DAN BICKLEY

Rodney Hudson is crown jewel of Cardinals’ terrific offseason haul

Mar 17, 2021, 6:05 PM | Updated: 6:35 pm
Las Vegas Raiders center Rodney Hudson (61) during a game between the New England Patriots and the ...
Las Vegas Raiders center Rodney Hudson (61) during a game between the New England Patriots and the Las Vegas Raiders on September 27, 2020, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Free agency has given the Cardinals something they badly needed, something the Valley hasn’t seen in a long time:

Victory in a must-win game.

The tone of the NFL offseason changed dramatically in Arizona on Wednesday, trending from ominous to optimistic.

J.J. Watt and A.J. Green are the big-name acquisitions, even if their low fuel lights are about to come on. Markus Golden and Kelvin Beachum were quality retentions, dependable players who seem very happy and affordable.

But the trade for center Rodney Hudson is a truly masterful stroke. He is an elite, veteran offensive lineman. His analytics are absurd. Since 2015, he’s played nearly 3,500 pass-blocking snaps and has allowed only one sack. All three of his Pro Bowl appearances have come in the past five seasons, the sign of a player entrenched in his prime.

All of Arizona’s three acquisitions — Hudson, Watt and Green — were team captains in 2020. That will help foster a better culture of locker room leadership. Watt and Hudson will help the Cardinals increase their level of physicality on both lines of scrimmage, a glaring weakness on the 2020 team.

But the acquisition of Hudson will reverberate throughout the franchise for different reasons, because it directly impacts five other players, maybe more. It will benefit everyone on the offensive line because a starting center is the brain/computer processor of the entire unit. Mistakes made at this position can doom a play before it begins, as we experienced too often in 2020.

More importantly, it will aid the development of Kyler Murray at a key point in franchise history. For context, it’s like the Suns adding Chris Paul to play point guard, fully aware that he’ll also enhance Devin Booker and possibly ignite the potential of Deandre Ayton.

Murray has learned a lot of lessons in two years. That’s obvious. He’s developed some bad habits. He’s won awards. He’s been tasked with an arduous mission, handed the keys to a sports car as soon as he earned his driver’s license. He’s grown significantly. But the biggest steps are still to come.

Hudson will help Murray identify pass rushers and defensive tactics alike. That will make Murray feel better about his job. Hudson will help mitigate up-the-middle, bull-rushers like Rams star Aaron Donald. He arrives just as the franchise has two years of control left on Murray, including a team option for $23 million in Year 5 that will hopefully seem like a massive bargain.

Hudson will help build trust and he will help build a real pocket for the sometimes-skittish quarterback, the kind that he remembers while playing at the University of Oklahoma, creating the comfort zone that will be essential to his evolution.

Murray must do his part. He must embrace playing quarterback under center even if he feels like a visitor in Muir Woods. That will unlock a whole new world of bootlegs, rollouts and play-action chunk plays. Murray must plant his feet firmly on the ground below him and survey the field with conviction, training his eyes to remain fixed on the secondary. It won’t happen if he feels threatened or vulnerable.

Bottom line: Hudson will help Murray solve the most pressing issue facing the organization. At the very least, it proves the Cardinals are focusing on the right things:

Namely, a quarterback with explosive quickness and a superstar skillset. A player who has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t like getting hit; he doesn’t like playing hurt; and doesn’t always display a burning love for football. Yeah, sorry, the A’s hats aren’t helping.

But if Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury keep their jobs and Arizona survives and thrives in a loaded division, it will happen because Murray takes another quantum leap in 2021. Because Keim was smart enough to invest in the comfort zone of his diminutive quarterback above all else, in the midst of a NFC West arms race.

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Rodney Hudson is crown jewel of Cardinals’ terrific offseason haul