Fixing the Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals finished with the worst record in the NFL in 2018 and used the top pick in the draft on Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray. They had a much better season in 2019 with Murray and new Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury, but they still finished in the bottom 10 of the league. They’re still in a rebuild, but it seems they’ve found their quarterback, which is the first step of any rebuild.

Arizona needs to continue to draft well to improve their roster, and the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft is the first crucial step. In the following article, I’ll outline the perfect blueprint this offseason for the Cardinals to get back on top.

Cap Space: $51.5 Million

Trade:

The Cardinals have a good amount of cap space, but they need all they can get. The following trades will clear up an extra $26 million.

David Johnson, RB

Johnson has had a myriad of injuries and the breakout of Kenyan Drake makes him disposable. The cap hit from cutting him is too high, so a trade is the only necessary solution.

Patrick Peterson, CB

A year ago I would’ve said trading Patrick Peterson was crazy. Then he was suspended for six games and rumors started swirling that the Cardinals were interested in trading him at the trade deadline. But the main fuel for this potential trade is the that Peterson will be 30 years old next season and owed $13 million. The Cardinals can get a first rounder or second rounder plus fifth rounder back for him while freeing up $13 million.

Resign:

The Cardinals have a lot of unrestricted free agents this year, but obviously they shouldn’t resign all of them. Most of them will not return, but the following resignings will take up roughly $25 million off the cap space.

– Marcus Gilbert, OT

Gilbert is the starting right tackle, but he’s starting to age and the Cardinals could draft someone behind him if they can sign him to a one year deal fairly cheap.

– D.J. Humphries, OT

Humphries just wrapped up his final season on his rookie contract after being a first round pick in 2015. I would not pay him long-term, but similar to Gilbert I would try for a one-year “prove it” deal.

Charles Clay, TE

The production wasn’t necessarily there this season, but Clay is at minimum a great second tight end.

A.Q. Shipley, OL

This isn’t a resigning to guarantee Shipley as a starter, therefore it needs to be a cheap one-year deal. He can be a starter in 2020 if a rookie needs a year to sit, or he can be a great backup to someone they bring in or someone already on the roster like Mason Cole.

Brett Hundley, QB

Hundley would obviously be resigned as a backup to Kyler Murray. He shouldn’t demand very much per year.

– Rodney Gunter, DL

Gunter is another rotational piece that the Cardinals can use for depth. They need more talent of the defensive line, but Gunter played really well this season before going on IR.

Cassius Marsh, EDGE

Marsh had a surprisingly good season after being cut by the Seahawks just before the season started. He became a good rotational piece off the edge for the Cardinals.

– Kenyan Drake, RB

Drake was one of the biggest surprise performers across the league this year. Traded over from Miami mid season after not doing much, Drake burst onto the scene in Arizona. He’s made David Johnson expendable, and as long as the price tag isn’t too high, he should be back with the Cardinals.

– Zach Kerr, DL

Kerr played really well late in the season when he saw some more time on the field due to injuries for other players. He should be brought back on a cheap deal to help with the depth on the defensive line.

Damiere Byrd and Pharaoh Cooper, WR

I’ve lumped these two together because the Cardinals need help at receiver and they played well at certain points in 2019. The Cardinals should bring both of them back on one year deals and let training camp sort things out.

Free Agency:

The Cardinals are near the bottom of the league, but they aren’t a franchise that top free agents will stick their nose up at. After the moves listed above, Arizona will have roughly $40 million remaining in cap space. That leaves enough to land a big free agent in this first tier, while filling out the roster with some tier two and three players.

Tier One:

These are the top free agents on the market this offseason and they will demand a lot of money.

Amari Cooper, WR
Chris Harris Jr., CB
Byron Jones, CB
Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE
Chris Jones, DL
A.J. Green, WR
Yannick Ngakoue, DL

Tier Two:

This tier is full of players who won’t quite command top dollar, but the Cardinals should make sure they give them enough to lure them to Arizona.

Kyle Van Noy, LB
Brandon Scherff, OL
– Shaquille Barrett, EDGE
Arik Armstead, DL
Jack Conklin, OT
– Bud Dupree, EDGE
Trae Waynes, CB
Jamie Collins, EDGE
Austin Hooper, TE
Andrus Peat, OG
Bruce Irvin, LB
Vic Beasley, EDGE
– Bryan Bulaga, OT
Hunter Henry, TE
Joe Schobert, LB
– Bud Dupree, EDGE

Tier Three:

This group is made up of players that will be closer towards the middle of the league in terms of contract. Whether they’re higher in age, a career backup, or a player coming off their rookie contract that didn’t live up to pre-draft expectations.

