Arizona Cardinals roster reset after the 2018 season
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim won’t have it easy after making Kliff Kingsbury the team’s next head coach and pairing him with an experienced defensive coordinator in Vance Joseph.
Both of those moves could be stellar hires, and the ship could continue to sink if the Cardinals’ roster doesn’t reload following a 3-13 season.
Issues in ousted head coach Steve Wilks’ scheme or how he taught that scheme aside, Arizona’s roster burdened him. The offensive line got rocked after injured-prone players couldn’t shake the bug. The cornerback slot opposite Patrick Peterson remains open for a taker to own it.
Receiver Larry Fitzgerald and kicker Phil Dawson could retire.
There’s a lot to be done. Luckily, the Cardinals should have flexibility because of their available cap space and ownership of the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Their list of needs reads shorter thanks to a few key position groups already looking solid heading into the 2019 season. Let’s take a look at the Arizona depth chart, group by group.
The goal in this exercise? Pin-pointing the Cardinals’ priorities this offseason to determine where they’re fine, where they need to build depth and where they point-blank need to patch holes.
Players who ended the season are listed (IR), while those in italics are either restricted or exclusive content free agents.
Key players under contract: Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon, Charles Kanoff
Key free agents: N/A
The best news that came of the 2018 season? While the Sam Bradford experiment failed miserably, the Cardinals don’t need to worry about the quarterback position heading into 2019. On top of that, Rosen remained healthy despite taking too many hits behind an injury-battered line.
His development is obviously at the forefront of Arizona’s decision to hire Kingsbury, but the team is in a good place with veteran backup Glennon signed through 2019 as well.
Key players under contract: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan
Key free agents: D.J. Foster (IR), Derrick Coleman
They’re in good shape here as well with the early stages of what looks like a strong two-back duo in Johnson and Edmonds, the latter of whom is on his rookie contract. Both could be deployed as receivers to add multi-back twists to a spread offensive system.
There is decent depth, too, with Logan also on board as a return man. Whether or not Derrick Coleman is retained at fullback remains to be seen.
Key players under contract: Christian Kirk (IR), Chad Williams, Trent Sherfield, Jalen Tolliver, Pharoh Cooper
Key free agents: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson
Fitzgerald had the worst yardage total (734) of his career, but one could imagine he would be able to push closer to another 1,000-yard season if the Air Raid offense produces half of what’s promised in Kingsbury’s first year. Kirk’s 590 yards before going down with a broken foot is the most promising thing here, and Sherfield’s flashes show promise that he could be a solid third option with improvement.
After that, Williams and Nelson had disappearing acts for too long of stretches to feel confident in their contributions next year. The Cardinals need to add some talent — regardless of Fitzgerald returning or not.
Key players under contract: LT D.J. Humphries (IR), C A.Q. Shipley (IR), C Mason Cole, G Justin Pugh, RT Korey Cunningham (IR), G Colby Gossett, G/T Zack Golditch, T Will Holden, G/T Rees Odhiambo
Key free agents: T Joe Barksdale, G Mike Iupati (IR), G/T John Wetzel (IR), G Oday Aboushi, G Jeremy Vujnovich (IR), G/C Daniel Munyer
Keim will focus here for the second year in a row. He’ll be taking a mulligan after he reloaded the right side with guard Justin Pugh and tackle Andre Smith last summer — they either fit the injury narrative that followed them in the past or simply didn’t produce. Smith was waived, and Pugh joins an extensive list of offensive linemen coming off a season-ending injury.
The only thing we know for sure: the center position will include a solid vet as Shipley returns from an ACL injury and a talented player in Cole, who earned 16 games of experience in Shipley’s stead last year.
Key players under contract: Jermaine Gresham
Key free agents: Ricky Seals-Jones, John Phillips, Darrell Daniels
Gresham is back after playing in eight games last season, a year in which he was coming off an Achilles injury. Seals-Jones and Daniels are exclusive rights free agents, and the former of whom caught 34 balls for 343 yards in 2018. At Texas A&M, Seals-Jones played his college ball as a receiver in an iteration of an Air Raid offense.
Key players under contract: CB Patrick Peterson, SS D.J. Swearinger, FS Antoine Bethea, DB Budda Baker, CB David Amerson, S Rudy Ford, CB Brandon Williams
Key free agents: S Tre Boston
The Cardinals went through two starting cornerbacks who were waived — Jamar Taylor and Bene Benwikere — before landing at Amerson. They might want to upgrade that spot but otherwise have a decent group of returning players. That is, as long as Peterson remains content staying in the desert without forcing Keim’s hand and asking for a trade.
Picking up Swearinger at the end of the season can give Arizona an easy answer to replace Boston, who signed late last offseason and promised he would play his way into a better pay-day.
Key players under contract: Josh Bynes (IR), Haason Reddick, Dennis Gardeck, Zeke Turner, Joe Walker
Key free agents: Deone Bucannon, Gerald Hodges, Jeremy Cash (IR)
Bynes proved capable of contributing in two different defenses over the past two seasons and is coming off what looked like his most productive year by far had a hand injury not cut his season short after 11 games. Losing Hodges will hurt the Cardinals’ depth here, and so would losing Bucannon, who struggled in the 4-3 in 2018 but also has been bit by the injury bug the past few seasons.
If Bucannon is out, Zeke Turner, a fellow converted safety, could potentially step in.
The biggest question comes regarding Reddick, who flashed after converting himself from a pure pass-rusher to linebacker in the 4-3 scheme. Does he move back into an outside linebacker role in a 3-4 or play more of an MLB position?
Key players under contract: DE Chandler Jones, DT Corey Peters, DT Robert Nkemdiche (IR), DT/DE Cameron Malveaux
Key free agents: DE Markus Golden, DT Rodney Gunter, DE Benson Mayowa, DE Zach Moore, DT Olsen Pierre (IR)
On one hand, the defensive line was underwhelming outside of Corey Peters and Chandler Jones. On the other, there’s going to be a lot of depth to build back up with solid rotation players like Golden, Gunter and Mayowa potentially departing.
It’s a big year for Nkemdiche, who ended the year on the IR after his biggest flashes of talent in his three-year NFL career.
Key players under contract: K Zane Gonzalez, P Andy Lee, LS Aaron Brewer
Key free agents: K Phil Dawson
This might be it for 43-year-old Dawson after Gonzalez showed some sauciness by hitting 7 of 9 field goals with Arizona after joining the team midseason following an injury and subsequent release from the Cleveland Browns. The former ASU product Gonzalez nailed a 50- and 55-yarder in the season finale on the road against the Seahawks.