The 5: Arizona Cardinals’ in-house free agent priorities this offseason
While the optics of the Arizona Cardinals’ tumultuous end to the season left a nasty taste in the mouths of many, there was still improvement on the team’s part.
Not only did the team improve its record by three wins for a second straight season, the Cardinals found themselves back in the postseason — even if it was a turnaround trip — for the first time since 2015.
But with no Lombardi Trophy to show for their season, it’s once again back to the drawing board for the Cardinals.
Instead of letting that progress slip through their hands like sand, addressing the Cardinals’ needs this offseason will be imperative if they want to keep on their upward trend under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
There’s a lot of different avenues Arizona can go this free agency period.
Not only will the Cardinals want to at least kick the tires on some outside options in hopes of finding those missing pieces, they have a number of in-house decisions to make with the handful of key players now testing the free agent waters.
But unless you’re the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, keeping a roster fully intact for consecutive seasons isn’t likely. You can’t re-sign them all.
A look at Arizona’s biggest in-house free agent priorities:
RB James Conner
The Cardinals were at their absolute best when they emphasized the running game led by James Conner.
Conner not only found the end zone early and often, he helped limit the wear and tear on quarterback Kyler Murray’s legs in close yardage situations.
Over 15 games played, the first-year Cardinal amassed 15 rushing touchdowns (tied for second in the NFL) to go along with 752 yards on 202 carries.
He also got a chance to show off his pass-catching abilities, reeling in 37 of his 39 targets for 375 yards and three touchdowns.
On top of his play on the field, Conner provided the team with a jolt of energy on a daily basis, whether it be on game days or at practice.
The only real knock on the running back over the years has been his ability to stay on the field. And while he did miss two games due to injury, Conner saw a career high in games played this season.
Pro Football Focus projects Conner’s next contract to land in the two-year, $12.8 million range.
Conner’s bruising running style is a hard thing to find in the NFL. Paired with the right running mate and Conner’s strengths can be utilized while also taking some snaps off his shoulders.
RB Chase Edmonds
If you’re gonna run it back with Conner, why not keep things consistent in the backfield and re-sign Chase Edmonds?
There’s obviously a lot of dollars and cents to be thrown into the equation, but as seen in 2021, Edmonds’ quick twitch keeps defenses on its toes and is a big play waiting to happen.
As a change of pace from Conner, Edmonds posted 592 yards (career high) and two touchdowns on 116 carries (5.1 yards per attempt). In the passing game, the running back caught 43 of his 53 targets for 311 yards.
Between Edmonds and Conner, with some Murray thrown in, the Cardinals’ rushing attack was among the NFL’s top 10 in yards per game with 122.1 and tied for third in touchdowns with 23.
The biggest negative Edmonds had this season was on the injury front, appearing in 12 games in 2021, a career low.
PFF projects Edmonds’s next contract to be around the same as Conner’s at two years for $12 million.
QB Colt McCoy
He may not have played every game in 2021, but there’s no denying backup quarterback Colt McCoy’s impact on the Cardinals this season.
Brought in to serve as a mentor of sorts to Murray, McCoy also showed his worth with the football in his hands.
When Murray went down with an ankle injury midway through the season, McCoy kept the wheels churning on his way to a 2-1 record as the team’s starter, completing over 75% of his passes for 648 yards and three touchdowns to one interception.
On the mentor front, McCoy has proved to be another voice Murray can bounce things off of and even head coach Kliff Kingsbury has spoke on the signal caller’s football IQ and overall intelligence on multiple occasions in 2021.
You never understand the luxury of having a decent backup quarterback until you need one in a pinch.
TE Zach Ertz
Showing up via trade to replace the injured Maxx Williams, tight end Zach Ertz showed his football pedigree and was an immediate boost to the offense.
Over the course of 11 games in Arizona, Ertz caught 56 passes for 574 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’ve loved my time here in Arizona,” Ertz said last Tuesday. “I would love the opportunity to continue here. Obviously, there’s a lot of things out of my control. Got a lot of good players that are free agents as well, so it may not be even up to me.
“But it’s been a blessing to be able to be here. I’ve truly loved it. My wife has obviously loved it, my family has loved it, so it’s just been fun.”
PFF projects Ertz to be in the two-year, $22 million range for his next deal.
WR Christian Kirk
Rounding out the top five is Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk.
Much like Edmonds, Kirk continues to improve year after year, posting a career high in receiving yards (982) and catches (77) to go along with five touchdowns this season (17 games).
With rookie Rondale Moore still developing and no clear-cut No. 2 wide receiver opposite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Kirk’s knowledge of the offense, his ability as a pass catcher and his Arizona roots make him an intriguing option to bring back.
PFF projects Kirk’s next contract to be in the three-year range and worth $35 million.
WR Antoine Wesley
Flashed his abilities when Hopkins went down with a season-ending knee injury and has a good relationship with Kingsbury and Murray.
TE Maxx Williams
Provides another big target and is a proven blocker.
LB Chandler Jones
An undeniable force with a hefty price tag to consider.