RB Kenyan Drake transition-tagged by Arizona Cardinals

Mar 16, 2020, 8:32 AM | Updated: 1:32 pm
Running back Kenyan Drake #41 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after scoring on a five yard rush...
Running back Kenyan Drake #41 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after scoring on a five yard rushing touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals on Monday placed a transition tag on Kenyan Drake, giving them the option to match a contract another team offers the running back who starred for Arizona in the back-half of 2019.

The transition tag is a one-year tender that is set at a fixed amount based on the past market. That amount for a running back is set at $8.5 million after the new CBA was approved on Saturday, and that dips into Arizona’s leftover cap space.

The Cardinals will not be awarded compensation if Drake leaves for another team after it chooses not to match an offer. Drake can work out a long-term deal with Arizona or another team and has until July 22 to do so.

Arizona had until 8:59:59 a.m. on Monday to tag Drake and cannot tag another player.

Drake, 25, was acquired the day after a Week 8 loss to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a conditional fifth- or sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. At the time, the Cardinals were desperate for healthy bodies at running back with Chase Edmonds, David Johnson and D.J. Foster injured.

Arizona signed Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner to join Drake in the backfield, but it was all Drake in Week 9 against the San Francisco 49ers, as he rushed 15 times for 110 yards and a touchdown while also catching four balls for 52 yards.

It was Drake’s job from there. Even as Edmonds and Johnson returned from injuries, Drake dominated the touches. He had 79 in the last four games, far more than the other two combined.

Drake led the team in rushing with 643 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns, adding 28 catches for 171 yards as a receiver. His 123 carries were the most on the team and he was fifth in receptions.

“I thought he made big steps,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Drake a day after the season finale. “I think with an entire offseason in our system, he has a chance to really, really take off.”

Drake teased his extension on Feb. 10, when he posted an image of himself wearing a Cardinals jersey and beanie with the comment, “#NewProfilePic” to his Twitter account.

Drake spent his previous three seasons with the Miami Dolphins, who selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Counting the six games he played in 2019, Drake’s three-plus years with Miami amounted to 1,532 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Nov. 1 that the team had internal discussions about signing Drake next offseason. Those talks were prior to any trade considerations, Keim said.

“We did our homework on him and more than anything, I think organizationally we felt like he was the perfect fit for this scheme, a guy who could get isolated in space, had tremendous footspeed, straight line explosiveness, caught the ball extremely well out of the backfield,” Keim said.

On Dec. 20, the general manager said he would “love” to re-sign Drake and insinuated he’d like to get a deal done before free agency begins with the start of the new league year in March.

The return of Drake to Arizona would add even more questions to the future of David Johnson, who quickly faded to the background of the Cardinals’ long-term picture after his below average play and the emergence of Drake.

General manager Steve Keim said in February that Johnson would not be cut.

Johnson, a First Team All-Pro in 2016, had 94 carries for 345 yards with two touchdowns last season. He makes a base salary of $10.2 million in 2020, and $2.1 million of his $7.95 million salary for 2021 fully guarantees on March 20, per Spotrac.

If Drake were to be the Cardinals’ leading rusher next year for the second straight season, he would be the first Cardinals running back to do so since Edgerrin James topped the team for three seasons in a row from 2006-08.

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