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D.J. Humphries extension telegraphs the Cardinals’ offseason ahead

General manager Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals on the field during the first half of the NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium on December 01, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Signing D.J. Humphries to a three-year, $45 million extension marks a critical point to the Arizona Cardinals’ offseason well before 2020 league year officially begins in March.

For one, it points to a philosophical stance taken by Arizona heading into head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season. Looking further down the road, it lays out a more clear path for the steps the Cardinals and general manager Steve Keim will take in free agency and the draft.

They chose continuity

Kingsbury navigates his reputation as a players’ coach. He’s not one to throw anyone under the bus or place blame.

Still, when it came to the general question of what needed to be addressed personnel-wise, Kingsbury made it clear that continuity is a priority heading into his second season. If that was about keeping the roster widely intact, so be it.

“Overall looking at it, I felt like we were competitive and had a chance to win a bunch of games,” he said in his final press conference of 2019. “This league, it comes down to one-score games, and we were in a bunch of them. We just didn’t get over the top.

“I think continuity is huge. When you look at the top organizations out there and how they’ve been able to keep assistant coaches and keep top players and homegrown players, I think that’s a big part of it. I’m just really excited to have these players back in the same systems in all three phases moving forward in the offseason.”

Bringing back Larry Fitzgerald and D.J. Humphries with extensions works in concert with that idea. What Keim told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf on Friday also indicates that massive turnover isn’t on the Cardinals’ minds.

“You can’t buy a team, you have to draft a team,” Keim said. “You have to build chemistry. That’s exactly what we are philosophically: build through the draft, supplement in free agency. And both of them are an inexact science.

“I’ve had our analytics team run the numbers and really 47% of all first-round picks in the last 10 years have succeeded. You look at free agency over the last 10 years, guys who have been paid $5 million and above, which we consider significant contracts, 40% have succeeded.”

To that point, it appears Arizona is serious about reaching agreements with its core players rather than chase other candidates at the same positions in free agency.

Does that apply to Shipley and Drake?

What about receivers like Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd? Kingsbury clearly valued them in 2019 but now faces retaining them versus betting on the development of other in-house talents: rookie wideouts KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler.

Money surplus already running dry

Arizona entered free agency with close to $70 million in spending money, one of the 10 largest salary cap space allotments in the NFL. Just two extensions given to Fitzgerald and Humphries later, they’re pushing to have the 13th-lowest amount of cap space left.

That’s an estimate after noting Humphries’ reported annual average salary of $15 million.

If we’re guessing on guaranteed money, Humphries’ deal puts Arizona’s space somewhere around $37 million — that might be a less-than-conservative estimate. Another extension or two in, say to center A.Q. Shipley and running back Kenyan Drake, and there is not a surplus to work with come March. That $30-or-so million left will be eaten up by draft picks and depth additions.

OverTheCap.com estimates that Arizona’s rookies will account for about $9 million in more salary gone.

The Cardinals might want to take one big free agent swing to add a dynamic receiver or defensive lineman, but after that, the money left will be required to fill in the back end of the roster and keep space open for necessary midseason additions.

“We’ve got a lot of room but we also have some extensions we need to do, so that’s going to eat up some room,” president Michael Bidwill told Doug & Wolf before the Humphries signing. “The rookie class is going to take up some of that room, we’ve got to save some room for the kind of (midseason) acquisitions like Kenyan Drake … we were able to get (the) Kenyan Drake (trade) done because we had some room.”

First-round pick options open up

The most obvious impact of the Humphries signing: It’s easier to see the the Cardinals going elsewhere than offensive tackle when the No. 8 pick is up for decision.

Does Keim want insurance by drafting the steady Andrew Thomas out of Georgia or athletic freak Tristan Wirfs out of Iowa? Humphries playing 16 games last year only did so much to rewrite the narrative over his history of knee injuries.

Maybe the right tackle slot is filled by re-signing exclusive rights free agent Justin Murray, who allowed 25 pressures and four sacks over 537 pass-block snaps last year; not terrible numbers compared to Humphries’ 30 pressures and two sacks allowed on 667 pass-block snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Additionally, Marcus Gilbert and Jordan Mills, who each suffered season-ending injuries in 2019, could be bargain-bin depth options who already know Kingsbury’s offense.

It’s looking like defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah out of Ohio State will be off the board at No. 8. Beyond that, there are options outside offensive tackles and quarterbacks.

Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown is a 6-foot-5, 318 pound monster who could play nose tackle or even slide out to the end in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s odd front.

Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons profiles as an outside linebacker at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, but he provided tape all over the field as a pass-rusher, true linebacker and even coverage man. How much Arizona is believing in another positionless athlete, Haason Reddick, might dictate how the Cardinals view Simmons, both philosophically and in building the roster for next year.

And obviously, the Cardinals could consider drafting a No. 1 receiver in smooth Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy or the Kyler Murray-familiar CeeDee Lamb out of Oklahoma.


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