looking at the usual three sections in this post. The roster management, free agency, and finally the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Let’s dive in:
Arizona at the time of writing, are around exactly where the 2021 salary cap is expected to be, at $185M. It’s due to reduce slightly, after it was boosted last season to compensate for the pandemic ($198M). With the reduction looming this year, some teams are going to have to make drastic changes. The Cardinals however, are not in too bad of a position. There are decisions to be made, as Larry Legend Fitzgerald is a free agent currently, and if he does decide to continue playing will need a contract. Legendary Cardinal Patrick Peterson is also now a free agent, so we’ll need to look at that too. All of that will come, but first of all there’s a couple of restructures & cuts on the cards (very punny), so let’s start there.
I’d look at Jordan Phillips as a candidate here, the Cardinals can save up to $6M in cap space by reworking his deal. Phillips was placed on IR mid way through the season, but up until that point was providing at least a 50% snap contribution. So hold onto him, but re jiggle the money to free up some space.
There’s a few here that need to be cut from the roster. First on my list is Devon Kennard. Signed as a free agent in the off season, Kennard came to Arizona off the back of two strong seasons in Detroit. However, he hasn’t really added any value yet, and i’d deem his services surplus to requirements, meaning a saving of over $4M. If the Cardinals wait until the 1st June to cut Kennard, they’d save over $6M, so this one might come a little later.
The tight end position is a priority for the Cardinals in the off season, and I don’t believe Maxx Williams is still going to be on the books. He missed some time this year, and when he came back his snap count was low, and he’d fallen on the depth chart. Cutting Williams saves the Cardinals almost $3M so this one makes sense to me.
Then Robert Alford should also expect to be cut from the roster this offseason, particularly as he will fetch a saving of over $7.5M, which is going to be a really helpful sum for Arizona to address a couple of needs in the free agency market. Alford missed the entire season with a pectoral injury, and now aged 32, i’d be surprised to see him still on the roster when the off season comes to a close.
There’s been talk of cutting Justin Pugh, the inside guard. However I’d be surprised by this one. Pugh is a solid guard, and his cap hit might be $11M dollars, but cutting him would only save $7M of that, unless they again waited until June 1st, when that number would increase to $9M. I’d hold off on this one. The line is super important to the way the Cardinals run, and to Kyler being able to take off. Pugh is still an asset, so let’s cool the jets on this one.
To summarise these moves so far:
- Restructure Jordan Phillips: + $6M
- Cut Devon Kennard: + $6M
- Cut Maxx Williams: + $3M
- Cut Robert Alford: + $7.5M
Salary cap position at this point: $163.5M
Cap space: $22.5M
I’d love to see the Cardinals do something here but I just don’t think it’s necessary. Steve Keim and the front office know how to utilise the draft and considering the pieces they need, there’s no real pressure to trade anything away. If they were going to do anything, i’d consider maybe a veteran pass rush for a late pick.
MORE: Detroit Lions rebuild
Okay so notable free agents this off season in Arizona include: Patrick Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Kenyan Drake, Markus Golden & Haasan Reddick,
I’d start by resigning Patrick Peterson for two seasons. He’s 30 years old, and one of the most intelligent corners in the league. In my mind he still has two strong seasons left. Pat Pete barely missed a snap in 2020, he was the Cardinals most active corner, and fetched himself three interceptions too. I’d bring him back in a heartbeat, and pay around $15M over two seasons, hoping not to get outbid by anybody else. Peterson would be an asset to a contending team in need of secondary help, so the Cards need to be careful here.
I think Fitz might still want to play, but I’m having real trouble with this one. I believe Hopkins takes over the role now, and if you look at Fitz numbers in 2020, without any emotional attachment, the Cardinals paid $11.5M for 409 yards and 1 touchdown. Now I understand that Larry isn’t about big yardage, and more for a reliable pass catcher over the middle in crucial situations these days, but for the money it cost, I think the Cardinals need to let go. Larry will discuss his options with the Cardinals, they have that relationship after all this time, and I think it may end in retirement, as Larry has always said he won’t suit up anywhere else. Love you Larry Fitz, one of my favourite legends of the game, and an absolute dude. Side note, if you’ve not seen his Football Life episode, you need to watch it.
