Cardinals free agency refresher: Larry Fitzgerald among WR questions
The National Football League’s new season officially begins next Wednesday.
League-wide, the Arizona Cardinals have the largest share of 2020 snaps taken by players who will enter free agency this offseason, according to OverTheCap.com. Forty-four percent of the team’s total snaps could be lost in free agency.
General manager Steve Keim will see what he can do to retain many of those players after an 8-8 season. But with spending limited due to a salary cap drop — plus teams expected to be shedding big contracts before free agency — there are many roster decisions to make on the fly.
This series, originally published in January, has been refreshed with any updates before free agency begins.
Players under contract
DeAndre Hopkins ($12,500,000)
Christian Kirk ($1,875,639)
Andy Isabella ($1,262,694)
KeeSean Johnson ($902,328)
Trent Sherfield (restricted but reportedly will not be tendered)
The good news
I think DeAndre Hopkins was worth the trade and worth the contract extension he self-negotiated.
We can end this section there. OK, fine.
The Cardinals got great early returns from their trade with the Houston Texans last March. Hopkins closed 2020 with 1,407 receiving yards, six touchdowns, the catch of the NFL season that won Arizona a game against a very good team, plus quite a few money quotes regarding his freeway driving and football abilities.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury suggested throughout the year that Hopkins having more “time on task” with quarterback Kyler Murray will take that duo’s relationship on the field to another level.
Hopkins is a unique person with other interests. He has relatively unusual practice habits.
The Cardinals have appeared fine with letting him be him. The problems that cropped up in the passing game — from Hopkins lining up mostly on the left side of the ball to the uneven production among the team’s other receivers — will be the focus heading into next year.
Larry Fitzgerald’s future once again is up in the air, and while we’re used to this process by now, this year just feels different.
As of hours before the new league year begins at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Fitzgerald’s future remains unknown.
Also consider that Fitzgerald’s production finally dropped off. He closed 2020 with 407 yards and a single touchdown, missing two games because of coronavirus and another with a groin injury.
Fitzgerald said after returning from his COVID-19 stint that he hadn’t been completely healthy up to that point, which brings up whether he was struggling through other physical ailments in 2020. Does that weigh on him? Did his time sitting on the couch with an illness make him realize he can survive away from the game of football?
The only thing we know is it will be sad if Fitzgerald goes out like this, without one last catch in front of fans at State Farm Stadium to cap his 17 seasons as a Cardinal.
He probably doesn’t care about that.
All of that wondering comes before we even consider how the Cardinals feel about Fitzgerald. Yes, they love him, but he has commanded eight-figure salaries with his string of one-year contracts. If the production is waning, how much would Keim want to pay heading into a year where the salary cap crunch is happening because of the pandemic?
Fitzgerald is far from the only question mark here.
It said a lot the only offseason coaching change made by the Cardinals was letting go of receivers coach David Raih and hiring a more intense personality in Shawn Jefferson to lead the room.
That has to be taken as a sign the team is unhappy about the player development. It means that the Cardinals front office still thinks its two young receivers drafted in 2019 can become successful in the NFL.
Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson have flashed, but getting them more confident and productive alongside Hopkins and Christian Kirk still has to be a priority.
Speaking of Kirk, his down 2020 season appeared to be more about the wonky passing game. He recorded 621 receiving yards — 88 fewer than the year before — but also was targeted 28 fewer times. He should be fine.
Last but not least, restricted free agent Trent Sherfield was reportedly not going to be tendered after producing five catches on the season, including a four-catch season finale. You’d think the Cardinals would bring him back because of his great special teams play, but he’s also a reliable backup WR who gets things done when called upon.
Then again, if Arizona adds a free agent receiver, there’s not much room for him to contribute on offense whether Fitzgerald is back or not.
All-in-all, there’s room to build the Hopkins-Murray relationship, but Arizona needs a boost behind their No. 1 wideout. Right now, we don’t know exactly if they will find it internally or externally.