Arizona Cardinals on the free agent cusp: Wide receiver Christian Kirk
The Arizona Cardinals have decisions to make this offseason, especially when it comes down to free agency.
With more than a handful of key contributors’s contracts expiring, Arizona must choose whether to re-sign the guys they’ve come to know or test the waters for some new blood.
Before the offseason and free agency gets into full swing, Arizona Sports’ Cardinals reporter Tyler Drake and fellow editors Kevin Zimmerman, Kellan Olson and Jake Anderson share their thoughts on who might stay and who will go.
Next is the team’s leading receiver from 2021, Christian Kirk.
Kirk just completed his fourth year with the Cardinals after originally joining the team as a second-round draft pick in 2018.
He signed a four-year rookie deal worth $5.89 million.
The Arizona native played at Saguaro High School before going on to play college ball for Texas A&M.
With Kirk and outside receiver A.J. Green set to test free agency, the Cardinals currently have wideouts DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch and Andy Isabella under contract for 2022.
After seeing a bit of a dip in production in 2020, Kirk bounced back with 77 catches for 982 yards, both career highs, to go along with five touchdowns. It also marked the first time in his four-year career that Kirk played every game.
He paced the team in receptions and yards, while trailing only Hopkins (8) in receiving touchdowns. Kirk and Green ended the year tied with 16 plays of at least 20 yards.
Kirk, who for the first time played primarily as a slot receiver, was a key factor in keeping drives alive as well, leading all Arizona pass catchers in first downs with 44.
Pro Football Focus graded out Kirk with a 72.1 rating, a solid bump up from his 62 mark over the past two seasons. Out of 118 qualifying receivers, Kirk was 42nd.
While Kirk improved on his 2020 numbers when looking at the season as a whole, there were instances where the wideout seemingly disappeared. And with Hopkins missing a good chunk of the second half, Arizona needed Kirk to step up in the offense.
Consistency was a hard thing to come by for the wide receiver, as he posted seven games of less than 50 yards. And while he posted two touchdowns in Week 1, Kirk total just five over the rest of the year.
Then there’s his mother’s tweet back in January, where she said “amen” in response to a Twitter user hoping the wideout “gets free from Kyler so he can show people that he’s a good slot receiver.”
Speaking to reporters ahead of the WM Phoenix Open on Tuesday, Kirk explained that Kyler Murray’s future with the Cardinals will be a “deciding factor” in his free-agent decisions.
PFF projects Kirk’s next contract to be in the three-year, $35 million range with $24 million guaranteed. How Arizona approaches that as it has a chance to restructure the receiver room around Hopkins remains to be seen.
Kirk presents an interesting conundrum for the Cardinals this offseason. He took a step forward in Year 4 and is certainly a familiar face to many in the Valley. Throw in the steep dropoff in play behind Kirk and the notion that you can never have too many pass catchers in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense and a re-signing seems in the cards.
But with a decent payday expected and the drafting of Moore this past offseason, the Cardinals may be forced to look at other options if cap space comes into play.
Likelihood of returning?
Drake: Medium. I think both sides will want to come to an agreement given Kirk’s history and his improvement in Year 4. But if another team views Kirk as a top-tier option and comes knocking with more years and/or money, it could be hard to see a reunion happening. We gotta remember, the NFL is a business.
Zimmerman: Medium. Kirk was miscast prior to this season as an outside guy, and despite the late tumble, Arizona’s offense found a different gear with two threats in the slot next to Hopkins out wide. He’s an important piece. But if you have confidence a cheaper option like Dortch can scare teams alongside an improving Moore, it might be farewell.
Olson: Low. I put Kirk in the same category as Chase Edmonds where he’s a good football player and a lot of teams will be happy to offer him a decent payday. I’m not trying to say the Cardinals take either of those guys for granted, but they aren’t in a position this offseason to prioritize those guys the way they should given the imbalance of money available and holes on the roster.
Anderson: Medium. Kirk is coming off of the best year of his career, which could entice a desperate team with a thin wide receiver room to pay the Scottsdale native. It’s also his first chance off a rookie contract to make some big-time money. So the question is, do the Cardinals view Kirk as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver going forward behind DeAndre Hopkins?