Kenyan Drake’s snaps were slowing down as the season went on, and I can’t see them paying him as a free agent running back. He’ll get a deal elsewhere, and moves on from a decent tenure in Arizona.
Hasaan Reddick is a problem. The Cardinals 2017 first round selection took four years to warm up, and finally started to look more solid for their defence this year. He’s had spurts, but I feel like it was only really this season he started to get it going. The linebacker room is starting to look empty with the departure of Kennard, and Reddick and Markus Golden both being free agents. Jordan Hicks will be the experience in the room, and I believe the Cardinals keep Reddick around on a semi decent deal around $7M per year, two year deal.
In summary, the only resignings here for me are Patrick Peterson at $7.5M per year, and Hasaan Reddick. Let’s say arounf $10M between the two goes onto the cap.
Situation: Salary Cap $175.5M
Cap Room $9.5M
Go and get a pass catching tight end. Arizona need to focus on defence and a running back in the draft, and addressing the glaring need for a TE in free agency takes the pressure off that situation. 25 year old Dan Arnold was solid for them this season, but I still think they need a second tight end, who Kyler can look to. Especially with the departure of Larry Fitzgerald.
Somebody like Jacob Hollister. This isn’t a glamorous signing by any means, and it’s made with the understanding that Dan Arnold reps in as number one, with Hollister as good depth. He’ll offer you 300 yards a season and a couple of touchdowns.
I’d then spend whatever you’ve got left on a good quality pass rusher. How about this… Yannick Ngakoue? Ngakoue was moved around all over the place last season after demanding his way out of Jacksonville. He ended up in Minnesota, and was then shipped off to Baltimore. Despite all of this, he’s still a free agent this off season, and still only 25… Arizona should enquire. He’d add a key feature in quarterback pressure, which would dramatically boost this defence. He’ll cost you around $13M a season I believe, so the Cardinals should just about be able to squeeze themselves under the cap limit here, if they structure the contract correctly.
- Yannick Ngakoue $13M
- Jacob Hollister $3M
Salary Cap: $185M … Cap space? Zero.
Okay so how this works is, I use The Draft Networks mock draft machine, and have to assess the situation as if it were live based on the picks of other teams. So some players might appear across multiple rebuilds, as each mock draft is run separately. Always diving into the first three rounds, as my knowledge starts to waiver a little as we get into day 3!
Round 1 – Pick 16
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – LB Notre Dame
This was between Kwity Paye, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Both would be really strong selections for the Cardinals at this position, helping to add some serious energy to their defence. I’m going to go with Owusu-Koramoah, because of scheme fit. The Cardinals play with outside backers as opposed to defensive ends, which is where Kwity Paye fits best. He’s not a stand up outside linebacker.
Owusu-Koramoah is a plug and play middle linebacker for me, he will give you a tonne of speed and a large tackles contribution. Great against the pass and athletic enough to play sub safety. If your off season consists of keeping Patrick Peterson, adding Yannick Ngakoue, and topping it off with Owusu-Koramoah, i’d be ecstatic. That’s three great pieces to a defence that already includes the likes of Budda Baker and Chandler Jones, plus Isaiah Simmons, who we’ve not seen a fraction of the ability of yet.
Round 2 – Pick 48
Javonte Williams – RB North Carolina
Man I love this fit. After the obvious two front runners in Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, Williams is RB3 on this years board in most peoples opinion. He’s dynamic, and can contribute in catches out of the backfield too. He’s shifty, he’ll run right by you, or straight through you. I think he’s perfect here and almost exactly what Arizona is looking for. The offseason continues to go well for the Cardinals. Fans of the red birds, watch this, and tell me you wouldn’t love to see this man in your backfield.
Round 3 – Quincy Roche – EDGE Miami
Roche’s move to Miami after three years with Temple didn’t quite offer the production he’d hoped it would. But his ability as a 3-4 outside linebacker can’t be overlooked. I’d take Roche here to come in and learn from one of the best in Chandler Jones, with the aim that he’ll become Jones’ long term replacement. Able to play a stand up LB role, this is another perfect scheme fit for me.
Cardinals fans, NFL fans, football fans, let me know what you think of this one!