Matches made: Cardinals paired with 3 free agents in ranking
March 18 is rapidly approaching.
The new league year begins, and with it, so does free agency across the NFL.
Having already compiled a list of the top 100 free agents heading into the 2020-21 season, The Athletic took things a step further, matching the athletes up with teams based on need, scheme fit, cap space and organizational history.
Looking at the Arizona Cardinals, The Athletic saw not one but three good fits among the top free agents.
Defensively, two names stood out that could potentially make an immediate impact.
First up is Atlanta Falcons edge rusher Vic Beasley.
Ranking as the website’s 67th top free agent, Beasley, 27, could be good fit alongside linebackers Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks.
Even with Chandler Jones putting up huge numbers, the Cardinals’ defense ranked 22nd in percentage of pass plays with a sack or QB hit last season.
Last season with the 7-9 Falcons, Beasley started 15 of his 16 games played, recording 42 tackles, eight of which were for loss, 8.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed. He also added 12 QB hits on the year. Beasley made the Pro Bowl and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2016.
As a team, the Cardinals accounted for 91 QB hits (19th in the NFL) and 40 sacks (T-17th).
Outside of Jones, Terrell Suggs — who is no longer on the team — had the most sacks on the team with 5.5, making Beasley an automatic, and younger, upgrade to the Cardinals defense in this scenario.
Another name on the list of potential free agents is Broncos defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. Landing at No. 82 on the ranking, the addition of Wolfe would bring back a familiar face to defense coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense.
Wolfe finished last season with a career-high seven sacks to go along with 12 QB hits. He can give Arizona some interior pass rush.
Wolfe, 30, spent the last eight seasons with the Broncos, including the team’s Super Bowl run in 2015, and two seasons under then-head coach Joseph (2017-18). In 2019, the pass rusher made 34 tackles, eight of which were for loss, 7.0 sacks, a forced fumble and a pass deflection in 12 games played.
He may have missed four games due to a dislocated elbow, but Wolfe put up a career-best in sacks and doubled his QB hits from the season prior.
On the other side of the football, it’s no surprise that running back Kenyan Drake and the Cardinals are a match.
The RB found his footing in the desert, helping himself and the Cardinals offense pick up steam in the final eight games of the season. He totaled 643 yards and eight touchdowns on 123 attempts (5.2 yards per carry). He also could be counted on as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 28 of the 35 targets (80%) thrown his way for 171 yards.
And who could forget this monster of a run?
Kenyan Drake has just exploded since getting traded to the desert. That includes this 80 run to tie it up in Seattle🔥 pic.twitter.com/dZVR6QMIUV
— Forever Gridiron🏈 (@ForeverGridiron) December 22, 2019
He flourished in Arizona after a midseason trade from the Dolphins, producing 643 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games while averaging 5.2 YPC. Arizona finds a way to keep Drake.
Things weren’t quite the same in Miami.
In his first three seasons as a member of the Dolphins, Drake had just one more rushing score than he did last season for the Cardinals. He did, however, see some more action in the passing game, catching 94 balls for 762 yards and six touchdowns in 48 games (14 starts). But before being traded, Drake was hardly utilized in Miami’s offense, rushing just 47 times for 174 yards and making 22 receptions for another 174 in six games.
There’s obvious chemistry with Drake and the Cardinals offense run under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, making this free agent pairing an obvious choice. But until March 18, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the true matchmaking will look like.