ESPN grades Cardinals deals with RB James Conner, TE Zach Ertz

Mar 20, 2022, 9:30 AM
James Conner #6 of the Arizona Cardinals leaps over the arms of Quandre Diggs #6 of the Seattle Sea...
James Conner #6 of the Arizona Cardinals leaps over the arms of Quandre Diggs #6 of the Seattle Seahawks to run for a touchdown during the third quarter at State Farm Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

ESPN is keeping a running tracker grading key free agent moves NFL teams are making, as the league’s negotiating period opened last Monday.

The Arizona Cardinals have re-signed some but not all of their own free agents while having only added cornerback Jeff Gladney.

Two players the Cardinals retained were running back James Conner and tight end Zach Ertz.

ESPN was not kind to the Conner contract.

The veteran halfback signed a three-year deal worth $21 million, which is the 11th highest at his position in average annual value, according to Spotrac.

ESPN gave the deal a ‘D’ for Arizona.

The case:

You’re going to hate this deal if you’re among the increasingly large group of people who don’t want to see running backs get paid much more than the minimum. Conner has never produced a 1,000-yard season, isn’t a huge factor in the passing game and averaged 3.7 yards per rush for the Cardinals last season. What he did do is score 15 rushing touchdowns in 2021, which is obviously important. But couldn’t the Cardinals draft someone who could replicate Conner’s production, if given the opportunity, at a much lower cost?

Conner showed the ability to affect the passing game more than he had earlier in his career last season, but the point is clear from analyst Kevin Seifert that paying a running back $21 million when the team has so many other needs is worthy of a knock.

The Cardinals lost Conner’s backfield partner, Chase Edmonds, to the Miami Dolphins. He agreed to a two-year, $12.6 million contract, a deal ESPN’s Dan Graziano gave a ‘B+’ to.

The differences are Miami entered the offseason with much more room under the cap than Arizona and the second year of the contract is not guaranteed.

Ertz agreed to a three-year, $31.65 million deal to remain in Arizona. His average value ranks 10th at his position.

Graziano gave the deal a ‘B’ for the Cardinals.

The case:

Ertz is a player the Cardinals love, which is why they traded for him last season and why he was a priority re-sign for them this offseason. They see him as a great fit for their offense as a pass-catcher and a reliable target for quarterback Kyler Murray.

He’s not the dominator at the position that he once was, and he’s a liability as a blocker in the run game, but the Cardinals are about passing, and Ertz can catch passes in big spots.

The 31-year led the Cardinals in receptions from his team debut in Week 7 through the end of the season in 2021.

Arizona also re-signed tight end Maxx Williams to a one-year deal.

He was sidelined with a knee injury last season when Ertz joined the team, and the two will provide a stronger tight end tandem than Murray has played with in Arizona thus far.

The Cardinals lost wide receiver Christian Kirk to the Jacksonville Jaguars and edge rusher Chandler Jones to the Las Vegas Raiders last week, as well. Kirk signed a four-year deal worth a max value of $84 million, which Seifert gave a ‘C’ grade to. Jones agreed to a three-year, $51 million deal, and Seifert awarded it a ‘B+.’

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ESPN grades Cardinals deals with RB James Conner, TE Zach Ertz