Arizona Cardinals’ skill positions filled with uncertainty for 2022

Jan 19, 2022, 6:30 PM
Christian Kirk #13 celebrates his touchdown with teammate A.J. Green #18 during the first quarter a...
Christian Kirk #13 celebrates his touchdown with teammate A.J. Green #18 during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

After the Arizona Cardinals’ last game of the season ramped up the discourse around their quarterback, Kyler Murray and his squad enter an offseason with a lot of uncertainty about who he is 1) going to be throwing the ball to and 2) handing the ball off to.

The team’s two primary running backs, James Conner and Chase Edmonds, are both free agents. They accounted for 64.1% of the Cardinals’ carries and 64.7% of their rushing yards.

Because of DeAndre Hopkins only playing 10 games, four of Arizona’s top five players in receptions are free agents. That’s Edmonds, along with Christian Kirk, Zach Ertz and A.J. Green. That’s also not mentioning tight end Maxx Williams, who was on pace for over 50 catches and 600 yards before suffering a season-ending injury five games into the season.

By default, this makes running back, wide receiver and tight end areas of need for the Cardinals heading into the 2022 campaign. There are also depth pieces like running back Jonathan Ward, wide receiver Antoine Wesley and tight ends Darrell Daniels and Demetrius Harris.

The obvious place to start is who seems the most likely to come back.

That’s hard to say but let’s start in the backfield, where head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Tuesday he hopes to have both key guys returning.

“Huge fans of both those guys,” he said. “You can’t ask for two guys that work hard, do things the right way. They’re dialed in each and every day and they both earned good deals as far as I’m concerned. I hope that we can afford both guys because they both had fantastic seasons and they deserve to get nice contracts but I would love to have them both back.

“I think they complement each other really well in our system and so I’m hoping that that’s how it plays out.”

Given the affordability of the everyday running back these days, the question becomes if either guy should be classified as such.

You would assume Conner is definitely not after rushing for 15 touchdowns, tied for the second-most in the NFL. Even if he is viewed as more of a committee-based ball carrier instead of a lead guy because of the 3.7 yards per carry, Conner has proven he can at the very least be a punishing power runner and effective red zone weapon.

As for Edmonds, he seems like the type of back that a few teams would be interested in. Edmonds has rushed for over 4.5 yards a touch in each of the last three seasons, including marks of 5.1 this year and in 2019. He caught 43 passes after 53 the year prior. He’s a certified good football player who would be an ideal secondary option to a primary No. 1 back.

And that’s where we arrive at a similar Kirk, coming off a career year.

His 77 catches for 982 yards are better numbers than you would have assumed, and over half of his catches were for first downs (44). Most importantly, he played all 16 games for the first time in his career. There’s a chance he played too well for the Cardinals to be able to afford him as a third option out of the slot.

Kirk is going to have a healthy amount of suitors, just like Ertz, who presented a unique dynamic to the Cardinals of, well, the Cardinals having a good tight end.

Ertz had the production to back up his status as one of the better players across the league at his position. He recorded at least five catches in his last five regular season games and finished with 56 grabs for 574 yards and three touchdowns.

Are the Cardinals comfortable enough with just bringing back Williams as the primary tight end like they were at the start of the season? Or do they want to pay up for Ertz to keep that dynamic going and potentially bring back Williams as well to form one of the best tight end groups in the NFL? That might be the most interesting choice out of this.

File down for Green’s tenure in Arizona in that discussion too, because at least from this perspective, how the Cardinals interpreted Green’s play will be telling.

Now, the numbers are real nice. Over 15 yards a catch for a total of 848.

But Green’s clear lack of chemistry with Murray and feel for the offense over the course of the season showed what could potentially be possible for a legitimate No. 2 across from Hopkins. That has to be at the top of the list for general manager Steve Keim heading into free agency.

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Arizona Cardinals’ skill positions filled with uncertainty for 2022