Jimmy Smith, CB
Danny Trevathan, LB
Anthony Harris, S
Eli Apple, CB
Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S
– Anthony Costanzo, OT
Logan Ryan, CB
Leonard Williams, DL
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Justin Simmons, S
Jason Verrett, CB
Ezekiel Ansah, EDGE
Kendall Fuller, CB
Andrew Sendejo, S
Robby Anderson, WR
Bradley Roby, CB
– Matt Judon, EDGE
Darron Lee, LB
Vonn Bell, S
Mackensie Alexander, CB
Eric Ebron, TE
– Daryl Williams, OT
– Logan Ryan, CB
Jimmie Ward, S
– Nick Kwiatkowski, LB
Jack Doyle, TE
Kamalei Correa, LB

Draft:

Round One (pick 8):

The Cardinals need to focus first and foremost on upgrading their offensive line. It is one of the worst units in the league and the next step right after finding your franchise quarterback is protecting him.

Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville

I expect my top ranked offensive tackle, Jedrick Wills III, to be off the board by the 8th pick, so it’s down to Wirfs or Becton. I like Wirfs better, but his shorter arms may cause teams to view him as a guard rather than a tackle. If that’s how the Cardinals feel, then I’d rather go with Becton as the future at left tackle.

Round Two (pick 40):

The second round is really where things get interesting for the Cardinals. They still have some really big needs which is going to be difficult in pushing two of them to the third round. They need help at defensive line, linebacker, and wide receiver.

Their best defensive player is EDGE Chandler Jones, but they don’t have a big force in the middle of the line. They are also completely missing a middle linebacker. And their receiving corps is iffy at best with the aging Larry Fitzgerald and inconsistent Christian Kirk leading the charge.

Ross Blacklock, DL, TCU
Neville Gallimore, DL, Oklahoma
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Evan Weaver, LB, Cal
Michael Pittman, WR, USC
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State

Round Three (pick 72):

This pick needs to be whichever position that wasn’t addressed in the second round between defensive lineman, linebacker, and wide receiver. If there aren’t any prospects at 72 in those positions that fit the value, then the Cardinals should also look at cornerback, safety, and tight end.

Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
Justin Madubuike, DL, Texas A&M
Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame
Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
Brandon Jones, S, Texas
– Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton
– Jared Pinckney, TE, Vanderbilt

Round Four (pick 104):

Besides the positions listed above, the Cardinals should look at running backs and more offensive linemen, particularly on the interior of the line.

Jordan Elliott, DL, Missouri
Rashard Lawrence, DL, LSU
Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming
Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State
Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF
Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
Stanford Samuels III, CB, Florida State
Lamar Jackson, CB, Nebraska
– Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
– K’Von Wallace, S, Clemson
Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
– Zach Moss, RB, Utah
Damien Lewis, OL, LSU
Hakeem Adeniji, OL, Kansas

Round Five or Six and Seven (pick 135 or 182 and 199):

This first pick is from a trade with the Dolphins and it is conditional between the fifth or sixth round under unknown circumstances at this point. Regardless, this late in the draft the Cardinals can target any position besides quarterback (they should resign Brett Hundley or sign a veteran QB to help Murray). I’ll list two prospects from each position with one around 135 and the other around 199.

– DeeJay Dallas, RB, Miami
J.J. Taylor, RB, Arizona
Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty
John Hightower, WR, Boise State
Harrison Bryant, TE, FAU
Devin Asiasi, TE, UCLA
Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU
– Matt Womack, OT, Alabama
Logan Stenberg, OL, Kentucky
Netane Muti, OL, Fresno State
Bravvion Roy, DL, Baylor
Malcolm Roach, DL, Texas
Darrell Taylor, EDGE, Tennessee
Dominique Ross, EDGE, North Carolin
Jacob Phillips, LB, LSU
Kamal Martin, LB, Minnesota
Dane Jackson, CB, Pittsburgh
DeMarkus Acy, CB, Missouri
Jalen Elliott, S, Notre Dame
Brian Cole II, S, Mississippi State

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