4 questions after Cardinals open free agency with a bang

Mar 16, 2020, 3:34 PM | Updated: Mar 17, 2020, 1:09 pm

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim (AP Photo/Matt York)...

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

NFL free agency negotiations began Monday morning with two days before the 2020 season officially begins, and the Arizona Cardinals first surprised by using a transition tag on running back Kenyan Drake.

That was small potatoes compared to what came next: Arizona agreed to trade running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round selection.

That answered some questions but raised more as general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury look to not only plug roster holes but change the identity of the team with big personnel moves.

How does Drake’s transition tag and the Hopkins trade change things?

Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Arizona locked up left tackle D.J. Humphries to a lucrative three-year deal well in advance of free agency, and on Monday in the last hour before the deadline put a transition tag on Drake.

Moving Johnson in concert locked Drake in as the Cardinals’ presumed running back of the future, assuming they match any other offers by another team or at least retain him on a one-year tender worth $8.5 million.

Arizona expressed interest in re-signing Drake for the long-term, but he is doing the right thing to see what he can get in free agency. With Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry earning a franchise tag to stay there, Drake is arguably the top running back on the market.

As for Hopkins’ contract ($14 million against the cap), the swap for Johnson’s deal ($14.2 million against the cap) is nearly a wash, but Johnson will count toward $6 million in dead money if he’s traded during 2020, according to

The two deals smoothed over roster balance when it comes to offensive starters, and now right tackle is seemingly the only position of dire need on that side of the ball.

How much money is left for Arizona to spend?

(AP Photo/Matt York)

With the NFL’s players union just getting enough votes to approve a new collective bargaining agreement over the weekend, the NFL salary cap for 2020 was set at $198.2 million.

The new CBA bumped the minimum salary by approximately $90,000 to $100,000, according to, which adds up to more than $3 million in used cap space per team. So in case you were crunching the numbers beforehand, that eats into Arizona’s space. had the Cardinals sporting $34.2 million in space leftover before a crazy Monday of the NFL negotiating period began. It will be down to about $21 million, according to projections, when considering Drake’s tag and Johnson’s dead money.

The reported three-year, $30 million agreement with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips even further eats into that available space, perhaps as much as slicing the remaining money in half.

More space could open up if Drake leaves and Arizona does not match an offer, but with the trade of Johnson, that appears unlikely.

In short, the remaining money is not much considering the Cardinals will save some room to make midseason moves, have many starting positions to fill and must fit draft picks into that space.

Where might they spend in free agency?

Cardinals free agent DE Jonathan Bullard (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Defensive line: Corey Peters was his steady self, but injuries and free agency could gut this group. Rookie ends Zach Allen and Michael Dogbe remain under contract but must take significant leaps if Arizona wants to lean on them

On the interior, Rodney Gunter, Jonathan Bullard and Zach Kerr are the 2019 contributors who could leave or be brought back on reasonable deals. From Vic Beasley to tackles like Damon “Snacks” Harrison, there is a bevy of veteran ends and tackles on the market who could be had at reasonable deals if Arizona doesn’t target one star player.

(Editor’s note: The Cardinals crossed DL off the list by agreeing to sign free agent tackle Jordan Phillips to a three-year contract.)

Offensive tackle: There’s a gaping hole on the right side of the offensive line. The Cardinals will tender exclusive rights free agent Justin Murray after he held down the right tackle job last season as veterans Marcus Gilbert and Jordan Mills went down with season-ending injuries. Those two are both free agents. Currently, the only depth here after Murray is starting left guard Justin Pugh and 2019 seventh-round pick Joshua Miles. It seems more likely now that the draft fills that void.

Linebacker: Making outside backer Chandler Jones part of a tandem would be nice if the Cardinals don’t believe Haason Reddick can be the full-time guy. Same could be said at inside linebacker, where Jordan Hicks was massively productive in 2019 alongside Reddick and then Joe Walker.

Walker is an exclusive rights free agent and probably is more of a depth option. The Cardinals need a cover-capable linebacker here and probably can’t bank on Clemson star Isaiah Simmons falling to them in the draft.

How does all this impact the draft?

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It remains likely the Cardinals can use their No. 8 pick to get a starting-quality player. As discussed above, offensive tackle, defensive line and linebacker are all priorities. Prospects for each of those positions are top-10 worthy.

Adding Hopkins makes targeting a receiver less necessary. There is only one linebacker (Simmons) and one defensive tackle (Derrick Brown) who might fall and wouldn’t be reaches at No. 8. The money is probably on offensive tackle, where Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills and Mekhi Becton could be options.

Odds have dropped that Arizona goes after a wide receiver with its first-round pick. But if Keim wants to double down on giving Murray enough weapons to run a true 10-personnel offense under Kingsbury, don’t rule it out completely. The Cardinals, who went toward more 11-personnel grouping late in the year, still ran out 10-personnel a league-high 18% of the time last year. No other team used that grouping more than 4% of the time.

Just saying: Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy would be something scary.

Presented By
Western Governors University

Arizona Cardinals

Michael Wilson catches a pass in Week 2...

Tyler Drake

Michael Wilson’s comfort level within Cardinals offense continues to evolve

Michael Wilson continues to impress for the Arizona Cardinals in 2023. The next step is getting him more involved as a pass catcher.

8 hours ago

Joshua Dobbs, Arizona Cardinals QB vs. the Dallas Cowboys...

Haboob Blog

‘Speeding in a school zone’: Cardinals QB Joshua Dobbs pushed 20 mph vs. Cowboys

Joshua Dobbs is not Kyler Murray, but he's been a threat to run just like the recovering Arizona Cardinals startering quarterback.

15 hours ago

Presented By...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Arizona Cardinals QB Joshua Dobbs talks win over the Cowboys

Video: Felisa Cárdenas and Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports Subscribe to the Arizona Sports daily newsletter: Read articles from Arizona Sports: Download the Arizona Sports app: Sign up for texts from Arizona Sports: Listen live to Arizona Sports: Follow the team: ARIZONA SPORTS SOCIAL MEDIA Facebook: X: TikTok: […]

17 hours ago

Joshua Dobbs celebrates with Monti Ossenfort after a Week 3 win over the Dallas Cowboys...

Tyler Drake

Arizona Cardinals QB Joshua Dobbs comes full circle in win over Cowboys

The Arizona Cardinals' 28-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was certainly a game to remember in more ways than one for QB Joshua Dobbs.

17 hours ago

Kyzir White celebrates with Jonathan Gannon in Week 3...

Tyler Drake

Kyzir White proving Jonathan Gannon, Cardinals right early into Arizona tenure

Kyzir White has been everything and more for a scrappy Cardinals defense led by head coach Jonathan Gannon and DC Nick Rallis.

1 day ago

Marquise Brown #2 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a touchdown with teammate James Conner #6 dur...

Wills Rice

Gannon after 10 analysts pick Cowboys to beat Cardinals: ‘Good’

Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon had a brief word for all 10 analysts that predicted the Cowboys to beat the Cardinals in Week 3.

1 day ago

4 questions after Cardinals open free agency with a bang