Arizona Cardinals priorities begin with CB, TE as free agency slows

Mar 22, 2021, 12:02 PM | Updated: 6:10 pm

Big-money free agents didn’t take long to ink NFL-wide, but the market has slowed down significantly with a salary cap squeeze hitting.

For the Arizona Cardinals, the free agency period following the early offseason signing of defensive end J.J. Watt plugged several holes.

Arizona signed fellow 2011 draft picks A.J. Green and Rodney Hudson to follow up the Watt addition, and collectively, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said he approached a tight cap situation this spring with the focus on “quality over quantity.”

“Two of our offseason goals that I think really stand out to me was becoming more physical as a football team and adding leadership to our locker room,” Keim said Monday on a call with reporters.

The Cardinals needed those things to promote growth from quarterback Kyler Murray as he enters Year 3. It also prepares the team to move forward with Larry Fitzgerald still considering retirement — Keim had no update on his status — and Patrick Peterson departing for Minnesota.

As Arizona enters a heavy schedule of draft preparation this week, Keim on Monday addressed the free agency period so far.

As the market has slowed down, cornerback and tight end are among the top priorities. Here’s a little on where things stand at those positions and beyond.

Cornerback room needs more work

Robert Alford is the only outside corner with extensive NFL experience on the roster as of Monday, but he’s not played the past two seasons after suffering season-ending injuries in camp.

Byron Murphy enters his third year, but Keim reiterated the team would like to keep in in the slot rather than outside.

And that means the Cardinals need to be looking out for starting-caliber corners on the market, even if they hope to land one in the first round of the draft.

“Byron can play outside. He’s done it before,” Keim said. “I think to find guys who can play inside is a little more difficult than years in the past. … We think Murph’s one of the better inside corners in the NFL.

“Every team has holes. One thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to panic and do things that put you in a tough situation from a cap standpoint. We’ll continue to monitor the market.”

Regardless of what happens the next month, cornerback remains the best bet in terms of what the Cardinals will be focused on during the NFL Draft.

Among this week’s workout schedules are potential first-round picks Patrick Surtain II of Alabama (Tuesday), Jaycee Horn of South Carolina (Wednesday) and Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech (Friday).

TE still lacking depth

Dan Arnold operated as essentially a fourth receiver after DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald last season.

Now he’s a member of the Carolina Panthers. Darrell Daniels remains a free agent, leaving veteran Maxx Williams as a lone returning option.

Arizona could probably use a more dangerous receiving threat at tight end — let alone depth.

“We don’t want to force anything or put ourselves in a bad situation from a contract standpoint, but that is definitely a market that we will monitor and look at with potentially making a move in the next couple weeks,” Keim said.

Faith in RB Chase Edmonds and the O-line

With Kenyan Drake off to join the Las Vegas Raiders, Keim didn’t call the Cardinals’ running back room set in stone. Nor did he say the Cardinals wouldn’t add to the men who will be blocking for those backs and protecting Murray.

But he did express belief in returner Chase Edmonds and the offensive linemen locked in for 2021.

“I think Chase having this opportunity is going to be huge for him,” the general manager said. “I think he’s shown the ability to be an excellent back in this league with his quickness and his run style.”

As for the offensive line, Hudson was the big addition at center. Keim said it shocked him when he learned of the Raiders’ desires to waive the Pro Bowl center.

The Cardinals moved fast to trade for him before he hit the open market.

“We tried to pull the trigger extremely quick. It took a matter of minutes to get the deal done,” Keim said of dealing a 2021 third-round pick and taking on Las Vegas’ seventh-round pick this year.

It appears that four of the five offensive line spots should be set.

Keim mentioned LT D.J. Humphries, LG Justin Pugh and RT Kelvin Beachum should hold down their starting roles from last year.

There could be room for competition starting with an opening at right guard, where Monday signee Brian Winters could be in the mix along with Justin Murray and perhaps second-year tackle Josh Jones.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of competition. It’s going to be a fun offseason to see those guys compete at different spots .. and see what materializes as our best five,” Keim said.

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