ARIZONA CARDINALS

Arizona Cardinals with 6 positional needs heading into free agency

Mar 13, 2022, 7:45 AM

President Michael J. Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals (left) and general manager Steve Keim (right)...

President Michael J. Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals (left) and general manager Steve Keim (right) watch warm ups before the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Bengals 34-31. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The bulk of NFL free agency is nearly upon us. Buckle up.

Monday at 9 a.m. MST marks the first time teams and agents can discuss new contracts for free agents, known by many as the legal tampering period. Two days later, the new league year begins at 1 p.m. MST and players can officially start signing their negotiated deals.

In terms of the Arizona Cardinals, general manager Steve Keim has his work cut out for him, with numerous holes to fill on both sides of the football.

With free agency about to get into full swing, here’s a look at the Cardinals’ biggest positional priorities:

Cornerback

Set to test free agency:

– Robert Alford
– Antonio Hamilton

Returning guys:

– Byron Murphy
– Marco Wilson
– Breon Borders (futures deal)
– Jace Whittaker (futures deal)

Adding to the cornerbacks room is imperative for the Cardinals this offseason.

With Robert Alford and Antonio Hamilton hitting free agency, Arizona has only Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson as the only two corners with extended roles in the defense last season. Beyond those two are Breon Borders and Jace Whittaker, two CBs that were primarily practice squad players last year.

Murphy took another step forward in his progression, while Wilson got his feet wet in a hurry as a starter after the sudden retirement of Malcolm Butler ahead of the 2021 regular season.

But although Butler’s departure threw a wrench in the team’s plan, it provides Wilson with some on-the-job experience that he can learn from in Year 2.

Intriguing NFL free agents at the position: Carlton Davis, J.C. Jackson, Charvarius Ward

Outside linebacker

Set to test free agency:

– Chandler Jones
– Dennis Gardeck
– Kylie Fitts (restricted)

Returning guys:

– Markus Golden
– Devon Kennard
– Victor Dimukeje

The Cardinals will likely be without Chandler Jones’ services for the first time since 2016 with the linebacker expected to head elsewhere this offseason.

With Jones’ contract up and looking for a team that “maximizes” the outside linebacker, Arizona will have to turn its attention to adding another pass rusher opposite Markus Golden.

Golden produced an impressive 2021, recording a team-high 11 sacks to go along with 48 tackles, 19 QB hits and four forced fumbles over 16 games played.

The team also freed up some cap space by restructuring Devon Kennard’s contract. Valued more as a solid depth piece, Kennard brings a veteran presence to the room.

Rounding out the current crop of OLBs is Victor Dimukeje, who was primarily used as a special teamer.

Intriguing NFL free agent at the position: Haason Reddick

Wide receiver

Set to test free agency:

– A.J. Green
– Christian Kirk

Returning guys:

– DeAndre Hopkins
– Rondale Moore
– Greg Dortch
– Antoine Wesley (exclusive rights offer tendered)
– Andy Isabella (requested trade)

Finding a legit No. 2 option in the passing game is high up on the list for the Cardinals this offseason.

After getting a roller coaster of a season from A.J. Green, Arizona is in the market for another pair of hands opposite DeAndre Hopkins.

It’s safe to say a lot changed in terms of how the Cardinals operated offensively following Hopkins’ torn MCL in the latter half of this past season. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim said so themselves during the NFL Combine, acknowledging just how critical Hopkins’ injury was to the team’s downfall.

Beyond Hopkins sits Rondale Moore as the only other wideout under contract through next season that got extended run in 2021.

In his first NFL season (14 games), Moore caught 54 of his 64 targets for 435 yards and one touchdown. Moore was a gadget of sorts for Kingsbury, who utilized the wideout in the backfield, out wide and in the slot at times.

Intriguing NFL free agents at the position: Allen Robinson, Christian Kirk, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster

Guard

Set to test free agency:

– Max Garcia

Returning guys:

– Sean Harlow
– Josh Jones
– Justin Murray
– Justin Pugh

While it looks like the Cardinals have a number of options at guard, there’s more than meets the eye.

Josh Jones, the team’s original starting right guard out of training camp, underwhelmed at the position, eventually making way for Max Garcia. Garcia, who is a free agent, had been preparing for a backup center role behind starter Rodney Hudson throughout training camp before getting the call during the season.

Justin Murray, another name in the mix for the starting right guard spot, suffered a back injury midseason and missed the remainder of the year after undergoing surgery.

As for left guard, starter Justin Pugh is back in the mix but at 31, it may be time to look into finding Pugh’s replacement. Sean Harlow was another name that got some run at guard when Pugh went down due to injury. He started a total of five games in 2021.

Intriguing NFL free agents at the position: Laken Tomlinson, Alex Cappa, Connor Williams

Defensive line

Set to test free agency:

– Corey Peters
– Jack Crawford
– Michael Dogbe (restricted)

Returning guys:

– J.J. Watt
– Zach Allen
– Leki Fotu
– Jordan Phillips
– Rashard Lawrence

The defensive line is another priority to consider this free agency for the Cardinals given the team’s injury woes a season prior.

J.J. Watt came in and made his presence felt right away, but saw his regular season cut to just seven games due to a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Starter Jordan Phillips was another injury casualty for most of the year, playing in just nine games for a second straight season.

The injuries didn’t stop at the top, either, with Rashard Lawrence missing six games last year.

Of the returning defensive linemen, only Leki Fotu played in all 17 games in 2021.

Intriguing NFL free agents at the position: Akiem Hicks, Calais Campbell, Eddie Goldman, D.J. Jones

Running back

Set to test free agency:

– James Conner
– Chase Edmonds

Returning guys:

– Eno Benjamin
– Jonathan Ward (exclusive rights offer tendered)

Last but certainly not least is a running backs room that could look awfully different when the free-agency dust settles.

With both starting running backs James Conner and Chase Edmonds unrestricted free agents, only Eno Benjamin is currently under contract through next season.

Jonathan Ward is expected back too after being tendered an exclusive rights offer by the team on Wednesday.

There will be some big shoes to fill if neither Conner or Edmonds are re-signed. Conner finished second among NFL rushers in touchdowns with 15, while Edmonds chipped in 903 scrimmage yards and two scores.

Intriguing NFL free agents at the position: James Conner, Chase Edmonds, J.D. McKissic, Raheem Mostert

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